Opinion » Alta States

Alta States

Breakfast with the mayor

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Clearly, Klanderud is no easy person to typecast. She’s a fascinating mix of small-town, service-club-attending mayor and urbane global politician. I can easily envision her as a soccer mum. But I can also see her getting up in the middle of the night to comfort a drug-addled client or sitting down at some fancy dinner next to Yo Yo Ma or Amory Lovins. She obviously has seen much in her life. And she’s not sure things are getting any easier. “The past several years,” she says, “have been the most challenging — for sure.” It’s a difficult balancing act, she adds. “How do we preserve the best of our character and spirit while moving forward into the 21st century? That’s the million-dollar question for Aspen…”

We’re sitting in the hotel restaurant at Little Nell’s. It’s still early and the place is just beginning to pulse. Our table is perfectly situated: clearly Helen is a master of the strategic location. I try not to stare at the other patrons — but I can’t help it. Across the aisle, a bronzed and impeccably manicured seventysomething gentleman is perusing the New York Times. I’m sure I recognize him from somewhere — he’s an old actor, or politician or celebrity of some sort. His much-younger, perfectly-sculpted wife (daughter, niece, therapist?) is flipping through a fashion magazine. They haven’t exchanged a word since they sat down. But they look great together.

Next to them a family full of kids in over-labelled designer wear chows down on a vast array of cakes and pastries. Their fortysomething dad hasn’t been off his cell phone since he sat down. Mom looks suspiciously like the girl at the next table. Only older, more frazzled — but nothing that a little visit to the hotel spa won’t fix. I wonder what she does with her diamonds when she’s in the hot tub…

One of the swankiest hotels in town, Littler Nell’s boasts a nametag that is tightly woven into Aspen’s skiing history. Remember? Little Nell’s was the après-ski hangout par excellence in the old days. A place where perfect tans and fit bodies dominated. Where places like Zermatt and Chamonix and Cortina were shamelessly dropped in conversation. It was, without a doubt, one of the great shrines to snowplay culture. A mountain hangout of mythical proportions…

Alas, Little Nell’s modern incarnation has very little to do with its slopeside progenitor. I figure Helen would be way more comfortable in the original.

She certainly doesn’t look like the mayor of one of the most glamorous towns in the western hemisphere. Her choice of clothing is conservative. And she’s obviously not obsessed with spending time at the beauty salon. Helen’s hairstyle can only be described as “practical” — her grey-streaked locks are cut short in a rough pageboy adaptation; thick bangs hang lazily over her forehead. It’s a no-nonsense look. It says: “I don’t have time for pretence.” As do the deeply-edged lines that crease her face — a topo map of a life fully-lived. When she smiles, it’s for real. And when she laughs — well, let me just out it this way: cigarettes and scotch and long nights out immediately come to mind…

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