Finding Joy At Aspen As A First-Time Skier

First time skier at Aspen Mountain

Wei Chen’s first day skiing could have gone really badly.

The New York transplant, who works as the executive sous chef at Aspen pop-up Nakazawa, went up Aspen Mountain with some co-workers, all outfitted with rental set-ups from Hamilton Sports. There are no green beginner runs on Aspen Mountain, and the group didn’t hire an instructor (although they had experienced skiers among them). They missed the last gondola down, meaning Chen, who had spent the day learning and skiing groomers off of the Ajax Express chair, concluded his first-ever day on skis with a 3,267-vertical-foot descent. And it had started snowing, adding new powder and diminished visibility to the challenges.

Chen says it was his best ski experience so far.

“I felt like a little kid for all six hours, just grinning every second,” Chen recalled a little over a month and 14 ski days later. “I knew that I had found something that changed my life forever.”

It’s not uncommon for newcomers to fall in love with Aspen, skiing, and the mountain life. But love at first schuss? That’s not as common. And Chen has loved every minute of it so far.

First time skier at Aspen Mountain

First time skier at Aspen Mountain

“The adrenaline you get from skiing is not like anything I’d ever experienced,” he says. “I think that’s why I enjoy it — the constant chasing of that sensation, that euphoric high.”

Chen arrived in town in the depths of off-season, in mid-November. A lifelong city dweller, he said it was a no-brainer to be part of the team to open an Aspen outpost of renowned chef Daisuke Nakazawa’s New York eatery. Invited by local restaurateur Ryan Chadwick to occupy the former Mr. Grey space for the winter, the team hopes to stay more permanently.

A self-described outdoorsy type who almost became a pro road cyclist after attending CU Boulder, Chen took to Aspen’s charms immediately — although his demanding work schedule means he has to be efficient with his time off.

Luckily, efficiency is part of his nature. On a typical day, he’ll go up the Silver Queen Gondola at 9 a.m., ski 10 to 20 groomers off the Ajax Express chairlift, and be down by 11:30 a.m. “I just go nonstop,” he says. “I’m usually by myself so I don’t have to wait for anyone, and they don’t have to wait for me.”

Chen says he’s a creature of habit who likes the discipline of sports.

“It’s why I chose sushi, because the structure of the restaurants is super strict,” he says. “I have to be good every day — and try to get better every day. That’s where my mentality for skiing comes in … Plus it’s fun playing in the snow.”
Skier Wei Chen at Aspen Snowmass
Skier Wei Chen at Aspen Snowmass
When a co-worker who had been a ski instructor compared skiing to cutting sushi, Chen says it upped his game on the slopes.

“The way you ski always at an angle, that’s the same way you angle the knife to cut the fish properly,” his friend explained. “And that’s how you control your turns.”

Chen says he’s “good at things I put my heart into,” and he clearly has his heart in skiing. On a sunny, warm mid-January day, he sets off from the top of Aspen Mountain with confidence and control. His turns look like those of a seasoned intermediate, and true to his habit, he doesn’t stop until he gets to the chairlift.
Skier Wei Chen at Aspen Snowmass
Skier Wei Chen at Aspen Snowmass
Like many in Aspen Snowmass, he’s thoroughly enjoying living in the moment, although he has goals when it comes to skiing. He wants to try black-diamond runs (even though his one accidental venture into a mogul field sent him to the emergency room) and looks forward to cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing, and the Highland Bowl. (“If not this season, then definitely next,” he says).

Recalling his first experience in powder, on day one, it wasn’t stressful like it can be for many. The falling snow was beautiful, he says — “so serene. It gave me a sense of comfort because I knew if I fell it would be soft.”

Chen has clearly found his new home.

“For this to be my new chapter, I’m more than happy to take it all in,” he says. “I’m so grateful to be able to make food and travel to a place like this — it’s something a lot of people who work in restaurants can only dream of. I’m just really happy.”

About The Author

Catherine Lutz


Catherine Lutz is an Aspen-based freelance writer and editor who has helped craft stories and content for the Aspen Institute, Aspen Sojourner magazine, Powder magazine, and many others. An avid skier, paddleboarder, and mountain biker, she’s now vicariously experiencing a second childhood through her two young children in one of the best places on the planet to raise a family.

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