Con Games: Death Becomes Aspen

As I write this, the constabulatory powers-that-be in Aspen are about to hold a press conference announcing that George Aldrich, a ski lift operator, is the dead body found Monday night beneath the Maroon Creek Bridge.

Just last week, Kiera Tongish, 22, died in the trees of Snowmass Mountain: she was a young woman who boot-packed Aspen Highlands, sold lift tickets for Aspen Skiing Company, and worked as a waitress at the Wienerstubbe downtown. You can't get more Aspen than the liftie and the waitress, Georgie Aldrich and Kiera Tongish.

In both cases, from what friends and families say, the good died young. Here in Aspen and Snowmass, it's also fair to say the young die frequently, perhaps the price to be paid for living among such mountainous and monumental beauty.

Between backcountry skiing and snorting coke, twentysomethings who move here are taking a calculated risk. Even after they leave, it is not unusual to read of transplanted backcountry mavericks who have lost their lives in the relentless pursuit of something bigger and as yet unnamed--or to hear about someone who never left the dark side even after they left town.

There is now a shrine to Kiera Tongish on the Grey Wolf run on Snowmass Mountain, among the dozens of shrines that pay homage to dead legends like Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson Jr., and Stevie Ray Vaughn. There is even Sanctuaries in the Snow: The Shrines and Memorials of Aspen/Snowmass, a book that is said to sell well in the Roaring Fork Valley.

"She will be remembered for her huge heart, brilliant energy and her incredibly determined and independent character," according to the official obituary. "Kiera was fun-loving, gregarious, self-assured, clever and fearless. Her unforgettable smile and bright, sparkling eyes have left a lasting impression on all she met. She was an amazing friend who would do anything for those she loved, and she will be greatly missed. Kiera's passing will leave a huge void for all who knew her."

The void for the family of Georgie Aldrich became cavernous with this headline: "Bloodhound loses scent of missing man." He was last seen after leaving Eric's bar downtown and getting on a downvalley bus at 11:15 PM at Rubey Park, Aspen's Grand Central Station, and then getting off at Truscott Place, a hop and skip from the Maroon Creek Bridge. Local authorities had called off the official search, but a Mountain Rescue Aspen member, one of our local heroes, kept looking anyway.

People like Kiera Tongish and Georgie Aldrich do what so many others have done before them: come to a ski town to live the life and to find some fun before they enter what is ubiquitously known as the real world. Nobody tells them that when they come here, they take their life in their hands.