Even before the good old days got underway Ward Baker and I struggled over 11,000 foot high Loveland Pass in a 1937 Buick convertible Phaeton towing a then-revolutionary tear drop trailer. Fortunately we had a gallon jug of fresh water we could pour into the steaming radiator and give the engine a rest before we skidded down the western side of the pass headed for Aspen.
In those days there wasn’t a single ski resort between Loveland Pass and Aspen. No Vail, Keystone, Breckenridge, Copper or Beaver Creek. The dam that created a much larger Lake Dillon had not been built yet. With the smell of burning brake lining we finally got down to the valley and then began the long climb over Vail Pass.
No one knew that 15 years later Vail would be created, a ski resort supported by a community population estimated at about 35,000 people, which is about the same as Bozeman is today.
We continued west on a narrow, two-lane winding road along the Colorado River to Glenwood Springs and then took a left turn along the railroad tracks that led to Aspen. It was Aspen’s first winter as a ski resort.
It had been an eight-hour drive for us from Loveland Pass when we reached the dirt streets of Aspen. We parked near the old Number One chairlift. It was advertised as the longest chairlift in the world.
Freidle Pfeiffer, who had moved there from Sun Valley to run the ski school, was wrapping up his day and we invited him for a cup of coffee in the Jerome Hotel.
Were Ward and I pioneers to go there so soon? I don’t think so. I was just someone who had spent four critical years of my life in the Navy and we had saved enough money to go in search of our freedom. We could afford six months of skiing as long as we didn’t have to buy lift tickets and lived in our trailer. And we found a lot of different ways not to pay for lifts. In 1947, the most expensive lift tickets were at Sun Valley and Aspen and they were $4. However, minimum wages were 25 cents an hour, so you do the math.
Aspen had been a deserted town ever since the silver boom fizzled in the 1800s. Camp Hale, where the Tenth Mountain troops trained was a cold ride away in an army truck during the war and soldiers would come to Aspen on their time off and ride in the old boat tow.
We had to hide our car and trailer down a dead end alley and met Freidle in the Jerome Bar.
The highlight of the conversation was when he said, “You guys should buy a couple of these old houses while you are here. You can make them livable and work on construction during the summer and maybe on the mountain next winter. Last year I bought 10 of them for $100.”
If you would like to buy one of those remodeled, “cute Victorian houses” today they would cost between $3 million and $4 million. Unfortunately, Ward and I were water rats and wanted nothing but to spend the summer riding 100-pound surfboards without wetsuits.
The day after our cup of tea with the ski school director Freidle we climbed up the lower lift to Tartlet Park and skied down. The snow was OK, the terrain fantastic, but after riding the three chairlifts at Sun Valley all winter it was not worth climbing the second time and we were getting very low on money and were still almost 1,000 miles from our homes and surfboards.
We straightened up the stuff in the trailer and headed west with a stop at Alta, Yosemite and a week of skiing at Mammoth during the first annual ski instructors certification tests in early May. The unpaved streets and $10 Aspen houses are still burnt into my brain as I sit here on a small island in the Pacific Northwest working on the autobiography of a life spent sort of lurching from one near disaster to the next and stopping often enough to produce movies. What a ride!
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