It’s been two weeks since I traded the 7 mile by 7 mile span of urban San Francisco for the solitude of small mountain towns and I must say, the transition from living amongst 815358 people in San Francisco to 6658 in Aspen has been surprisingly easy and delightfully quiet. The transition from 63 feet above sea level to 7890 feet, on the other hand, has been painful, marked with much heavy breathing, burning lungs, flakey dry skin. Fortunately, though, the average body requires at least two weeks to acclimatize to altitude. I’ve reached my first milestone and the hardest of breathing is over, whew!

Returning to small town life after so many months among the nameless faces of San Francisco, though, has been an easy breath of fresh mountain air. Life is just more simple, manageable, in smaller places where you have fewer options, less variety, especially for an indecisive person like me. I’ve noticed a shift in the quality of my interactions with others–people notice me now when I walk down the sidewalk and I notice them. Often times we share a hello, how are you, sometimes even a hey! hows it going? The bus drivers are even friendly and cosiderate. One morning I raced to the bus stop, skis and boots and poles hanging off me from all angles, coffee mug in hand, only to reach the stop as the bus rolled by. I swore, waved, swore some more and the red brake lights flashed. A hundred feet or so down the highway, the bus came to a stop and I dragged myself, ski gear and coffee mug over to it. Man, if I could count the number of buses I chased down in the city and not one ever stopped…

One of my ultimate favorite aspects of small town life is this: less theft. Unlocked bikes line the side walks, unattended skis rest outside of restaurants, parked cars often have keys in them, sometimes even in the ignition. I haven’t locked my front door once since I arrived. Sure, this is primarily a reflection of the fact that most of folks around here are well-off enough that they don’t need to steal from others, but it’s also reassuring to live in a place where people generally aren’t out to scavenge your belongings to buy drugs or otherwise better their lives somehow.

But mountain life has its drawbacks too of course. I do happen to be living in the most expensive town in America, and so eating or drinking out at any locale other than the restaurant where I work and get 50% discount is pretty much out of the question. So I read a lot. I work. I admire the mountains. I ski. I don’t pay for skiing (at $104 a day on any of Aspen’s four mountains, who could?), I prefer to ski up the ski slopes in order to ski down them, therefore procuring a full body and fully rewarding workout that sure beats a thigh master. On any given wander down the sidewalk in Aspen I encounter waify, anoretic mid-40s women wearing the latest by Gucci and Prada, far more concerned about their apres ski outfits than epic tales from the slopes that day. The men are as polished as the women, most of them sporting salt and pepper hair and roving eyeballs ready to snatch the attention of any young ski bunny who happens to stroll by.

If the men aren’t polished, they are the exact opposite–bushy bearded with unkept hair, donning down jackets with duct tape patches where the feathers started to leak out–the ski bums of the town that revel in steep, deep pow runs, pitchers of PBR and probably live in a van or on a variety of couches in the homes of slightly better off ski bums (most likely ski instructors for Aspen Ski Co, or excuse me, not ski instructors, Ski Pros as they distinctly call themselves). Gone is the middle class in this town, people here are either a member of the super rich out touristing for a week, staying in any of the predominantly four-star hotels in town or in their own mutli-million (or perhaps billion) dollar second homes; or they are a member of the die-hards, the mountain lovers who work day jobs and night jobs catering to the affluent just to afford employee housing and a ski pass. Gone from my day to day is the diversity of the city, now replaced by the disparity of wealth among a bunch of white folks, ski bums and a handful of Mexican (of questionable legality) immigrants that make up the great underbelly of the service industry.

Of course I’m making sweeping generalizations. In a place as extreme in wealth, natural beauty and superficiality as Aspen, sweeping generalizations are the rule, the norm. So outstanding is the difference between the upper crust and the lower crust that sometimes it’s tough to spot the thin layer of filling in between.

But boy oh boy, when the flakes are swirling down so thick I can’t see ten feet before me and I’m gliding telemark turns through powder up to my thighs, sharp cold mountain air filling my huffing lungs, legs working to the rhythm of the trees the snow the sky the slope, I am in heaven and all the rest of that stuff–those multimillion dollar homes and all those polished white people, that $12 burger, that $6 pint of beer–it all disappears, melts into the snow flakes, and I couldn’t ask to be anywhere else but here.

Extreme beauty–Aspen at sunset

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