SHRINES IN THE SNOW
Shrines in the snow - Luxury Travel Magazine
|By: Jenny Caspersonn, Issue 49 Summer 2012|
|ALONG WITH ASPEN’S CHARM, ITS FIRST-RATE SKIING, WORLD CLASS DINING AND CHIC RETAIL, ASPENSNOWMASS HAS SOME LESS WELL-KNOWN TREASURES. JENNY CASPERSONN DISCOVERS WHAT’S HIDDEN IN THE HILLS.|
|Aspen is famous for its famous people but who knew that many of them reside high in the snowy glades of these picturesque mountains?|
No, not alive and kicking exactly, but enshrined in their snowy memorials where dedicated fans and supporters honour their memory. From musicians to writers, local characters, the victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks, sports and even Snoopy, tributes to the greater and the lesser known are quietly hidden in the hillsides.
For around a quarter of a century locals have been demarcating special locations on the mountains of Aspen, Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass with mementos, tokens, plaques and memorabilia dedicated to individuals and events. The first shrine is thought to have been devoted to Elvis Presley sometime in the 1970s. Since that time dozens of shrines have appeared. They are generally well concealed, often in a wooded glade, requiring accurate local knowledge to detect them. The unwritten local code is not to give specific directions and indeed the challenge and mystery is discovering the shrines.
Recognised “shrine authority” David Wood loves to share his passion for what he calls these Sanctuaries in the Snow. With a book of the same name cataloging the Shrines of AspenSnowmass, Wood also maintains a website and Facebook page. Formerly a lawyer, Wood divides his time between West Des Moines, Iowa and Snowmass Village and on this day is kindly sharing his expertise with me. While big dry flakes of famous Colorado powder fall, together we traverse, trek and stomp our way off the main runs to find these unseen sanctuaries, which eventually reveal themselves in the eerie white stillness. Photographs and articles, sensibly protected from the elements in plastic, along with items like licence plates, street names and all manner of colourful and meaningful mementos are nailed to trees and placed at the sites. The local authorities do not actively promote the practice and tend to look the other way. There is a fine line, however, between trash and treasure and thankfully tasteful maintenance of the shrines seems to have prevailed.
There is no doubt that the shrines add an air of mystique and fun to the cultural and historic fabric of the AspenSnowmass region. David Wood has skied all over North America and believes the shrines of Aspen are unique.
Our first visit takes in the shrine of Hunter S. Thompson an Aspen local and iconic journalist and author of several books, most famously Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He is credited with originating “gonzo” style journalism, writing in the first person blurring the author and subject. Thompson lived in Woody Creek and famously drank at the celebrated but adorably unpretentious local watering hole the Woody Creek Tavern.
Among many of his antics Thompson is said to have once thrown a smoke bomb into the Tavern and had to write an apology to be allowed to return. This he did, written on a cheque, which was then pinned to the walls of the tavern. Thompson was narrowly defeated in his bid for Sheriff of Pitkin County where he ran on a platform of decriminalising drugs, and among other things, renaming Aspen “Fat City” to deter investors. A dedicated firearms supporter, he committed suicide in 2005 with a single gunshot. Thompson’s shrine was established on the first anniversary of his death and is updated twice annually by his supporters. It boasts an American flag, photographs, articles, Aspen Sheriff Campaign posters, book covers, a Rolling Stone magazine cover and a bottle of Chivas Regal Scotch whisky.
Next stop is the shrine of musician Jerry Garcia, who was front man of the cult American rock band the Grateful Dead. Originally sharing this spot with reggae artist Bob Marley, the place is now the repository of Deadhead devotees’ memorabilia. At the shrine there are artificial red roses, a “Stoner Avenue” street sign and numerous photographs and images of Garcia.
Musician John Denver was another famous local, who is honoured in a shrine created just a few months after his death in a plane crash in October 1997. For many, Denver’s middle of the road country and folk rock music captured the essence of the Colorado landscape. Wind chimes from the home he shared with wife Annie were placed high in a tree by the Ski Patrol and the site is decorated with images and photographs, and a laminated order of service from his memorial service.
The shrine of much loved local snowboard instructor Eric Smith is very moving. Eric died in 2003 aged 37 from a rare form of cancer. His shrine is more like a log cabin cave in the woods adorned with items reflecting his passions – snowboarding, surfing, his wife Sarah and their twins, who were born after his death.
Perhaps my singular favourite is the golf shrine with dedications to former golf greats such as Tommy Armour, James Braid, Henry Cotton, Jimmy Demaret, Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Payne Stewart to name a few. One can take in the photographs, jokes, a tournament marshal’s “Quiet” sign, golf paraphernalia such as balls, bags, shoes and the Colorado “One Putt” licence plate. My short game is my weakness so chipping
practice wearing ski boots knee deep in powder complete with bucket of range balls and a pitching wedge is just the ticket, fuelled by the never-runsdry hip flask of whisky buried nearby in the snow.
Even the Aussies get a mention with a plaque on a tree commemorating the location where some Australians and Canadians would get together for a wine in the snow back in 1974. Firm friendships were forged which remain strong to this day.
In all there are estimated to be over 50 shrines dotted around the four mountains that make up the AspenSnowmass ski fields. So along with the glorious long runs, the pristine powder, the chic retail and amenities there is even more for AspenSnowmass visitors to discover.