Fond Memories

Author Jill Sheeley Recounts Her Hippie Days in Aspen

A new memoir captures the golden age of ski bums in the early 1970s.

By Cindy Hirschfeld February 19, 2020 Published in the Midwinter/Spring 2020 issue of Aspen Sojourner

Jill and Don Sheeley in 1970s Aspen

“You come to a ski town, find a job, fall in love—what more could you want?” says writer Jill Sheeley, talking about her move to Aspen in summer 1971. Of course, she experienced much more than that, and stories about those early adventures fill her recently released memoir, Those Were the Days: Memories of an Aspen Hippie Chick.

After a high school ski trip—inspired by the movie Little Skier’s Big Day, about a young girl living with her family at the Sundeck—Sheeley started visiting regularly from the University of Denver. After relocating here full-time, she embarked on the traditional ski-bum path: working multiple jobs (her favorite—selling roses to diners at local restaurants), living in funky places with various roommates, partying with friends, and nailing down her ski technique.

The book captures the carefree vibe of being a young Aspenite in the 1970s, but the exploits that Sheeley details are more funny than wild. “I didn’t want to make anyone angry,” she says. “People did things during the ’70s I know they’re not proud of.”

Included throughout are recipes, too; Sheeley, best known for her children’s books about “Fraser the Yellow Dog,” also authored several cookbooks.

Reconnecting with old friends was one of the most gratifying parts of writing the book, says Sheeley. “I had to call a lot of people to fact check. Then I got a ton of emails from people after the book came out. All these little threads of connection have been so fun.” She even corresponded with Susie Wirth, the little girl from the movie that introduced Sheeley to Aspen all those years ago.

The memoir ends just as Sheeley’s life took a more conventional turn. “By 1979, I was married [to husband Don] and working up at High Alpine. I was getting more traditional,” she says, referring to having one steady job.

Jill Sheeley today

One thing readers won’t find: the sort of mournful nostalgia you might expect from a 50-year local. “I don’t dwell on complaining,” notes Sheeley. “I feel very grateful that I lived here in the 1970s. It was a magic time, and I know it’s not going to be like that ever again. But that’s OK; it’s just evolved.” In terms of a life well lived, there’s not much more you could want, indeed. 

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