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Kelly J. Hayes | Photo: Rebecca Stumpf and Skico | December 3, 2013
Aspenites of 100 days take up membership in a select ski club.
It is the fantasy of every serious skier—to live in a place where you can also ski or ride 100 days a year.
“Even when I was a kid skiing in the Poconos, the idea of reaching 100 days in a season was a goal,” says Steve Karczewski, who has four such seasons in Aspen under his belt. “It wasn’t just the skiing, it was symbolic of a lifestyle. Of freedom.”
Hitting the 100-day mark forever remains an elusive goal for most skiers. But here in Aspen, a cadre of skiers and boarders gear each year toward that very objective. Achieving it, though, takes discipline, determination and grit. “Let’s face it—most people don’t ski in bad weather,” says Sarah Challinor, who topped out at 110 days last season. “But you just do it, and those days sometimes turn out to be the best days.”
For young skiers and boarders who come to Aspen to spend a year or two as ski bums, reaching 100 days is a standard. Ski or ride a “Hundie,” and it forever highlights your personal CV, a testimony of your commitment to a way of life. “I wasn’t really digging the college scene, so I came out here chasing the dream,” says snowboarder Eli Legate, who every year gets his 100. “My first job was at the Inn at Aspen at Buttermilk, and it was perfect because I could ride every day. It was all about being able to ride and live the life.”
For generations, Aspen locals logged in longhand their ski-day counts in dog-eared diaries. Remembers local JF Bruegger, who has skied more than 100 days in 10 different seasons, “As a kid, I had a Highlands Pass and would probably get three [to] four days per week during school. We’d always try and get to 100, and [we] had to keep track.” But, like most things, technology changed the process.
In 2009, the recording of ski days entered the digital domain. That very season, Ron Chauner, as director of Mountain Access and Integration for the Aspen Skiing Company, was charged with introducing The Gate Project. Shaking his head incredulously, he recalls, “In five months, we introduced the all-automated access system across the four mountains.” This not only allowed skiers the hands-free experience of having their lift tickets scanned, rather than having to insert them into the turnstiles (remember those days?), but also recorded the days that skiers logged onto the lifts. Suddenly, it was easy to track the number of days skiers had on the slopes.
Experienced with pin programs honoring skiers on Aspen Highlands, Chauner proposed the idea of a pin acknowledging those who bagged at least 100 days in a given season, with 500 of the black-and-gold markers that were produced that first season instantly becoming coveted accessories in Aspen. After all, to rock a 100-day pin on your duct-taped down jacket or Zegna scarf is to have undisputed cred in this town, regardless on which side of the 1 percent you happen to land.
This year, Aspen Skiing Company has produced 1,000 pins marking 100 days. Beyond a mere accoutrement, though, the emblem can also motivate. “Sometimes, you just don’t feel like putting your foot in the boot,” elaborates Karczewski, an amputee skier. “But you know you have a goal, and to make it, you just go.”
Those who ultimately do hit the 100-day mark recognize the accomplishment as born of good fortune. “When I got to 100 days and they gave me my pin last year, I knew that it marked a passage,” Challinor expresses. “But when I got in the gondy and rode up, mostly I was just so thankful that I am healthy enough to get that much skiing in.”
The validation of a lifestyle, a symbol of good health, a source of inspiration—all these attributes from one tiny round pin. The
From: Henderson, Ky.
Days skied ('12/’13 season): 110
Hardest thing about hitting 100 days: “Definitely juggling the jobs. I have a night gig, usually a retail day job, and then I fill in with other things. This year, I’m making snow at Aspen. But you gotta balance work and play.”
On tracking: “I’ll ask every once in a while at the turnstile, ‘How many?’ I’ll think I’ve got like, 70, and they’ll say, ‘98,’ and it’s cool.”
Keeping his pins: “My dad got me my first Burton board—green with frogs on it—when I was 12. That got me started at Paoli Peak in French Lick, Ind. So I send him the pins … and he sticks them on his fridge—next to a Johnny McGuire’s bumper sticker.”
Favorite park feature: “I’m really liking the Train Track Rails. They make you commit. They can be really scary, but forgiving as well. The park crew does a great job of making them safe.”
From: Washington, D.C.
Days skied (‘12/’13 season): 110
Years skied 100 days: “Well, I’m over 100 for each of the last five seasons.”
On skiing Aspen Mountain: “I love the aesthetic of skiing, the winter weather. And I love to watch the really amazing women skiers on Aspen. There are some really great skiers up there.”
On skiing 100 days: “It says I stayed healthy for another winter.”
Favorite haunts: “Even though I live in Snowmass, I ski in town [Aspen Mountain]. My favorite run is probably Bingo Glades, but I think the toughest run to ski really well is Summit. But I try. And I also try and climb the [Highland] Bowl twice a week.”
From: High Bridge, N.J.
Days skied (‘12/’13 season): 107 (“But I consider it equal to 214 because I did it on just one leg.”)
Why Snowmass: “I lost my leg to bone cancer when I was 2, but I have always been competitive. I came here for a Challenge Aspen event and fell in love with it.”
Advice for the aspiring: “If a one-legged guy can ski 100 days, why can’t you?! Set a goal. Push the limits. Why wouldn’t you?”
Favorite haunts: “You’ll find me in the Hanging Valley. I love the Weird Woods, Baby Ruth, Strawberry Patch. But I’ll also cruise the ‘Burn.’”
From: Aspen, born and raised
Days skied (‘12/’13 season): 162 (“One short of my record in ’07-’08”)
Highlands bona fides: “My folks met on Highlands and my dad was a ski instructor for years. I had season passes back in the old days when it was the Highlands Pass. And I skied the Bowl each year since they opened it, moving over as they opened new terrain.”
Hardest obstacle to 100: “In Aspen, we only have, like, five days a year when the weather is really bad; when it’s cold and windy and crusty. So if you really want it you can get out and get it.”
Advice for the aspiring: “You gotta stay healthy. As a coach [for the AVSC Big Mountain program], I know you need to listen to your body. There are going to be days when you are a little beat up. But if you can, cruise a few runs. Loosen up.”
On skiing: “It’s just so awesome to be outside with happy people. I love that.”
Pin-teresting: A History of the Highland Pin
Back in the day, before the installation of the Deep Temerity Lift, climbing and skiing Highland Bowl was a feat reserved for the adventurous.
Ron Chauner, mountain manger of Aspen Highlands for 14 years, wanted to honor those who had the spirit to make the climb, so, in the early 2000s, he worked with the ski patrol to create a pin for skiers who had made the trek. “Mac Smith—still head of the Highlands ski patrol—and I would keep a few in our pockets and as people summited, we would say, ‘Hey, nice job’ and give ‘em a pin,” he remembers.
he highly coveted pins represented a sense of accomplishment for those who understood the raw power of the peak atop the Bowl. With experience came exclusivity. The Highland Bowl pin was earned, not bought, and the only place in the world to get one was at the top of the 12,392-foot summit. This very magazine once called the Highland Bowl Pin the most “prestigious possession” that one could have in Aspen.
This season, after a year’s hiatus, the Highland Bowl Pin will be reintroduced, marking its second decade.
Look for Mac on top.