Sanctuaries in the Snow--the Shrines of Aspen/Snowmass
(including plaques, memorials, displays and miscellaneous items)
This site, Sanctuaries in the Snow--The Shrines of Aspen/Snowmass, covers the mystical shrines hidden in the trees on the four ski mountains of Aspen/Snowmass: Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass. For a listing of these Shrines by mountain, click on "The Shrines" above left on this page.
This site was created and is edited by David Wood, who can be reached at [email protected] (A book about the shrines, written by him is available for purchase too; click on the "Purchase the Book" button to the left on this page. All author profits from book sales are donated to charity.)
In addition to covering the Shrines, this site also gives coverage to various plaques, memorials, displays, and other miscellaneous items existing on (or immediately adjacent to) the mountains that are not shrines in the strictest sense. These items include mostly memorial plaques, memorial benches, and other types of memorials, but also include other various items that are neither shrines nor memorials, such as wooden signs, cabins, shacks, an outhouse, sculptures, statues, lift chairs, ski boots, fake alligators, a tepee, an incline lift, and a bedroom, as well as a noose, a wooden chair, elk and deer heads, "todboggans," photos, a bell, a flag, a cross, a knife, walls made of skis, and many other various and miscellaneous items. For a listing of these items by mountain click on "The Plaques, Memorials, Displays, and Miscellaneous items" above left on this page.
The purpose of this web site is to catalogue and document these shrines, memorials, and items, and create a written and photographic record of them. They are all a part of the ski history of Aspen/Snowmass, and this web site is intended to help preserve that history. In keeping with the local custom, this site does not reveal shrine locations.
There is a separate page for each shrine and each item. On each such page a general description of the shrine or item is first given, and then there are photos of the shrine or item (or a link to a page that has photos). There are almost 2500 photos on this web site alone.
To the best of the author's knowledge, there are over 100 shrines that exist now, or have existed, on the mountains of Aspen/Snowmass. If you know of other shrines, plaques, memorials or other items that are not covered on this site, and if you would like to share information and photos for use on this site, please send such information and photos to [email protected]. For a listing of the shrines, in alphabetical order by mountain, go to this page: http://www.aspensnowmassshrines.com/index.php?id=1,3,0,0,1,0. The author is also aware of over 210 plaques, memorials, displays and other miscellaneous items (other than shrines) on the four mountains. For a list of these items, in alphabetical order by mountain, go to this page: http://www.aspensnowmassshrines.com/index.php?id=2,4,0,0,1,0.
Some of the shrines covered on this site are presently in existence, and some are not. This site endeavors to cover all of the Aspen/Snowmass shrines that have ever existed (to the best of the author's knowledge) whether or not they presently exist.
The Aspen/Snowmass Shrines are homemade covert memorials made by anonymous locals, and hidden in the trees off of the various ski runs of one of the four mountains. They are a packrat's nest of keepsakes and other items, consisting mostly of laminated photos, pictures, license plates, beads, silk flowers, wind chimes, mementos, tokens, plaques, and other memorabilia attached to tree trunks and put there in honor of particular heroes of the locals. They started to appear in the late 1970's, and in the beginning memorialized mostly musicians, but have now expanded well beyond that. They are funky, grassroots creations, and a quirky Aspen tradition that has become a brand of folk art that Aspen can call its own, and born out of the ski culture the town has shaped. The Shrines of Aspen/Snowmass set it apart from virtually all other ski areas; they add mystique, culture and local flavor to a mountain that's already rich with mining and skiing lore. They have been called by some "Sanctuaries in the Snow," "Temples in the Trees," and "Tributes in the Trees," but are most often referred to simply as the "Shrines." Except for a few minor exceptions, the various local creators of the various shrines are not known to the general populace. There are no maps showing their locations; directions to them are all word-of-mouth, and in many cases accurate local knowledge is required to find some that are squirreled away deep in the trees. They are one way the locals have made the tourist-dominated resort their own. Most tourists have never seen one, and in fact, more than a few locals have never seen one either.
A good summary and introduction to the Shrines of Aspen/Snowmass appeared in an article in the Aspen Times Weekly of February 18, 2006 (“Find Your Shrine on Ajax” by Kimberly Nicoletti. See: http://www.aspentimes.com/article/20060218/RECREATION01/60222004):
“For about two decades, locals have been ducking into favorite hideouts on Aspen Mountain and nailing pictures, license plates, beads, silk flowers, wind chimes and other memorabilia to tree trunks in honor of their particular heroes. The spruce trees and lodgepole pines hide sanctuaries dedicated to musicians, beloved locals, buckaroos, soiled doves and even toys and cartoon characters.”
