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Snowy Days, Starry Nights - Ski Mag

Snowy Days, Starry Nights

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Snowy Days, Starry Nights 1203

IT'S A POWDER DAY ON ASPEN MOUNTAIN, AND THE rumor making unhurried laps around the gondola like an Ajax regular is that comedian Mike Myers will be dressing up as an Aspen instructor today to ham it up on-camera. "Silly is good, Myers later tells a delighted sold-out house of 800 in the St. Regis hotel's basement ballroom. Clearly, Austin Powers' alter ego and the other comedians here for the ninth annual U.S. Comedy Arts Festival know silliness. The ski life, however, is another matter.

"Me on skis? Unh-unh, says Loni Love, winner of the festival's Best Stand-Up award. "It would take me seven days to get down from that mountain.

"They didn't tell me until I got here that there was no oxygen, deadpans Norm MacDonald, of Saturday Night Live fame. Out on the slopes, no one much cares whether Myers, Love, MacDonald, Steve Martin, Kelsey Grammer, John Goodman or any of the other comedic celebrities in town for the festival are skiing, or even getting their fair share of 02. At least not at the moment. And that's because life on Aspen Mountain today is about as perfect as Aspen gets. Snow fell all night. The sun has been out all day. And the only crowd even remotely close to the ski lifts is the one packing the Ajax Tavern deck, where the main topic of conversation is where everyone wants to ski tomorrow—Snowmass, Highlands, Buttermilk or right here.

What no one debates is this: The U.S. Comedy Arts Festival is an ideal time to take a ski vacation in Aspen—just as the Sundance Film Festival in January puts a memorable twist on a trip to Park City, Utah. The two festivals have distinct personalities, but each serves up uncrowded Rocky Mountain skiing all day and world-class entertainment all night. Making a vacation out of either festival is about leaving your cares behind for an uncommon mix of top-notch terrain, cutting-edge culture, glittering glamour and big fun. There's only one caveat: It's not about getting a lot of sleep.

FOR SHEER CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS, NOTHING BEATS Sundance. Park City locals call it the Invasion of the PIBs (People in Black). It's ski town meets Tinseltown, with abundant Utah skiing, screenings of some 120 feature films in 11 days, plus more partying than anyone over 35 can possibly take and people-watching that rivals Hollywood Boulevard on Oscar night.

At Wahso, a chic Asian-fusion restaurant in the heart of Park City, Robert Redford dines discreetly in a corner with four friends, his eyes crinkling in that trademark Redford way when he turns his head to order. Mickey Rourke gets up from another table, saunters out to Wahso's porch and lights a cigarette. Below him, historic Main Street is teeming. Flawless young women wrapped in shearling coats and handsome men dressed in black spill off the sidewalks. White stretch limousines motor slowly up the street, past the 100-year-old mining town facades. Overhead, the night sky sparkles, crystal-sharp and thick with the other kind of stars.

Up the street, for a half-block on either side of Harry O's nightclub, the crowd is packed into a tightly wedged state of human gridlock. J. Lo and Ben Affleck are expected to show up for a private party at any moment. Britney Spears is on her way, too. Matt Damon is reportedly already in the house. Some people climb up lightposts and onto window ledges across the street to get better views. No one else can move. "This is a nightmare! says a girl with perfect skin and a sleek, tiny cell phone pressed to her ear. "I'm supposed to be on the VIP list! The police try to herd the throng back onto the sidewalks, but a thin woman with a baseball cap, a headset and a clipboard strides up behind them, shouting and gesturing over their shoulders: "VIPs over here! VIPs over here! she says.The police halt all car traffic on Main as the crowd surges into the street.

Two miles away, at the 1,268 seat Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, paparazzi jostle for position and pop their flashes as Ed Burns, Dust Hoffman and Rachel Weisz walk the red carpet into the world premiere of Confidence, a slick, modern-day cousin of The Sting. "In my next life I could be a skier, Hoffman says, smiling wryly and weaving through the gantlet. "I love to watch people ski.

