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Mountains of Culture : Come summer, after skiers have fled, the Colorado Rockies come alive with the sound of music and other world-class arts festivals.

May 19, 1991|PAT HANNA KUEHL

ASPEN, Colo. — Fred and Marjorie Cater give new meaning to life in the Aspen fast lane.

He's a retired geologist in the deep shade of 75. She's a part-time secretary old enough to collect Social Security. But they manage to take in at least two concerts a day at the Aspen Music Festival--matinee and evening performances--with a picnic on the grass outside the Music Tent sandwiched between.

For the Caters, it's all part of savoring what the Rocky Mountains have to offer in the summer: world-class culture. In addition to Aspen, such renowned ski areas as Breckenridge, Telluride and Vail are gathering places for artists to perform ballet, opera, poetry and music ranging from symphony to bluegrass during the summer season.

Summer visitors drink in art near meadows filled with wildflowers, icy cold babbling creeks and sunlight reflected off shiny-clean pine needles. Night skies are overflowing with stars you never guessed were there. No smog. No humidity. No dress codes. Would that there were no traffic: Alas, two-lane Highway 82 leading into Aspen tends to clog near curtain times.

The Caters could choose from any of these Colorado cultural experiences, but Aspen happens be the one closest to their hearts. For 24 years they have made a tradition of savoring every experience possible.

Up at dawn to watch the hot air balloon launch at the Snowmass Balloon Festival nearby. Out on a mountain trail for a brisk walk before meeting friends for a quick breakfast at the Main Street Bakery & Cafe in downtown Aspen. Then off to watch an orchestra, opera or ballet master class (they like to think they can spot the future "greats"). Or maybe to take in a morning rehearsal at the Music Tent.

At noon, Fred leaves the music scene to stalk mountain trout for a couple of hours. Or he joins his wife at a brown bag lunch panel discussion on the lawn of the Historical Society Museum, where artists in denim and T-shirts, unshaved and unmade-up, tell what a life in the arts is really like and fill listeners in on what to expect at curtain time.

The Caters, who are from Denver, are among the older, quieter, more introspective crowd that claims the Colorado ski resorts in summer, when a Rocky Mountain high relates more to IQ than fitness rating. The young crowd's there, too--art students for the most part--but even the muscled and bronzed set works in a cultural event or two, if only to polish their image between bouts of white-water rafting and hang gliding.

The summer art festivals in the mountains started in Aspen in July, 1949, two years after the ski area opened. The late Chicago industrialist, Walter Paepcke, and his wife, Elizabeth, investors in the Aspen Ski Co., managed to lure the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, Albert Schweitzer and 2,000 others to the then-remote mountain town for what they called the Goethe Bicentennial Convocation and Music Festival.

That first effort to make Aspen a center for artists and intellectuals, as well as skiers, was such a success it spawned a number of other cultural attractions: the nine-week Aspen Music Festival and School (this year June 28-Aug. 25); the Aspen Institute (July 2-Aug. 27); the Aspen Physics Institute (July 3-Aug.28) and the International Design Conference (June 16-21). Other arts--ballet, as well as the Aspen Theatre Company (June 25-Sept. 5)--were introduced beginning in 1969. By then the Paepckes had achieved a kind of alpine intellectual sainthood.

The impact of the cultural blossoming was twofold: The down-at-the heels mining town got a new image and the struggling resort became stronger because the arts kept the town booming during summer. Indeed, the more word got around about the appeal of creating art in an idyllic setting, the higher the quality of artists who responded.

A growing number of ski resorts are learning the Aspen lesson. Laid-back Telluride is host to the famous international film festival over the Labor Day Weekend. Vail has snagged the Bolshoi Ballet Academy of Moscow. And next-door-resort Beaver Creek has the National Repertory Orchestra with former President Jerry Ford narrating Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait." There's cowboy poetry at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs and, in honor of his bicentennial, everybody seems to have a little Mozart.

What follows is a sampling of the art offerings this summer in the Colorado Rockies:


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