This February 24, 2012 article in the Aspen Daily News had this to say about the Aspen Shrines: "They are funky, grassroots creations. They are a brand of folk art that Aspen can call its own — born out of the ski culture this town has shaped." http://www.aspendailynews.com/section/entertainment/151993. The article also refers readers to this web site.
In an article called "Aspen's Best — Outside" in the Aspen Times Newspaper of September 2, 2006 (see: http://www.aspentimes.com/article/20060902/ASPENWEEKLY/109030053) the following was stated about the Aspen Shrines:
"The shrines of Aspen Mountain set it apart from virtually all other ski areas. They add mystique, culture and local flavor to a mountain that's already rich with mining and skiing lore."
For a number of years the official Aspen/Snowmass web site (http://www.aspensnowmass.com) made three different mentions of the Aspen Shrines. Over the years the wording varied; the most recent versions are stated below:
3. The "Tips For a Great Vacation" section of the official web site said: "Visit the shrines on Aspen Mountain! Can you find the John Denver shrine hidden in the trees? You won't find them on any trail map, but hidden in the trees are tributes to Elvis, Marilyn, Jerry and other deceased luminaries. Ask a patroller or local to point them out." See: http://issuu.com/cmnmcreativeteam/docs/winterinaspen2013 (pages 20-21).
In January 2011, Jeff Hanle, Director of Public Relations, Aspen Skiing Company, was quoted as follows: "The [Aspen/Snowmass] shrines are so organic to these mountains. There are small shrines and pretty big ones. They are ways for people to honor someone special. We do our best to make sure people leave them alone so they can be enjoyed by others." See: http://espn.go.com/espn/page2/index?id=6071140
When, Where, and How Did the Shrines Start?
There is some question as to when the shrines started and which one was first. Some people think the Elvis Presley Shrine was first; he died in 1977. Others think the Bob Marley/Jerry Garcia Shrine was first; Marley died in 1981 and Garcia in 1995. See the pages for the Elvis Presley Shrine and the Jerry Garcia Shrine on this site for more information about which shrine may have been the first one. For the most part the author of this web site is not aware of the date most shrines were created; if the date is known, it is stated on the page for that particular shrine. The author is also not aware of the identity of the person or persons who created most of the shrines. If the identity of a shrine creator is known to the author, and if that person has given the author permission to disclose his or her name, it is noted on the page on this site for that particular shrine. According to local expert T.C. the Jerry Garcia and John Denver shrines were created at sites that had preexisting wooden benches which had been installed previously by certain locals. These wooden benches were in place for some indeterminate period of time before the shrine materials were added by others at a later date.
Where are the Shrines Located?
Most of the Shrines are located on Aspen Mountain. But there are also Shrines on the other three mountains. See below for listings by mountain. In keeping with the local custom, this site does not reveal shrine locations.
The Aspen Times--Aspen's Best/The Best of Aspen/Local's Choice
From 2003 through 2010 the Aspen Times newspaper invited members of the public to vote on what they thought was the "Best Shrine" or "Favorite Shrine." This was discontinued starting in 2011 but then started up again in 2016. Below are the results and quotes from the articles announcing the results:
2003: "We knew there were a lot of ski shrines tucked away on our four mountains, but we had no idea just how many. Does everyone know there's a shrine for Britney Spears, or are we just out of the loop? How about Yankee Stadium? Guess we need to spend more time in the trees. And judging by this year's winner, the people casting votes spent plenty of 'quality' time hanging out in the woods. The shrine for the Grateful Dead's late, gray-haired leader, Jerry Garcia, was far and away the most popular. Jerry has been an all-time Aspen hero, and apparently the legend lives on. Way back in second was the John Denver shrine. Denver wrote 'Rocky Mountain High,' but perhaps wasn't as much of a hanging-out-in-the-trees kind of guy ...The Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix shrines also proved popular. Our favorite answers: Some people apparently missed the header at the top of this category that stated 'On the Mountain.' St. Mary's Catholic Church is certainly a beautiful shrine, but last we checked it was smack dab in the middle of town. Either way, a good handful of people called it their favorite shrine. The roundabout also got a vote, though we're not sure what it's a shrine to. Endless highway construction? The way Aspenites go around and around? Our favorite answer was 'the new shrine we are going to build for Toad.' Toad Olson, the kids ski instructor who died recently, certainly deserves the best shrine Buttermilk can offer. Everyone pitch in." July 25, 2003.