For many, simply watching is exactly what the Sundance Film Festival is all about. Redford, the founding visionary of the Sundance Institute, adopted the festival in 1985 and reconceived it as a showcase for independent films—films made without the support of any of the movie industry's established players. In 1991, it was renamed from the U.S. Film Festival to Sundance. In the beginning, there were no paparazzi, no red carpets and no people in town just for the parties. Everyone was either skiing, attending filmmaking seminars, making deals or simply watching movies. Were it not for the showings in Park City, these were films that might never have been seen.

Since then Sundance has exploded. More than 20,000 people attend every year. Tickets are sold out within 24 hours of the festival's start. Independent American films—quirky, innovative and nonformulaic—in both dramatic and documentary categories are the festival's backbone, but there are also foreign films, animated movies, digital movies and popular, star-studded premieres featuring big names like Morgan Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, Mel Gibson, Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Penélope Cruz, Tatum O'Neal, Holly Hunter and Al Pacino, to name a few from 2003. And whatever is on-screen, Sundance audiences are rapt and respectful. They're equally attentive—leaning forward, chins in hands, completely absorbed—when filmmakers, writers and actors take the stage to field questions after each screening. These are audiences who truly love the art form of film.

"I see between 14 and 20 films a year at Sundance, says a local, chatting on a chairlift at The Canyons, just outside of Park City. "I've seen the best movies I've ever seen and I've seen the worst movies I've ever seen. I absolutely love it, but you never know what you're going to get. Even the Sundance flicks featuring big names or backed by major media companies veer sharply from predictable, mainstream Hollywood fare. Showtime, for example, got standing ovations for Soldier's Girl, a true story in which a soldier is murdered by a member of his battalion after falling in love with a woman who used to be a man. Festival Director Geoffrey Gilmore explains that the whole concept of Sundance is to allow seasoned actors, writers, directors and producers to take risks. "This is an arena where they can truly flex their muscles, he says.

As a skier at the festival, you'll have plenty of options for flexing yours. Deer Valley, Park City and The Canyons are minutes from the movies. Alta, Snowbird, Brighton, Solitude and Redford's own Sundance resort are within a one-hour drive. Wherever you choose, you won't be waiting in any liftlines. "It's dead on the mountain, says a Deer Valley spokesperson. "Even if you took the festival away, it's a slow time. That means you can wear out your ski legs in a half-day on the slopes, then plunge into the film scene for the rest of the day—and all of the very starry night.

Tonight, as usual, Main Street is packed. Kevin Spacey stands on a patio, giving an interview and wearing a black watch cap. Beck is playing an invitation-only concert for HBO up the street. At X-Dance (one of the many fill-in-the-blank-dance festivals that have glommed onto Sundance's success), mohawked skier Glen Plake emcees an awards ceremony for action-sports films and video games while comedian Pauly Shore talks trash, former Cirque du Soleil performers spin on their heads and a Mexican funk band called Kinky rocks the house. Things are more low-key at the In Style magazine party at Zoom, a restaurant owned by Redford. Christian Slater signs autographs for fans out front, while inside, Penélope Cruz, dressed in white, smiles demurely as I brush past her in the hall. A local ski bum stands nearby and raises an eyebrow. "They wouldn't let me in the front door, so I just came in the back, he says, popping a chocolate-covered strawberry into his mouth. "Local riff-raff and all. I hear the Black Eyed Peas are playing at Vinyl tonight. Are you gonna go?

HBO'S U.S. COMEDY ARTS FESTIVAL IN ASPEN—widely referred to as the Aspen Comedy Festival—is a more intimate affair. Five-thousand festival-goers attend 80 live performances in a few action-packed days. Compared to Sundance, it's high-paced yet laid-back—a pleasure-intensive blur that's as warmly friendly and wackily diverse as Aspen itself.

