New book captures rich history of Aspen Highlands on ski area’s 60th anniversary
THE SCOOP ON HIGHLANDS
What: “A History of Aspen Highlands” by John Moore
When: The longtime ski instructor’s book was released last month and coincides with the ski area’s 60th anniversary.
Where: It is sold at Carl’s Pharmacy in Aspen and BOOTech at the Highlands base. Moore can also be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
As a ski instructor at Aspen Highlands for 34 seasons, John Moore got to know his way around those slopes pretty well. He also hobnobbed regularly with some of the characters who helped build the ski resort into a locals’ favorite and a thorn in the side of Aspen Skiing Corp. in the 1970s.
Moore happens to be a history buff, an excellent researcher and someone with an interest of writing.
He parlayed all that background into a book. “A History of Aspen Highlands” was released at the start of this ski season — right in time for the 60th anniversary of the ski area.
“I had a marvelous time writing it,” said Moore, 84, a recent transplant to Carbondale from Aspen.
Moore threaded his personal knowledge about Highlands and the vibe he experienced at the ski area as an instructor from 1983 through 2016 with a researcher’s look at the development of the resort over the decades. The result captures the fun, adventure and maverick feel of Highlands with critical documentation of its creation by Whipple Van Ness Jones to its sale to Gerry Hines and consolidation with Aspen Skiing Co.
Moore said he was advised to either write a history book or make it a memoire. He understood the advice but just couldn’t follow it.
“I didn’t want to take out my personal experiences,” Moore said.
He spent 4½ years researching, writing, proofing and producing the book. He interviewed more than 60 people — from Jones’ grandsons to Gerry Hines.
“Anybody who had anything to do with Highlands,” he said. “I probably missed some.”
Mac Smith, the iconic director of the Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol, was “a big help” on everything from history to character.
The archives at the Aspen Historical Society were a treasure trove. An added bonus was a fat file that someone compiled at Aspen Highlands of old newspaper stories and pictures.
A picture by the late Dick Durrance Sr. graces the cover. The inside pages are sprinkled with historical photos of hot-doggers, bikini-contest winners and even one of a female skier performing a spread-eagle gainer — wearing nothing but ski boots.
Moore relates the story of the “solarium,” a depression just past where skiers and riders now load the snowcats for the trip toward Highland Bowl. Back in the early 1970s, a different type of adventurer used the spot. Small crowds would “strip down to sunbathe, smoke a joint or have a pull on their Bota bag,” Moore wrote. “Some were known to ski down the mountain in the buff so they could jump into the pool at Chateau Kirk. According to Mac Smith, it was the ski patrol’s policy that anything was permitted as long as they wore ski boots.”
Moore did an invaluable job of researching and writing about Jones’ efforts to build the resort from scratch. He also uncovered details on how Hines bought Highlands and how perilously close the deal was to crumbling.
“I think it might have closed, frankly,” Moore said.
He didn’t shy away from tough subjects. He describes how the ski area suffered from Jones’ inability or unwillingness to invest in upgrades and Highlands’ descent in the 1980s.
A chapter on the ski patrol outlines a nasty event in 1967 when the patrol shack burned down, the patrollers lost all their gear and were treated shabbily by upper management. The patrollers later voted to unionize. Jones responded by hiring scabs.
He said he tried his best to accurately portray as much of the ski area’s history as he could. However, he’s not claiming it as the definitive history of Highlands.
“I thought saying ‘the’ history was a little bit presumptuous,” he said.
Time may well prove it to be the definitive work.
The cover of the book asks the question: “Where have all the characters gone?”
Moore has a surprising answer. While there were certainly a lot of colorful characters from Highlands’ past, he still contends they exist, as the book attests. He credits Aspen Skiing Co. for not only investing in the ski area’s infrastructure, but also letting Highlands retain much of its character.
“It draws a certain type of local and other adventure seeker,” Moore said. “It has its own niche. That aspect of the mountain is going to be attractive for years.”
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