19 Apr 2011, 1:53pm
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Skiing, Smores and Storytelling at Snowmass

Big Blues on the Big Burn at Snowmass

Big Blues on the Big Burn at Snowmass

I woke up to a winter wonderland in Telluride this morning. The mountain’s closed here but I instantly went to the Aspen/Snowmass Web site and saw that they’ve already received seven inches and it’s still snowing. Yes, we’re still skiing here in Colorado! I’m taking off tomorrow for Aspen for a last blast at Aspen Highlands. They always put on a great end-of-season party.

Ten days ago I experienced closing weekend at Snowmass, a mountain I had never skied. Much like in Telluride, their last day of the season was marked by a terrific spring storm that left most people bemoaning the fact that it was the last hurrah. I can only wonder what this Sunday will bring at the Highlands.

So what do I think of Snowmass? Fantastic! I can’t wait to go back and get to know the mountain better. No wonder it’s such a popular choice for all kinds of skiers and boarders, big and small. The groomers seemed endless—long, languorous blues that undulate down the mountain making even the most intermediate skier feel like an expert. It was windy and cold on the last day, so I didn’t bother much with the blacks that crown the summit. But I long to ride The Cirque, a poma lift that runs along the crest of the mountain providing access to the steeper terrain. From there also, I imagine skiers and boarders revel in killer views.

And what about the ambiance? I like it. Although some of the eateries and facilities seem a bit dated, I truly appreciate the strong ski culture embedded throughout the resort. Sure, even on the last day the mountain boasted lots of tourists, yet I could also tell there were just as many local and regional die-hard skiers on the hill. I gobbled up a savory chicken stew at Gwyn’s High Alpine and met new friends that had been skiing Snowmass for years. And then not surprisingly, I found myself at Café Suzanne, a French-inspired establishment, before the last run to sip a hot chocolate with my hunny. Next time, I’ll be back for their boeuf bourguignon.

Storytelling by Mary Lee

Storytelling by Mary Lee

My most touching moment at Snowmass, however, came a few days before when I “swung by” with friends. They were going to ski for the last hour (don’t you love it!), but I decided to sit out and take in the scene at the two Snowmass villages—one old, one new—that serve as beehives of activity for those visiting Snowmass. I stumbled upon a heartwarming sight just outside the coffee shop in the upper village. A cart had been set up stacked high with marshmallows, graham crackers and Hershey chocolate bars, all the necessary ingredients for making smores. Children and adults had gathered around, piercing their marshmallows with the sticks provided and roasting them in the little gas fire that had been lit for this biweekly happening. An elfin woman, whom I later came to know as Mary Lee, quietly greeted everyone asking them about their day and then gently offering to tell them a story. The responses seemed mixed, mostly since people were focused on their marshmallow roasting, a job that does require the right amount of attention or else the white blob will go up in flames.

Eventually some kids became interested in hearing a story. Their eyes widened as Mary Lee launched into a wonderfully scary one. The suspense grew along with the kids’ sticky, chocolate-y mustaches. I found myself captivated both by Mary Lee’s tale and this endearing moment, a sweet scene that unfolded amidst the end-of-the-day hustle and bustle of this busy ski area.

I chatted with Mary Lee later, complimenting her on her ability to spin an intriguing tale. I was only mildly surprised to learn that she had a degree—perhaps a PhD?—in storytelling and that she was quite familiar with Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” a bible to most writers and storytellers. Indeed, Aspen is a first-class resort, I thought. They don’t mess around, even when it comes to smores and storytelling. No wonder Snowmass is such a big draw for families. Life is both in the grand themes and the details—whether you’re cruising on a sweeping blue run or delighting in a smores storytelling moment.

I wonder what little gems will touch me this weekend at Aspen Highlands. I’m thinking it will be pond-skimming, Bluegrass and beers. But you never know what singular moment might seize your senses. Sometimes—especially at this point in the season—the skiing becomes secondary.

Thank you to Aspen/Snowmass and Ann Larson for the above images.

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