It all starts in the 114-year-old Wheeler Opera House when the curtain comes up on J. Edgar! The Musical and a larger-than-ever John Goodman spends two hours singing crazy love duets with Kelsey Grammer and an ensemble cast that includes Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson), Christopher Guest (This is Spinal Tap and A Mighty Wind) and Harry Shearer (This is Spinal Tap). The Wheeler—named in honor of its builder, Jerome Wheeler, who also built the Hotel Jerome—is a classic, trimmed in velvet, trompe l'oeil and well-polished woods, and every one of its 500 seats is a good one.

Dinner after that at Elevation is quick and quintessentially Aspen—a duck spinach salad and Red Bull-reduction chocolate cake in the shadow of giant Warhol-esque paintings of Claudia Schiffer. Next comes an hour of clean but wholly convoluted hilarity from British sensation Bill Bailey at the St. Regis. Bailey, who looks a bit like a troll and uses piano and guitar as part of his act, has all 800 people in the room howling with laughter as he mixes George Bush sound bytes with a thumping bass beat and sardonic rap. But like all festivals, the offerings at U.S. Comedy Arts are hit or miss, and the third show I see that evening, something called "Sit & Spin, is a complete dud. I leave early, still feeling lighthearted, and walk through gently falling snow a few short blocks to my room at the quiet Hearthstone House.

Comedy arts, I quickly learn, involve more than stand-up. Julia Sweeney, who played the androgynous "Pat character during her Saturday Night Live tenure, captivates the Hotel Jerome's intimate ballroom amphitheater with "Guys & Babies, Sex & Gods, a monologue that makes bittersweet comedy out of deeply personal and often difficult life events. Phil Hendrie performs a weird live radio show on stage, convincingly pretending to be nutty, ranting callers to inspire real listeners to call the show. The lounge-lizard Lampshades sing campy, a cappella versions of pop hits. The Hollow Men do Monty Python-style sketches.

The most coveted ticket in town—outside of the evening with Mike Myers—is the annual Late-Night Lounge, a midnight comedy sampler in which festival performers deliver abbreviated versions of their acts and big-name guests occasionally make surprise appearances—like the night, several festivals ago, when Steve Martin and Billy Crystal popped up on stage back-to-back and brought down the house.

Neil Small, a dentist from Virginia, says having adult children—and hence no fear of graphic content—is what makes skiing the Comedy Festival a perfect family holiday. "It's a great vacation, says Small, who has joined his three kids at the festival for four years in a row. "We ski all day, the restaurants are great, and we go to comedy together at night. In fact, as soon as I get home, I make reservations for the next year. I want to get everything lined up so we don't have to run around.

But in the end, running around and consuming as much of the good life as humanly possible is what Aspen Comedy is all about. After snaking through powder-capped moguls on Ajax all afternoon, I slide into après at the Sky Hotel's 39 Degrees Lounge, where The Jetsons meets alpen. Then, back at the Hearthstone, I crack open an ice-cold Red Bull and get ready for the night. The lobby bar at the St. Regis is buzzing withall. A local ski bum stands nearby and raises an eyebrow. "They wouldn't let me in the front door, so I just came in the back, he says, popping a chocolate-covered strawberry into his mouth. "Local riff-raff and all. I hear the Black Eyed Peas are playing at Vinyl tonight. Are you gonna go?

HBO'S U.S. COMEDY ARTS FESTIVAL IN ASPEN—widely referred to as the Aspen Comedy Festival—is a more intimate affair. Five-thousand festival-goers attend 80 live performances in a few action-packed days. Compared to Sundance, it's high-paced yet laid-back—a pleasure-intensive blur that's as warmly friendly and wackily diverse as Aspen itself.

It all starts in the 114-year-old Wheeler Opera House when the curtain comes up on J. Edgar! The Musical and a larger-than-ever John Goodman spends two hours singing crazy love duets with Kelsey Grammer and an ensemble cast that includes Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson), Christopher Guest (This is Spinal Tap and A Mighty Wind) and Harry Shearer (This is Spinal Tap). The Wheeler—named in honor of its builder, Jerome Wheeler, who also built the Hotel Jerome—is a classic, trimmed in velvet, trompe l'oeil and well-polished woods, and every one of its 500 seats is a good one.

Dinner after that at Elevation is quick and quintessentially Aspen—a duck spinach salad and Red Bull-reduction chocolate cake in the shadow of giant Warhol-esque paintings of Claudia Schiffer. Next comes an hour of clean but wholly convoluted hilarity from British sensation Bill Bailey at the St. Regis. Bailey, who looks a bit like a troll and uses piano and guitar as part of his act, has all 800 people in the room howling with laughter as he mixes George Bush sound bytes with a thumping bass beat and sardonic rap. But like all festivals, the offerings at U.S. Comedy Arts are hit or miss, and the third show I see that evening, something called "Sit & Spin, is a complete dud. I leave early, still feeling lighthearted, and walk through gently falling snow a few short blocks to my room at the quiet Hearthstone House.

Comedy arts, I quickly learn, involve more than stand-up. Julia Sweeney, who played the androgynous "Pat character during her Saturday Night Live tenure, captivates the Hotel Jerome's intimate ballroom amphitheater with "Guys & Babies, Sex & Gods, a monologue that makes bittersweet comedy out of deeply personal and often difficult life events. Phil Hendrie performs a weird live radio show on stage, convincingly pretending to be nutty, ranting callers to inspire real listeners to call the show. The lounge-lizard Lampshades sing campy, a cappella versions of pop hits. The Hollow Men do Monty Python-style sketches.

The most coveted ticket in town—outside of the evening with Mike Myers—is the annual Late-Night Lounge, a midnight comedy sampler in which festival performers deliver abbreviated versions of their acts and big-name guests occasionally make surprise appearances—like the night, several festivals ago, when Steve Martin and Billy Crystal popped up on stage back-to-back and brought down the house.

Neil Small, a dentist from Virginia, says having adult children—and hence no fear of graphic content—is what makes skiing the Comedy Festival a perfect family holiday. "It's a great vacation, says Small, who has joined his three kids at the festival for four years in a row. "We ski all day, the restaurants are great, and we go to comedy together at night. In fact, as soon as I get home, I make reservations for the next year. I want to get everything lined up so we don't have to run around.

But in the end, running around and consuming as much of the good life as humanly possible is what Aspen Comedy is all about. After snaking through powder-capped moguls on Ajax all afternoon, I slide into après at the Sky Hotel's 39 Degrees Lounge, where The Jetsons meets alpen. Then, back at the Hearthstone, I crack open an ice-cold Red Bull and get ready for the night. The lobby bar at the St. Regis is buzzing with hundreds of excited people sipping cocktails and bottled water amid bronzes of elk and oil paintings of Maroon Bells. In the ballroom, Myers is about to receive a lifetime achievement award and riff for an hour about life inside his head. Later my friends and I will eat Nobu's famed sushi at the bar of Matsuhisa, while women with ostrich-skin boots and men with fur on their leather jacket collars make a ruckus at one end of the bar and Myers, his wife and another couple dine quietly in the main dining room. While we're eating, Colorado's light powder once again starts drifting down, blanketing Aspen in its magic and bringing only one pressing question into our well-fed, laughter-soothed minds: Where, tomorrow, shall we ski?

with hundreds of excited people sipping cocktails and bottled water amid bronzes of elk and oil paintings of Maroon Bells. In the ballroom, Myers is about to receive a lifetime achievement award and riff for an hour about life inside his head. Later my friends and I will eat Nobu's famed sushi at the bar of Matsuhisa, while women with ostrich-skin boots and men with fur on their leather jacket collars make a ruckus at one end of the bar and Myers, his wife and another couple dine quietly in the main dining room. While we're eating, Colorado's light powder once again starts drifting down, blanketing Aspen in its magic and bringing only one pressing question into our well-fed, laughter-soothed minds: Where, tomorrow, shall we ski?

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