Bumps for Boomers: On Aspen Mountain

bumps for boomersAtop Aspen Mountain, we clip into short fat skis. Just over 3 feet long, these twin-tipped “skiboards” would look trendy on a teen, but that’s not us.

We’re a group of gray-heads for whom the term “hip” is usually followed by the word “replacement.” For two of the next four days, we old dogs will use these squat skis to learn a new trick – how to navigate Aspen’s bumpiest mogul runs.

“In four days, you’ll eagerly be looking forward to skiing bumps,” promises Joe Nevin, founder of Aspen’s Bumps for Boomers program. “I actually think skiing moguls is easier than groomed runs.”

Nevin starts us on a series of training exercises. We make zero-momentum turns from a dead stop. We practice drifting. We turn atop targets and stop on others. Slowness, Nevin insists, is the key to getting blue hairs off blue groomers.

bumps for boomers
Bumps for Boomers participants strap on short skis called skiboards.

“If you’re driving down a street and you see a speed bump, unless you’re in a rental car or had too much to drink, you’re going to tap the breaks,” he explains. “In this clinic, we teach you to ski in slow motion.”

We head for some small moguls and spend the rest of the day employing slow-and-go techniques one bump at a time. By day’s end, we’ve become fast learners at learning slowness.

Since I’m taking a clinic for oldsters, I splurged and booked accommodations at Hotel Jerome, Aspen’s venerable hostelry. It rivaled the Ritz in Paris when it opened in 1889, and its lobby and rooms still exude Victorian elegance. I stop in its historic J-Bar for après ski refreshments. Favoring local microbrews, I order a Brown Bear Ale, the only beer they carry from the nearby Aspen Brewing Company.

“I’m sorry,” the waitress tells me. “We’re out. We’ll have it tomorrow.”

On our second day, we split into two groups. After reviewing techniques and tactics on easy bumps, we spend the day descending steeper and gnarlier terrain.

“This seems counterintuitive,” I suggest to instructor Alan Bush, “but with slower reflexes, shouldn’t we grizzled geezers be skiing greenies with grandkids instead of bashing bumps?”

“Not at all,” Bush argues. “Bump runs are less-crowded and safer because you don’t have those screaming nee-nees coming down at you. The snow is usually better, and if you ski them slowly, it can take less energy.”

Mogul runs are less crowded so skiers can go slower as they learn to ride the bumpy terrain.

That seems true. After bumping it up for two days, I feel fresh enough to run a marathon, or at least saunter six blocks back to the J-Bar for a brew.

“Sorry. We’ll have Brown Bear Ale tomorrow for sure,” the waitress promises.

On day three, we jettison the midget mogul mashers and use our own real skis. After a review on baby bumplets, it’s off to full black-diamond divots. Like a white Buick in the passing lane, I slowly work my way down the runs. Yes, old skiers never die. We just keep going downhill.

Nevin says that in 1962, U.S. skiers collectively totaled around four million days on the slopes. Now it’s around 60 million. “That growth,” he insists, “was fueled entirely by the baby boomers. Ski areas are worried that we’re getting old and going to quit, so they’ve turned their eyes toward younger generations. But we’re not ready to hang it up yet.”

Ending the day at the J-Bar, I once again order a Brown Bear Ale.

“Nope. Sorry. Tomorrow.”

During the first three days, we only skied partway down Aspen Mountain. On day four, after some warm-ups, Bush asks if we’re ready for something more adventurous. Of course we are.

He leads us down a black-diamond trail, crosses a blue groomer and stops at the edge of oblivion. Below falls Face of Bell, a double-black-diamond plunger some consider Aspen Mountain’s signature run. The descent looks steeper than an Olympic ski jump, and the exit at the bottom looks like Greenland seen from the space shuttle.

Bush leads the way and we tailgate behind. Taking it slowly and staying in control, we over-the-hillers downhill the face, drifting, banking, pivoting and turning bump by bump. All too soon, we’re at the bottom looking up.

“Wow, I did a double-black!” someone exclaims, beaming like a kid at Christmas.

We ride the gondola back up and do several more laps down the face. At day’s end, Bush’s altimeter says we’ve covered 14,340 feet of downhill. To celebrate the feat, we adjourn to the Ajax Tavern near the gondola.

“I’ll have an Aspen Brown Bear Ale,” I tell the waiter.

“Sorry,” he says. “We’re out.”

If You Go

Three- and four-day Bumps for Boomers clinics are held from mid-December through mid-March. The December clinic begins on Tuesday and the rest start on Mondays. Both feature two full-day sessions on skiboards, which are furnished, followed by one or two days on your own skis. Contact Bumps for Boomers (970-989-2529, www.bumpsforboomers.com) for information and reservations.

Dan Leeth is a freelance writer who lives in Aurora, Colorado. Check out his website, www.lookingfortheworld.com.