Immortalized on the Mountain
Guest Author: Bobby Moyer
It was late July, and the sun was beating down overhead. My heartbeat pulsed strong in my chest. I heard the dirt squeeze underneath my sister's steps behind me. I wiped a bead of sweat from my forehead.
"We went too high," I said. Kate grunted, and I took off down the mountain, making my own trail. Moments later, we entered into Kristi's, ducked under some trees, and stood standing in a memory.
I wanted to be there, but at the same time, there was some part of me that didn't. It was my first time visiting Sam's shrine. I sat swinging on a keg, looking into the eyes of my best friend. His face staring back at me, a smile I grew accustomed to seeing anytime I found myself back home. Only now, it didn't exist apart from in memory and that photo hanging from a tree.
Sam Coffey Shrine
Shrines in Aspen have a long and beautiful history. Hidden amongst the mountains that make up Aspen Snowmass are over 150 covert homemade memorials and tributes. Between the spruce trees and lodgepole pines hang sanctuaries dedicated to beloved locals, musicians, artists, buckaroos, and even toys and cartoon characters that significantly impacted their creator. They are a gentle reminder of the depth of human experience and a cornerstone of Aspen's unique brand of folk art that ties the mountains to the man and his community.
Jimi Hendrix Shrine
Shrines started to appear in the late 1970s, though which one appeared first is not clear. However, the Elvis Presley Shrine, the only shrine to have ever appeared on an Aspen Snowmass trail map, is widely considered the first. Over the years, many have been added, removed, or otherwise forgotten. While Ajax is assumed to have the most, each of the four mountains all contain lovely tributes buried deep within the trees. The Jerry Garcia, John Denver, and Hunter S. Thompson shrines (pictured at top) are a few that enjoy high praise and have long been considered local favorites. One thing is for certain, directions are not posted, maps are left undrawn, and the only path is your own.
Marilyn Monroe Shrine
As a member of The Freaks, there was only a short moment between Sam Coffey's passing in the spring of 2019 and the initial thought of a shrine dancing in our heads. To immortalize him on the mountain he loved seemed all too natural.
Last summer, when I visited Sam for the first time, I stood looking out into the mountains we grew up playing in together. The boundless joy their presence and lessons gave us was painted anew from the sight of his sanctuary in the trees.
Skiing is a sport that offers so much, including a physical interaction with nature and the sublime freedom of fighting against it. It is an escape, a clearing, a mindful gap from the mundane. As much as the act of skiing can give, it is an inseparable activity from the mountain on which it takes place. The shrines that paint the mountains of Aspen exist in an equilibrium in much of the same way, sharing a love for both the idol they represent and the place they rest. This interaction of forces is a gentle reminder of the reality of life and death that one encounters while playing in the Rocky Mountains.
For more information on the shrines of Aspen, please visit https://www.aspensnowmassshrines.com/