(Ed’s note: See the first post in this series HERE.)
By Ryan Dunfee
PARK CITY, Utah — My return to Aspen was in the full spirit of a high school reunion—a chance to remember good and ugly times with old friends, mess with the prom queen, and do our absolute best to shamelessly top any prior ridiculousness.
I knew I was doing a good job at the latter when I talked my way into a private, tented après party at the base of Ajax, which was intended to benefit the local Aspen Valley Ski Club. Instead, in a fashion only truly appreciated by completely shameless former ski bums, this charity gala benefited my own personal alcoholism while giving me a chance to see Casey Puckett destroy the dance floor and hit on Wendy Fisher, without a doubt the hottest ginger in skiing. When a staff member implored me to include a touching story about Antonio Banderas donating a large sum to the club in honor of his longtime Aspen driver and his kin of aspiring ski racers, I wrote down her e-mail for a promised follow-up and then looked for another rum milkshake. Just chalking up another highway robbery by today's brazen ski media.
The next morning I met up with Meredith McKee for a "social media photo shoot," a truly 21st century phenomenon, and we took our turns trying to slash loose snow at the camera. While too many jokes piled up about "groomer pow" and the only tele skier in the group trying to Tebow for the camera, Aspen's usually astute PR group overlooked a selling point of the West Coast skiing experience that you can get regardless of base depth: speed.
While the sidecountry looked more meager than Wachussett after a January thaw, Aspen's wide, bowling, sun-lit and sustained pitches of manicured tracks let my 188s show me I was no longer suffering through another Ice Coast day of flat light and flat trails. A small trickle of the promised land leaked out on those laps, and when on one run I looked over the hump to see Spar Gulch devoid of tourists, I dropped the speedcheck past the F.I.S. lift and sent huge, reeling GS turns at full speed for 1,000 vert, the likes of which I hadn't known in years. Finishing off with turns deep enough to run my elbow along the snow on Little Nell, it was enough to howl. Paradise was not far off.
If speed ruled the day, it also ruled the night (pun intended). New Year's Eve, Aspen did its usual best to dominate the other ski experience (second pun also intended). Droves of people in every quantifiable state of inebriation and exuberance wandered from at-capacity bar to at-capacity bar till the clock struck midnight, and inside, every stripe of humanity was at their highest state of dancing elation. It amounted to a human zoo for those sober enough to recognize the others around them, and many families took the cue, showing their children around the spectacles of debauchery in the hopes of scaring them away from the drugs, sex, and alcohol their middle-school classmates surely peer pressure them to enjoy. While the details are plentiful and exciting, I'll keep them close to my chest in case I ever want to work for some halfway-respectable publication with real standards of conduct. Let's just say the women on the bus in the white down jacket most definitely did not want any ranch Doritos.
After four hours of sleep and an insufferable drive, we found ourselves in an appropriate locale for detoxification: Mormom Utah. While it was all I could do to ignore my uncle's complaints about the "Zionists" keeping all the liquor stores closed for two days after New Year's, the chance to lay on the couch and ski mellow groomers with my dad was a welcome respite from Aspen's relentless nightlife. While neither the park at Park City nor the rolling groomers held any lasting appeal for me, the chance to watch my dad ski, for the first time in two years, made this small part of this existentially large trip. Close-kneed, indefatigably lifting the inside ski at the start of every turn, a habit no doubt learned turning rock-hard 215's during the ’70s—it was awesome to see that despite being totally out of shape and recently retired, my dad still had it. There may be a spot of hope for my soul yet if I can enjoy someone else's good times on this entirely selfish mission. If things keep up, I might even consider giving to charity.