2004: "BEST SHRINE: Jerry Garcia. The shrine to Jerry Garcia on Aspen Mountain is perhaps Aspen's most well-known shrine. You might say the Jerry shrine leads all others in skier visits. Located near the top of the FIS chair in the woods off Ruthie's Run, the Jerry shrine is one of dozens of shrines on the four area mountains dedicated to cult figures and - let's be honest - the establishment of woodsy nooks in which to get high. That said, toking up at the shrine to the hippie guitar hero from the Grateful Dead is sometimes a sketchy proposition - it's the shrine where you're most liable to be visited by a class of ski school kids. 'Jerry who?'" January 9, 2005.
2005: "BEST SHRINE. There were 24 entries in this category (are there really that many shrines out there?), but only three received enough votes to be actual contenders. The Grateful Dead must still be hip, because the Jerry Garcia shrine on Aspen Mountain won with 21 votes. The John Denver Sanctuary in Rio Grande Park came in second, despite being a landscaped sanctuary and not really a "shrine" in the informal-nook-in-the-woods sense of the word. The Elvis shrine came in third with 14 votes. Whatever happened to Marilyn Monroe and Ludwig the Dream King?" September 3, 2005.
2006: "The shrine to Jerry Garcia, the late and great guitarist for the Grateful Dead, shrine is without a doubt the biggest, baddest, most popular and most colorful shrine of them all. John Denver got a number of votes, as did the Storm King memorial, but the ragtag monument to Captain Trips has the mojo and wins every year." September 2, 2006. http://www.aspentimes.com/article/20060902/ASPENWEEKLY/109030053
2007: "Jerry Garcia has dominated this category in recent years, but Elvis appears to have come back to life. Other vote-getters in this uniquely Aspen category included John Denver, Jimi Hendrix, Fort Frog, “lady shrine highlands” and “naked lady smoke shack.” Yankee Stadium made the list, and this one piqued the staff’s interest: “Future Harley Baldwin.” September 1, 2007.
2008: "Elvis came back to life briefly last year, at least where Aspen’s Best is concerned, but Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia surged back to prominence in 2008. The Garcia shrine, tucked into a glade high on Aspen Mountain, is easy to reach and a great spot to relax, so it’s no surprise that it reappears again and again as Aspenites’ favorite shrine. Other vote-getters, in descending order, included John Denver, Elvis, Eric Smith, Hunter S. Thompson, Chicks on Sticks and, from someone who woke up on the wrong side of the bed, “Don’t Care.” January 11, 2009.
2011: The article was renamed "Local's Choice" in 2011 and the "Best/Favorite Shrine" category was dropped until 2016.
2016: In an article ("Aspen: Only the Best") in the Aspen Times Weekly of January 5, 2017, the "Best Shrine" in the readers' poll was announced. First place went to the Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia Shrine, second place to the John Denver Shrine, and third place to the Aspen Friends We Have Lost/In Memory of Friends of Aspen Shrine. Here is the link to the article: http://www.aspentimes.com/news/weekly/aspen-only-the-best/ and here is a quote from the article: "BEST SHRINE--A Matter of Taste: If you have a passion, there is likely a shrine on one of our local mountains to tickle your fancy. From the Jerry to Elvis to Marilyn to Hunter S. Thompson, you can find a shrine in their memory. Or, are you more grounded? Seek the Golf Shrine or the Kitty Cat Shrine. Our readers had their faves: Grateful Dead, John Denver and, the one that touches our hearts, Aspen Friends We Have Lost. Here’s to you, Stewy."
2017: In an article in the Aspen Times Weekly of January 4, 2018, the "Best Shrine" results in the readers' poll were announced: 1. John Denver Sanctuary, 2. Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia, and 3. Hunter S. Thompson. Click this link and advance to page 29: http://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/html5/reader/production/default.aspx?pubname=&pubid=5cf3312b-b345-4021-ab09-c4589361b643
2018: In October 2018 The Aspen Times published their annual readers' poll "Locals' Choice The Best of Aspen & Snowmass 2018." In the "Best Shrine" category, first place went to the Hunter S. Thompson Shrine on Snowmass. Aspen Mountain Shrines dedicated to Jerry Garcia and Jimi Hendrix got 2nd and 3rd. This is the first time in the history of this readers' poll that a shrine on Snowmass has taken first place.
2019: In 2019 the John Denver Sanctuary finished in first place, followed by the Jerry Garcia and Hunter S. Thompson Shrines.
