Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Luckiest Man Alive

Here I sit...on a bench at the foot of Smuggler mountain, reflecting on months gone by. So much has happened that I really haven't been able to relax and write about just one thing, place, person, or occurrence. Something in the air today somehow made me feel elated and I was finally inspired to write once again.

The bench below me is cold. I can feel the frozen, but thawing wood through my jeans. The strong, bright sun is beating on my face, countered only by the brisk wind sweeping through the valley. This feeling of being frozen one second and toasty the next is one of my favorite feelings in the world. The sun is slowly setting behind Aspen mountain in front of me and below me, covered in the mountain's shadow like a dark, cold blanket, sits downtown Aspen. The ground under my feet shimmers with trodden snow, and speckles of brown grass poke through the sea of white like tiny hairs.

This is my favorite spot in Aspen.

A man strolls across the park, we exchange smiles and he continues on. A few minutes later, a woman in a red coat and her dog appear. The dog is ecstatic to be here, just as I am. He rolls in the snow with joy and I smile as I appreciate the incredible scene in front of me even more. The lady and I exchange pleasantries, which include one of the only things locals know how to speak about recently...the lack of snow. "But nevermind," we say, "life is still amazing."

Many people don't understand the path that I have chosen. A path that has been far from easy or lucrative, but it's these moments, the ones that give me so much happiness and inner peace, that guide me, that have led, and will keep leading me in the right direction.

These mountains, this sun, a place and the ability to appreciate all that has been bestowed upon me, makes me the luckiest man alive.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Mad Dog; The Man, The Hero, The Legend

On Tuesday, April 26th, 2011, South Florida and the entire country lost a beloved football player, radio personality, and philanthropist. Jim "Mad Dog" Mandich passed away last night after battling cancer for over a year. Mad Dog was one of the best things to happen to South Florida and sports talk radio.

Jim was a generous friend to my family and I. He gave us so much in so many ways. From rounds of golf, to meeting pro athletes at the Dolphin's Touchdown Club, to giving me one of the most unforgettable experiences of my entire life, Jim was always there to give.

On January 8th, 2009, I faced a sort of difficult decision. The next day was the BCS National Championship game at Dolphin Stadium and I was at my mom's house (a short 15 minute drive away), but I didn't have a ticket. Did I want to drive back up to Gainesville to be with my fellow Gators to watch the game, or did I want to try to scalp a ticket and do whatever I could to get into the game?? I decided on the latter. I was so close that it seemed wrong to drive away from it.

Ticketless, but excited, I got to the stadium bright and early and began asking people for tickets. As my time slowly ran out, as did my morale. I gave up in mid-afternoon and began to try to distract myself by tailgating with my friends, but in the back of my head, I was watching the clock tick towards kick-off and I still didn't have a ticket. The sun began to go down and I accepted the fact that I would be watching the game from the tailgate.

My phone rang; it was my Mom. "Where are you?" she asked. "Um, at the game of course. You know this," I replied. "I know that!" my mom exclaimed, "but WHERE are you exactly?" I was pretty confused. I told her where we were tailgating and she showed up with my step-dad with some "semi-good news." "Don't get too excited," my mom warned, "but we might be able to get some tickets." I started jumping for joy immediately. Just the idea of POSSIBLY getting into this game was exhilarating. My morale shot through the roof and I started partying harder. "Meet us over at the 560WQAM booth in about 15 minutes," my step-dad said. I ran over to the booth in 10 minutes and there was Mad Dog, doing a live radio show right there in front of us. We walked up, he gave us a wink and a signal to wait a few minutes. We waited patiently as I did my best to keep my excitement inside. Jim finished up his show, put on his blazer and walked up to us with his family. It was about 20 minutes until kick-off and as we exchanged a few words and pleasantries, he handed us 3 beautiful, genuine club-level tickets with embossed graphics and all. I could barely contain myself. You would think that he just saved my entire family from a natural disaster the way I was thanking him. I've never been so ecstatic. The feeling of entering through the club-level elevator, hearing the usher tell me to enjoy the game, and finally arriving on the club-level was absolutely surreal.

The smell of hot-dogs and stale beer filled the air and the sound of gator chants filtered through the oklahoma marching band....I made it, and it's all because of Jim "Mad Dog" Mandich.

On top of just even getting into the game, the Gators chomped the Sooners 24-14, and celebration ensued. WE ARE ALL STRONG FOR OLD FLORIDA, DOWN WHERE THE OLD GATORS PLAY, IN ALL KINDS OF WEATHER, WE'LL ALL STICK TOGETHER, FOR F-L-O-R-I-D-A!!!!! GO GATORS!!!

Thanks, Jim, for one of the most unforgettable experiences in my life. You and your seemingly endless generosity, kindness, and passion will never be forgotten! You will be missed! Rest in peace.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Wintery Time Travel

It's been too long since my last post and I sincerely apologize to all of my readers. This winter season has absolutely blown by, and it's still not over! There were so many amazing times with incredible people, that it's hard to keep track of it all. Between work and play I haven't had a moment to sit down and write, and now it's already April 15th; all of the mountains are closed except for Highlands, all of the tourists are gone, and Ajax Tavern has closed down for the off season. It's hard to remember everything that happened this season, so here are a few highlights...

October 1st, 2010: It feels like just yesterday.....Ben & I were driving through stands of golden aspen trees in late September, high on mountain air and excited to finally be arriving in Aspen. We took full advantage of arriving in the off-season....frisbee games in the crisp Autumn air, longboarding through the farmer's market, exploring our new town in it's true was a spectacular introduction to a great town.

November 24th, 2010: My first day back on skis since early April, and my first day ever skiing on Aspen Mountain, was a powdery one. I was by myself staring at 13 inches of fresh and I had no idea where I should, or even could, go. Made a couple of mistakes here and there (like having to blaze trail through a 150 yard traverse in 13 inches of snow; man, that sucked), but it was still a stellar way to start off the season.

December 31, 2010: New Year's Eve in Aspen was a forgettable one. Entirely too much to drink and -26 degree weather.....ouch!

January-March, 2011: Party, work, ski, repeat. X-Games, Parties, Powder days....the fun just never stopped!!!

April 14th, 2011: Highlands Bowl is STILL as powdery as ever!!!!

We're a short 8 days away from the end of Aspen's ski season and it's so hard to believe. Highland's closing day is April 24th and could be the party of the year!!! Here's to winter!!!