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‘We’re just going for one run at a time’: Aspen local skis 66 laps in one day

Longtime Aspen local John Francis Bruegger set out on a new kind of skiing challenge this month. Having lived in the Skiers' Chalet for the past 13 years, Bruegger wondered how many laps he could ski in one day by only riding the 1A chairlift. His excursion takes place as he faces imminent eviction from his home at the Skier’s Chalet, one of the few affordable places to live within walking distance from Aspen Mountain.Halle Zander from Aspen Public Radio brings us this story.

John Francis Bruegger has had a lot of jobs.

“I have always been in construction,” said Bruegger, who goes by J.F. “I’ve worked in the restaurants. I coached at the Aspen Valley Ski Club for 10 years. I now teach skiing, property management. I’ve done a variety of things.”

But skiing has always been his biggest obsession.

“I love the community that it brings out,” he said. “And you find yourself just laughing and having the best time.”

Fourteen winters ago, Bruegger was offered a room at the Skier’s Chalet, an iconic part of Aspen Mountain’s history. The first Skier’s Chalet building went up in 1953 as a lodge and restaurant. A second, lodge-only building was constructed in 1965. Both buildings were modeled after old Swiss chalets.

The lodge building, where Bruegger lives, has a wraparound deck, hearts carved into the wood balcony and skis propped up next to every doorframe.

Tenants pay only $750 a month to live roughly 120 steps from the base of the 1A chairlift — also known as the Shadow Mountain chairlift — on the west side of Aspen Mountain.

As of Jan. 24, the cheapest free-market studio listed for long-term rent in Aspen was more than $4,000 per month.

Over the past few years living in the Skier’s Chalet, Bruegger came up with an idea.

“I’ve always wondered in the back of my head how many laps are possible under the 1A chairlift in a single day,” he said.

On Jan. 13, with his backpack filled with water and snacks, Bruegger rode Lift 1A from 9 a.m. to 3:30 pm.

“It was kind of fun towards the end as the word got out what was going on.” Bruegger said. “Some people didn’t believe it. Others were really excited. It was just a day of skiing. It was a long day, but it was just a day of skiing.”

But 37 laps and nearly 55,000 vertical feet of skiing didn’t completely satisfy the longtime skier. Lift 1A is a fixed-grip lift built in the 1970s that takes seven minutes to get to the top.

Bruegger’s friend and fellow skier Willie Volkhausen wondered where someone could ski the most vertical feet in one day.

To their knowledge, the fastest-climbing lift is Sam's Knob at the Snowmass Ski Area, ascending roughly 280 feet per minute.

On Thursday, Bruegger and Volkhausen caught one of the first rides on Sam’s Knob around 8:45 am. Sam’s Knob is a detachable lift that whisks skiers to the top of the ski run in four minutes.

“It can be a little overwhelming thinking of it in totality,” Bruegger said. “But we’re just going for one run at a time.”

Dillon Wood was a lift operator at Sam’s that day helping the two skiers keep track of their laps and other statistics.

“They’re legends,” Wood said. “They’ve had 4 1/2 hours of lift ride time and 2 1/2 of riding time. They average 6:10 from lift to lift. They’re animals.”

They finished the day at 3:40 p.m. after skiing 66 laps on ungroomed ski runs.

Bruegger packed up his gear and drove back to his apartment at the Skier’s Chalet. Unfortunately, his days living this close to the mountain are numbered.

The property was sold in 2015. And the new owners plan to replace the Skier’s Chalet with a luxury hotel, private residences, and a new chairlift that extends 500 feet farther into town.

The Skier’s Chalet will be moved one block down the hill and the 10 rental units will be converted into a ski museum and skier services center.

Bruegger felt resigned to this inevitable new construction.

“I mean, you look at the rest of town and you can’t stop progress,” Bruegger said. “I mean, it’s gonna happen. I don’t feel great about it. But I understand it.”

It’s still unclear when exactly Bruegger and the other tenants will have to leave the Skier’s Chalet or where they will go.

As Bruegger considers his options, it’s hard for him to imagine a better place for skiing than Aspen.

“It’s funny,” Bruegger said. “Lately, living in Aspen or any ski town has become more and more difficult. I’ve had a lot of conversations lately with friends and everybody about if not here, then where? It’s a really difficult question to answer. There’s a lot of great ski areas, but nothing matches Aspen in the totality of what it is. … We just have great consistent snow throughout the year. And a world-class mountain right out of town. There’s a really strong local ski community here. And you just have to get on the mountain for a day to see it.”

Bruegger has one message for those who will live on this land in the future.

“Keep the spirit of skiing alive,” he said.