There’s a house in Aspen where Steele Spence grew up. The hall that leads to the basement – and Spence’s old bedroom – tells a story. The wall is tagged with signatures like “J.F. Cusson,” “Freedle Coty,” “Josh Bibby,” “Liam ‘Dunny’ Downey,” “Michelle Parker,” and “Matt Sterbenz.” These markings track the history of freeskiing for over a decade.
As you read this, a brush stroke of paint is probably hiding those signatures forever. Spence’s parents are renovating the house in order to rent out the basement, and well, chicken scratched walls aren’t always a selling point. Though the words may now be concealed, the story has already been told.
“Around the first Aspen X Games,” says Spence, “athletes looking for place to stay would crash at my parents house. Back in the day there was more couch surfing at competitions.” Somehow people just started writing and signing the wall. “Over the years with more and more events in Aspen, people stayed and stopped by with friends, had dinner with my family; more and more signed the wall.”
In 2002, a 14-year-old Simon Dumont tentatively knocked on the Spence’s door. “He’s like ‘Rory Will said I might be able to stay here,’” recalls Spence. This was Dumont’s first year at Winter X Games. He was a wildcard alternate.
“This little kid shows up…he didn’t say a word the entire time,” says Spence.
Though Dumont may have been short on words, he did leave his mark on the wall—opting to draw himself instead of actually signing his signature—as well as the X Games with his first ever appearance.
Then in 2004, co-founder of 4FRNT skis, Matt Sterbenz, participated in his first demo as a ski company. “I didn’t know you had to be registered,” says Sterbenz. “I had no tent, so I set up my skis and a banner by a maintenance shed.” The skis he was demoing at that point were personal pairs. With a newly created logo, Sterbenz says that he stayed at Spence’s and “signed the wall that night,” with 4FRNT’s logo and his name beneath.
Liam Downey was on a photo shoot in the Aspen backcountry when he hit a rock and got a massive concussion. After a trip to the hospital, Downey returned to the Spence’s to stay the night. Waking up the next day he realized he signed his name on the wall in huge letters. Not sure why he had signed his name so big, Downey and Spence just chalked it up to the concussion.
Spence’s most valued signature is J.F. Cusson’s, a personal role model of his within skiing. “Cusson was always my favorite,” says Spence. In between traveling, Cusson crashed at the Spence’s, once sleeping 40 hours straight in the basement. During the rare hours that Cusson was awake he managed to get his name on the wall.
Other signers, like Mike Atkinson, left their mark beyond the basement. “Mike signed the wall and didn’t put the marker down. He signed all over the house, in the cupboards, shampoo bottles, everywhere,” says Spence. “We are still finding signatures.” And there was Dave Amirault, whom after crashing at Spence’s from a night out at the bars signed the wall with two markers because, “he said that he had double vision,” says Spence.
To some, this basement might look like walls of graffiti. But they miss the point. These drawings, ski passes, logos, and signatures, make this basement a collage of freeskiing history. Beyond the ink, there’s a story, describing the circumstances of when that blotch was scribed onto the drywall. Most signed at a time when their careers within skiing were just starting. Now established, their signature is proof that they were here from the beginning. With over 100 signings, this wall is now a historical landmark. If only it could talk.