Monday, March 14, 2011
Michael Cleverly, VIle's Aspen Bureau Chief
Submitted by: Editor

Original Company Town - Part 2

“Company Town” traces the evolution of the influence of the industries that have driven Aspen’s economic life from its boomtown silver and gold mining days to its growth into one of the premier ski resorts in the world. It also traces the changes in Aspen society, from its mining days, when basically no one had any class, to the freewheeling 70’s when the place was so democratic as to be a classless society, to today, when the entire town is essentially a gated community. The gates are not made of steel, they’re economic, and the society now is far from classless.

Ute City was heading for some rough times sans Utes

The fifty-odd years in Aspen, from the end of the silver boom to WWII, were dubbed “The Quiet Years” by authors Gaylord Guenin and Kathy Kreiger Daily. The company had no business and then the town had no company. Aspen’s economy became that of the rest of rural Colorado and the west. People ranched, cut railroad ties, grew potatoes and lived close to the bone. Barter was the most common currency and no one felt the place was very exclusive. 

In the 1930’s outdoorsman Friedl Pfeifer and Chicago industrialist and philanthropist Walter Paepcke discussed the idea of a ski area in Aspen. The winter Olympics had been held in Lake Placid in 1932 and the sport had excited the imagination of the American public. In 1935 Swiss avalanche expert Andre’ Roch was hired to develop a ski area near what was by then the ghost town of Ashcroft. Looming war in Europe ended those plans but Roch and the Aspen Ski Club went on to cut out a racecourse on Aspen Mountain anyway. It featured a “boat tow,” two huge sleds that that hauled skiers, like acolytes at some bizarre Viking funeral, up the mountain. Viking acolyte Adlai Stevenson, who was at the time the Governor of Illinois, fell out of the thing.

The end of World War II brought people back to Aspen. Members of the Tenth Mountain Division who had trained in the Rockies, and had seen the Alps, began inventing ski resorts back home. Men who had been enemies on European battlefields immigrated to Aspen to begin new lives and were welcomed as brothers. The notion of exclusion would have been anathema, still no Utes.

In 1946 The Aspen Skiing Company was formed and in 1947 Lift 1A was opened. It was the longest chairlift in the world. In 1950 skiers from around the world converged in Aspen for its first FIS race on Roch Run and Aspen was established as a world-class mountain. Buttermilk Mountain and Aspen Highlands were developed and opened for skiing in 1958 and Snowmass opened in 1969. Aspen was once again a company town.  

In 1949 Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke had organized their Goethe Festival which brought together some of the leading thinkers and artists of the time. Paepcke’s presence insured that as Aspen grew as a ski resort it would also grow culturally and intellectually. The most important people in town were on a first name basis with the old miners and ranchers who had scratched out a living in the Roaring Fork Valley long before it was home to the rich and famous, and society in Aspen was homogenous.


Part 3: the 70’s and serious fun in the old mining town

Posted by Editor on 03/14/11 at 02:00 PM •  (0) Comments

Tags:  wealth, aspen, cleverly,

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