This blog comes to Colorado Ski Country from Dan Rabin, a freelance contributor to our blog.
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One thing you won’t find in either the book or online is detailed directions to any of the shrines. “The local code is no one gives you exact, really good directions,” Wood explained. “In a way that makes it more fun because it’s more like a treasure hunt or scavenger hunt.”
While the existence of the shrines is no secret to local skiers, an informal poll I conducted on the ski lifts of Snowmass revealed that they’re largely unknown to visitors from more distant locales. “You can ski right past them for years and never know they’re there,” says Wood. Indeed, the majority of shrines I visited that first day were well-hidden, though easy to access from the slopes.
Not so on Aspen Mountain (a.k.a. Ajax) where the shrines were more difficult to reach, often situated deep in the timber off expert terrain. I spent my second day of shrine chasing with Tony Vagneur, a rancher, writer and volunteer ski ambassador. The fourth generation Aspenite has been skiing on Aspen Mountain since 1950. Not only was he familiar with the mountain’s numerous discreetly-placed shrines, but he also seemed to know everyone on skies on a first name basis.
Although the shrines pay tribute to a wide variety of people, places such as Fenway Park and amusements including golf and mountain biking, the most numerous are those devoted to deceased musicians. We began the day at the John Denver Shrine. The popular singer-songwriter was an Aspen resident and an acquaintance of my guide. “He was a nice guy,” according to Vagneur. “He didn’t have a big head. He put in plenty of time on a bar stool with a lot of us.”
The Jerry Garcia Shrine is perhaps the most-visited of the Aspen Mountain shrines. One object that caught my eye at the tribute to the late Grateful Dead guitarist was a California license plate, dated 1993, reading “IWLSIR5” (“I will survive” is a lyric from the Grateful Dead song Touch of Grey).
We also visited the Elvis Shrine which, some people believe, is the first Aspen shrine, put in shortly after the entertainer’s death in 1977. The newest is believed to be the Michael Jackson Shrine, also on Aspen Mountain.
One of the Aspen Mountain shrines we visited was easily spotted without trekking through the timber. The 9/11 Shrine, created in February, 2002, was intentionally located in plain sight from the adjacent ski slope. Four New York City firefighters participated in its construction.
Among our other stops that day were the Buckaroo Shrine, the Marilyn Monroe Shrine (complete with a lacy undergarment), the Snoopy Shrine, the Michael Houser Shrine (the late guitarist for Widespread Panic: warning; beware of the cliffs!) and the shrine to Billy Zaugg, the last miner to live on Aspen Mountain.
The shrines of Aspen/Snowmass provide a unique and wonderful diversion to a ski outing. Happy hunting.
Dan Rabin is a freelance writer from Boulder whose thirst for knowledge is exceeded only by his thirst for Colorado-brewed craft beer.