RICH, AND LOVING IT
WHITEOUT: LOST IN ASPEN By Ted Conover
Random House -- 269pp -- $20
Once, Aspen thumbed its nose at celebrities. Old-timers chuckle over a fellow named Pete, who walked into a local bar where his friend Vodka George was pouring them down with Jill St. John and Jack Nicholson. "Say," Pete asked the bartender, "who are those people with George?"
You don't hear such stories in Aspen anymore. That's where Don married Melanie, after all, and Marla and Ivana had words over The Donald. "I tell you, the rich are coming out of the closet, like gays," says Mary Eshbaugh Hayes, managing editor of The Aspen Times.
They're not alone, as Ted Conover reveals in Whiteout, a funny, caustic view of life among the town's lotus-eaters. There's the "alive tribe" -- whacko New Agers who believe that anyone who gets sick had it coming. Environmentalists who sit at the feet of an aging John Denver. And politicos such as Ted Kennedy, spotted in a bar with a blonde on his knee, and his sister-in-law Ethel, who's not above stiffing a cab driver.
The atmosphere is corrupting, Conover decided in the two years he spent there as a Times reporter and Mellow Yellow cab driver. A friend who had saved for 20 years to buy an aspen grove ended up building a $500,000 house on it -- for its resale value.
Modern Aspen -- a place to stimulate body and mind -- was the postwar dream of Container Corp.'s Walter Paepcke. He promoted skiing, founded the Aspen Institute, a cultural think tank, and organized 1949's Goethe Bicentennial Festival, which drew Albert Schweitzer. His widow now likens Aspen to an over-fattened goose, near death from richness.
Resorts have a shelf-life, Conover theorizes, so maybe one day those mansions will be rooming houses. If so, he won't be around to see it. "Aspen had happened to me," he writes: He began lusting for a leather coat and a Jeep Cherokee. When he started thinking of investing in real estate, he skipped town.SANDRA D. ATCHISON