SHE’S GOT A GOLDMINE, AND I GOT THE SHAFT
by Todd Hartley
Editor’s note: The following is written entirely in the local Roaring Fork Valley dialect of Skibonics, the language of ski bums. Readers who aren’t ski bums may need a 12-year-old’s help comprehending certain words and phrases.
So, about that epic beater I took a week and a half ago: It wasn’t my fault; it was Aspen Mountain’s fault. If Ajax hadn’t been skiing so well, I might not have been behaving like such an idiot and probably wouldn’t have fallen into a mine shaft.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Ajax has quietly become a sick little ski area over the past 20 years or so. I mean, it was always good, but nowadays, when it’s operating at full capacity, Ajax is like a mini-Crested Butte without all the stinking T-bars.
It may be hard for kids these days to believe it, but once upon a time, when you skied Ajax, you did the Face to 6 to Perry’s over and over again on your skinny skis, and you liked it. Oh, you’d sneak in a Walsh’s or a Kristi every now and then and think you were extreme, but your skis mostly stayed in the snow all day. There wasn’t a lot of airtime to be had inbounds.
But then Trainor’s opened back in the mid-’90s, giving Ajax some of the gnarliest terrain in Colorado when there was enough snow to get it open. Then came Bingo Glades, at least as far as I remember. I make no guarantees about the accuracy of my chronology.
After Bingo, it seemed like the Aspen Mountain ski patrol opened a new little cache of steeps every couple of years or so. There were the Cone Dumps and Rayburn’s and then Silver Queen Ridge and Bonnie Bell Dumps. This year, things have culminated with the opening of Hidden Treasure, a much-bigger-than-expected area of snake-themed tree chutes next to Kristi. At this point, there’s basically nothing left inbounds that can be opened.
So anyway, when Ajax is fully operational now, it’s awesome. And when it’s sporting a foot and a half of fresh, it emboldens one to ski in a much riskier fashion than one’s doughy, middle-age body and creaky knees suggest one should.
Even so, I still might not have skied the way I did, but on the gondola ride just before the fateful wipeout, a friend of mine mentioned how he didn’t follow a line I skied because it seemed too difficult.
Well, that was all my moronic ego needed to hear. There was pretty much no chance of me not doing something stupid after that.
We went out to Bonnie Bell Dumps, and I skied a line just below a band of cliffs, where it looked as though there were plenty of obstacles off which to jump. I got going too fast while trying to show off, and I missed a turn and tumbled right through some bushes — at least, my body and one ski tumbled through; my right ski, however, didn’t make it.
It turns out the bushes were guarding the top of the opening of an old mine shaft, and I ended up dangling upside down by one leg in the hole. There was no way I could free my ski, so I had no choice but to grab hold of some roots with my right hand and reach up with the pole in my left hand to pop the binding off my right foot.
Freed from the ski, I dropped about 5 feet and landed with a thud on my back on the inner side of a mound of snow in the mouth of the shaft. My left ski got hung up on top of the mound, so I was still upside-down, but at least now I wasn’t dangling in the air.
I popped my left binding off and flipped around as deftly as I could, and I managed to get myself upright without falling deeper into the hole, which disappeared below me into the mountain.
With some effort, I climbed out of the hole and retrieved one ski while my friend freed the other from the bushes and tossed it down to me. I was bathed in sweat and still a little shaky, but other than a sore back, I was none the worse for wear.
Oh, my ego was completely brutalized, of course, but that’s probably for the best. Maybe I’ll show a mountain as sick as Ajax a little more respect the next time around.
Todd “Gaper” Hartley will be sticking to cruisers for the time being.