Sunday, February 24, 2013

Friday Aspen Highlands

After a day at Snowmass, I wavered on whether to ski Aspen Highlands, since I would have preferred a clear day with visibility, and the top of the mountain was in the clouds.

I wanted some good photos, and skiing a large, unfamiliar alpine bowl in pea soup fog is not ideal. But skies were partly clear early that morning, so I went for it, thinking the weather might clear up later. It didn't.

I took two lifts right up to the top to where the hiking to the bowl begins. I was definitely nervous about what lay ahead, and whether I'd be able to handle it. The bowl is on the left side of the ridge:

The sign at the gate didn't help my confidence level:

I guess I'm an expert now, I thought (I'm not really).

But I had studied the terrain beforehand (photos and Google Earth) and it appeared the slopes were no steeper than other things I had skied.

After getting off the lift, there was an easy skate downhill through some trees, and people waiting in line at a rope. Patrol said it was the line for the Snowcat. I was looking for exercise, so I passed, and instead put the skins on my skis and started up. There were two others skinning up, and the rest were hiking, carrying their skis or board.

The ascent took 45 minutes, including a stop to remove skins and another to adjust gear. Not sure it's worth skinning the cat track, I would probably just hike it next time, because it's not very long.

Not much of a view at the tiny summit due to being in the clouds, but a bit of a siesta going on up there, with multiple languages being spoken (Catalan? Know Kilian?) The G-zones -- a treed ridge down past the summit -- were closed, so I had my choice of a couple of white edges over nothing to drop down into.

I descended at the Ozone sign but cut left into White Kitchen to avoid rock ledges directly below the summit. The pitch (max of 43 degrees according to the trail map) was a little freaky, as firm powder gave way from its base of re-frozen snow. The sliding took some applied force, but was still unnerving when there were also dark patches from dynamite charges above and around me. Enough so that I kept waiting for a guy on a board to clear from below me before I moved. I skied the upper part in single jump-turns, then relaxed farther down. This is maybe 100 yards below the steepest part:

I crossed over the little ridge with trees on it to B-One. An overlay of my GPS track on a photo from Aspen Mountain the next day:

Below the bowl, the runout was a series of stepped drops on easy black diamond bumps with level sections. The entire run was good for about 2,600 feet of descent by my calculation.

Afterwards I skied St. Moritz and some other stuff, but frankly my quads were shot, and I never did another lap of the bowl.

A local suggested elevation as the factor (when he found I lived west of Denver), but I live at 5,800 feet and run hills all week. The hike was not the problem, it was my brake-heavy style on the steeps. I'm really just starting to plant my feet and engage steep fall lines, and still spend some time in the back seat. This is extremely tiring for the quads. But I'm starting to get it.

On the way down I skied Lower Stein, which was a steep "shrub run" with weeds sticking out of the snow, which looked like it was going to end up in a gully below some houses, requiring a hike out.

At the last minute there was an uphill cat track that was the runout. I had to walk uphill just a little, then I was out.

I was tired after day two, and hit the road after stretching my legs in town. A cloud-shrouded Mount Sopris catching some last rays at the end of the day:

Distance was 16.22 miles, time 4:21 (moving 2:34), elevation gain/loss 9,430 feet, avg. speed 3.7 mph, and max speed 28.0 mph. Max elevation 12,352 feet.

I didn't feel like doing anything other than relaxing and doing some photo work and writing, so I was grateful for the Whole Foods in the valley, and their prepared foods. It didn't really save me money, but it was good and it saved time.

And I continued to be impressed by the terrain in Aspen. A lap at Highland Bowl may not be much for an experienced Aspen local, but it was for me. This mountain kicked my @#$%. But I did it, and I'm proud of it.


  1. I second JV's comment. You'd die of boredom skiing with me.

  2. Heh. I've been trying to challenge myself, yet still avoid hospital visits.