No's a no-no

The Year of Yes

What happens when a non-athlete moves to the Roaring Fork Valley and never turns down an invitation?

By Katherine Roberts February 20, 2020 Published in the Midwinter/Spring 2020 issue of Aspen Sojourner

The writer, still triumphant the next year, at the 2019 Bonnie’s Bash

“You have to trust yourself!” my friend Martha shouted over her shoulder as she casually flipped her snowboard around and pushed off from the top of Aspen Mountain.

“But I don’t!” I shrieked, as casually as a person on rented skis could scream in the midst of a full-blown panic attack.

Three weeks earlier, just shy of two months after moving to the Roaring Fork Valley in 2018, I was standing in a hotel bar, attempting to make friends in a hamlet where everyone knows everyone and no one knew me. A longtime local known only as “Pilot” thrust a flyer into my hands for an annual midmountain gathering. “It’s the Bonnie’s Bash!” she said. “Best party of the year—you have to come.”

I knew this would happen. A social event that called on my very limited ski bunny skills. 

You see, I was that rare breed of Aspenite—someone lured to the Roaring Fork Valley by a job, not the promise of full send. I am a working professional. I’d never aspired to live in a ski town. Yet here I was, trying to ingratiate myself to a group of people who use sports as social fabric. Skiing, hiking, biking, skinning—they’re part of what weaves this community together. I had a feeling that if I didn’t make it down that hill, my social life would be threadbare at best.

So, in an attempt to become endearing to the locals and just as I had done with every other offer I received since moving to town, I gave the party invite an enthusiastic “yes!” In fact, I had decided shortly after arriving in Aspen that I would need to say yes to everything. It would be the fastest way to get to know the town and the people in it. I would never turn down an invitation. My motto was, and remains, “Say ‘yes’ now; figure it out later.”

So, there I was, the day of the Bonnie’s Bash, with rented skis, rented boots, rented poles, and a pair of eggplant-colored ski pants that hadn’t seen the exterior of a closet in about three years. I climbed aboard the Silver Queen Gondola. My bucket mates, most of whom I’d met minutes earlier, chatted happily around me. I sat silently, my overwhelming dread growing with every skier I spotted on the hill below. I already knew I wouldn’t be able to ski all the way down from Bonnie’s after the party. Friends had suggested I take the “easy route” by skiing to Chair 3 just below the restaurant, then riding it up to download on the gondola. Now I realized I might not even be able to get to Bonnie’s. 

At the mountaintop, after several minutes of cheerful pep talking, I convinced Martha to go ahead on her snowboard. I wanted to take my time, I explained. What I really wanted to do was ditch the goddamn skis and sneak down the mountain through the trees, sight unseen—which is what I ended up doing. Some might call that an unconventional choice. I call it survival mode.

I don’t know if you’ve ever walked down a gigantic mountain in ski boots, carrying skis and poles, but if you have not, it is … a challenge—heel-toeing down a steep slope, grasping at tree trunks, fogging up your goggles with sweat. For an additional dose of humiliation, go ahead and scream “I’m fine!” 4,000 times to well-meaning strangers whom you can’t hide from, despite your best efforts, as you lurk among the aspens. 

I did eventually make it to Bonnie’s, even skiing some of the way, which buoyed my self-confidence enough to know I could clumsily ski to the aforementioned chairlift and get to the gondola. That had always been the plan.

What I did not count on is dancing on a table, looking over my shoulder, and seeing said chairlift come to a creaking halt. 

“What’s going on? Why did that chair stop?” I asked everyone around me, sweating, eyes darting around for an escape route. It was 4 p.m. The party was nearly over. But apparently the mountain’s lift service had already called it a day. I leapt from the tabletop, grabbing at my discarded coat and helmet as partygoers laughed and did keg stands. “Excuse me, excuse me,” I said to no one in particular as I ran to the edge of the wooden deck. What the hell was I going to do now?

“Bill,  we’re going to need a ride,” said Emily, an Aspen Mountain ski patroller, into her radio. “Finally,” I thought. The possibility of spending the night on the Bonnie’s deck had started to seem like the only reasonable solution. Now I’d be able to cruise down to the base on a snowmobile, Alexis Carrington–style, wind in my hair, skis but a distant memory. 

Bill showed up with a toboggan. “Get in,” said Emily, as she slung the sled’s harness around her waist. 

“Wait; isn’t this the thing that injured people have to use?” I asked. 

“Do you want a ride or not?” she calmly replied. I strapped myself in, within clear view of dozens of departing Bonnie’s Bashers, hating Emily forever. We flew down the hill, picking up another panicked and stranded skier along the way. Now she was hauling two of us through the trees. Her strength and power amazed me.

At the top of Little Nell run, Emily, my sworn-enemy-turned-new-best-friend, slowed down and slyly asked whether I wanted to ski the rest of the way to the base. I hopped out of the toboggan, clicked on my skis like a pro, and casually schussed to Ajax Tavern, where I hockey-stopped before my friends. The stench of failure and embarrassment was quickly washed down with one sip of Veuve.

The Bonnie’s Bash wasn’t my only adventure during my Year of Yes, but it was certainly one of the most memorable. Spoiler alert: other exploits have featured me barfing over some sort of ravine after trying to keep up with elite athletes who may or may not have been featured in National Geographic. But those are other stories for another time.

On this day, after unbuckling my boots and unzipping my jacket, someone asked, “Did you have the most fun ever?” I responded the only way I knew how: with arms stretched out overhead, a beaming smile, and my favorite word—“Yes!”

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