2020: The results of the Aspen Times "Best of 2020" were announced on November 27, 2020. In the "Best Shrine" category: 1. John Denver Sanctuary, 2. Sam Coffey, 3. Jerry Garcia. https://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/html5/reader/production/default.aspx?pubname=&edid=13e46999-4489-4932-a2a7-61d0742582ce
The Subjects of the Shrines
Fifteen of the Shrines are to musicians or have a musical connection: Shrines to The Beatles, Bob Marley, David Bowie, Drummers, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Buffet, John Denver (two Shrines), Michael Jackson, Liberace, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Michael Houser of Widespread Panic.
Twelve Shrines have a sports theme: Auto racing: Dale Earnhardt. Football: The New England Patriots and a shrine to Bear Bryant and Alabama football, Baseball: There are two baseball shrines--Fenway Park [Boston Red Sox] and Yankee Stadium [New York Yankees]. Golf: There are five golf-related shrines--Two Shrines honor many deceased greats of the game as a group, another honors Ben Hogan alone, another honors Bobby Jones alone, and one covers the golf movie "Caddyshack." Hockey: A shrine dedicated to hockey. And another one dedicated to the Chicago Black Hawks NHL team. Bowling: A shrine dedicated to bowling.
Tweny three Shrines are to locals, or persons with a local connection: Adam Dennis, Brandon Zukoff, Chris Polk, Christian Daniel Streuli, Christine E. Hardy, Chuck Severy/Todd Olson (one shrine to both men), Eric Smith, Hunter S. Thompson, Jake Foerster, Jeff Walker, John Nicoletta, Kathy Kania, Kiera Elizabeth Tongish, Nancy Pfister, Nicholas Blake Davidson, Patti Seifert, Raoul Wille, Rich Kerr, Robert D. Kesselring ("Señor Kess"), Steve Butts, Suzie W., Ksenija Ilic, Tom Cole, and Tom Sharkey.
The subjects of the remaining Shrines do not fall into any neat categories: The 9/11 victims, Aspen Ski Hall of Fame members and Aspen's Skiing Pioneers, a dog named Bingo, cowboys (The Buckaroo Shrine), Chicks (The Chix Coup Shrine), pet dogs (The Dog Pound Shrine, the K9 Shrine, and a couple others), pet cats (The Kitty Cat Shrine), Marilyn Monroe, the Monkey Lounge, mountain bikes, groundhogs, Guinness, the Burning Man Festival, a children's toy called "Pooper Troopers," the cartoon character Snoopy, a shrine to Valentines, unicorns, Calvin and Hobbes, and several others.
Tim Mooney Shrine Tour TV Shows
If you are in the Aspen/Snowmass area, watch television station channel 82 (Aspen 82) for short video shrine tour segments that cover some of the various shrines. Here are two of the segments: Shrine Tour Part 1 (Raoul Wille, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and John Denver Shrines): http://vimeo.com/61379114, and Shrine Tour Part 2 (Jerry Garica, Michael Houser, and Jimi Hendrix Shrines): http://vimeo.com/61424611. These video shrines tours are given by local Tim Mooney and cover shrines on Aspen Mountain only.
See this video, which features David Wood (https://www.facebook.com/aspenshrines), regarding Snowmass shrines, on the Snowmass Tourism web site: "Daly Dose of Snowmass – The Shrines January 8, 2014." Click this link to view the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EgA9fak6j0&t=46s "Have you ever stumbled across any of Snowmass’s best kept secret? We are talking about the Shrines, 60+ memorials to people or things hidden off the slopes and amongst the trees. The Shrines are unique to Aspen/Snowmass — no other resort in the country has anything quite like it. But you can't find them on a map, so you had better start hunting!"
Cody Musselman--The Right To Shrine
In 2019 Cody Musselman was a doctoral candidate in Religious Studies at Yale University where she studied American Religious History, and on May 28, 2019 she published an academic paper about the Aspen/Snowmass Shrines in the Material Religion journal. See this page: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17432200.2019.1603069 The title of the paper is: “The Right to Shrine”: Global Celebrity, Colonial Logics, and Local Knowledge in Aspen’s Mountainside Memorials. Maddie Vincent of the Aspen Times and Snowmass Sun published an article about Cody and her paper in the January 2, 2020 Aspen Times and this is the link to that article, "The Right To Shrine" https://www.aspentimes.com/snowmass/the-right-to-shrine-yale-student-publishes-academic-article-about-aspen-snowmass-shrines/ Also, see this January 31, 2020 article by Gordy Megroz, "WHAT A YALE SCHOLAR DISCOVERED ABOUT ASPEN’S HIDDEN SHRINES" in the REI Coop Journal: https://www.rei.com/blog/snowsports/what-a-yale-scholar-discovered-about-aspens-hidden-shrines
Click on the images of the Maddie Vincent article below to enlarge: