The Soul of Aspen

In a recent Aspen Times column, the Aspen Princess, Alison Margo, wrote about the spirit of Aspen, and how it’s still going strong. She found Aspen’s soul in Aspen Hall of Fame honorees, whom she interviews for videos commemorating their lives and contributions to the community. We were intrigued and wanted to know more: What exactly is it about these people who came to Aspen in the 1960s and ’70s, and still live here? How do they embody the spirit of Aspen, and how does that impact the community?

From Ali’s viewpoint, they represent a core community that’s made up of mavericks and rebels, doers and achievers who expect the best of themselves and others, and rugged individualists who nevertheless have a strong sense of community.

Charles and Fonda Paterson, who built the Boomerang Lodge. Charles also wrote a memoir, Escape Home, which chronicles his life from the time he fled Hitler's Europe as a young refugee.

Charles and Fonda Paterson, who built the Boomerang Lodge. Charles also wrote a memoir, Escape Home, which chronicles his life from the time he fled Hitler’s Europe as a young refugee.

“They weren’t going to subscribe to the life that was expected of them — they kind of ran away,” says Ali, and brought their sense of adventure and gung-ho spirit with them.

In Aspen, that spirit often manifests itself in outdoor and athletic achievements. Aspen Hall of Famers are Olympians, accomplished mountaineers, endurance athletes, and, of course, incredible skiers.

The love of mountains, wilderness, and the outdoors shapes people’s psyches in a different way, says Ali. “They have a strong sense of self. They have confidence and an adventurousness, and they pass all of that down to their kids.”

Whether they’re astounding athletes or not, that’s one of the main ways these Aspen pioneers from the ’60s and ’70s have shaped this place: through the generations that follow them.

“Just because there’s been change over time, which I’d argue is not so drastic — the glitz and glamor have been around a while — this core community has been around a long time,” says Ali. “In many cases there’s now three generations. When I interview their kids and grandkids, it’s awesome to talk to people in their forties and fifties about how they were raised as Aspenites, and how that affects the way they’re raising their kids.”

Retired Marine Lt. Col. Dick Merritt, a Vietnam veteran, has dedicated his life to helping other veterans, especially those suffering from PTSD.

Retired Marine Lt. Col. Dick Merritt, a Vietnam veteran, has dedicated his life to helping other veterans, especially those suffering from PTSD.

Other major impacts include community institutions, policies, and philosophies.

“The longevity of this community is something Aspen has that other ski towns don’t have,” says Ali. “These people really care about the place.”

That’s reflected in things like the sheer number and variety of local nonprofits (over 200), many of which were founded by community members in response to local needs and desires. And, of course, the civic space. Aspen’s notorious penchant for slow growth is a reflection of the deep care and attention that every proposal for growth gets, and it results in plenty of other things, such as amazing parks and extensive open space, trails and recreation amenities, and preservation of historical structures and special views.

John and Cynthia Callahan helped found  Mountain Rescue and The Thrift Shop. John enjoyed a 20-year career with the Aspen Skiing Co.

John and Cynthia Callahan helped found Mountain Rescue and The Thrift Shop. John enjoyed a 20-year career with the Aspen Skiing Co.

“Sometimes it’s small things — a lot of the women are Thrift Shop volunteers, people are involved in their churches — so it’s small-town stuff,” Ali points out. “And after they’ve raised their kids here, worked at the ski company or have been involved with the ski club, and been involved in these longtime institutions, they’re so invested.”

And that’s what sums it all up — the secret ingredient to this community that can be applied anywhere: “They’re extraordinary people, but they’re very relatable, very normal. They’re real people.”

The Aspen Hall of Fame’s 30th anniversary induction banquet was January 21 — this year’s inductees are pictured here. Find out more about some of Aspen’s spirited pioneers at the Aspen Hall of Fame website.

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