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Face It, There Are Things Aspen Does Better Than Any Other Ski Town

While no one in Aspen has a problem with indulgence, there’s no shortage of hardcore skiing either

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While this was first published in Skiing Magazine a decade ago, the author has convinced us the argument stands the test of time. We went willingly. 

I don’t care that Aspen is a 60-some-year-old resort in the heartland of American ski country. I don’t care how old-school it is. There are still things Aspen does better than any other ski town.

Beautiful people, for one. This year and every year, Aspen lays claim to the most attractive people to live at altitude. Sorry, Caucasus babushkas, but too many of you have steel teeth.

Then there’s the social life. People forget, due to last year’s “tiger blood” meltdown, that Charlie Sheen’s first arrest happened in Aspen. The place flat-out knows how to party. That became abundantly clear late last April, when Aspen Highlands hosted the resort world’s Best. Closing. Day. Ever.

In 2011, closing day fell on Easter.

A bunch of friends and I celebrated the traditional way: dancing on tables with squiffy strangers in various states of undress. Easter occurred abnormally late last year (April 24), persuading Highlands to stay open three weeks longer than usual, punctuating one of the resort’s longest seasons ever.

While no one at a Highlands Finale has a problem with indulgence, there’s no shortage of travail, diligence, and hardcore skiing. That Sunday morning, hundreds of skiers and boarders slogged up the nearly 800-vertical-foot path to the apex of Highland Bowl, beckoned by 22 inches of fresh snow. Kicking step after endless step, one could smell various ventilatory systems expelling the previous evening’s toxic vapors (a Saturday night in Aspen is no Girl Scout meeting, either).

At the peak, dozens of people milled around, passing flasks and joints. To our right, rocky cliffs fell off into the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area. Peaks as pretty as their name, the Maroon Bells look like, well, maroon bells and are said to be the most photographed peaks in Colorado. To our left yawned double-black-diamond ski slopes as steep as 45 degrees. My buddies and I dodged girls in bikinis and guys in bunny suits to milk face shots. Then we skied to retro, wooden Cloud 9 restaurant and engaged in more madness.

There were pirates and wenches. Cowboys and Euros. Waynes and Garths. Cows and leopards. All of them dancing crazily to a DJ who, over six hours, never faltered—on narrow tables that hadn’t been cleared of glassware. We actually took a break from the Cloud 9 chaos and schussed down to the Merry Go Round, where folks were pond skimming and a band of local high schoolers rocked absurdly good Led Zeppelin covers.

We then repaired back to Cloud 9 and shimmied for hours. Highlands didn’t officially close till 6:30 p.m. that day—the latest sweep I’d ever experienced outside the siesta-loving Spanish Pyrenees. I found myself in the orbit of a guy in a powder-blue leisure suit carrying a bottle of Jack Daniel’s instead of poles. He straightlined a steep rollover, lost control, blitzed another 100 yards attempting to recover, then ragdolled violently but managed to pop up without having spilled any whiskey (the bottle was corked). I laughed as hard as I’ve ever laughed on a ski slope, affirming Homer Simpson’s timeless truism: “It’s funny because it happened to someone else.”

At the base, a giant shindig in the Highlands plaza churned patrons into a roaring, seething mass. A woman clambered onto a pedestal and gyrated in ways that seemed anatomically impossible. She stripped down to her thong. She began to fiddle with her bra. The crowd surged with anticipation of bare breasts. Then, hurtling through the late April sky, came a flurry of snowballs. One drilled our go-go dancer. This enraged her, and she stormed off the platform. What kind of genius chases off a disrobing girl with a snowball?

The mob should have throttled the thrower, but we didn’t. I think we were having too good a time.