We’re almost to the top of Elk Camp at Snowmass Mountain when I realize that the two other boarders on the lift are debating directions to the very place I’m seeking.
“Are you guys looking for—"
“—the Hunter S. Thompson Shrine?” one replies. “Yeah, I think you follow that ridge and then drop down into it. Follow us.”
So I do. I could have propositioned ski patrol to guide me to the woodland memorial celebrating the grandfather of gonzo journalism and Woody Creek, Colorado’s most notorious resident, but that feels like cheating. Finding these snowy oases has become a favorite pastime of local and vacationing skiers. To stumble upon a shrine—dozens devoted to dead musicians, fallen heroes and popular passions on the four peaks of Aspen/Snowmass—is to share one of our most treasured open secrets, and about the people you’ll meet along the way.
“It’s word of mouth, mystical and mysterious,” said David Wood, a retired lawyer and avid skier turned definitive authority on the mountain shrines. Wood chronicles the evolution of these gems—59 by his current count, plus another 162 plaques, benches and sculptures—on his website, Sanctuaries in the Snow, and in a book of the same name he self-published for charity. “A good shrine should be hidden,” Wood said, “but not too much.”