Monday, February 25, 2013

Saturday At Aspen Mountain

After a somewhat exhausting and climactic few days, even though I knew it was a classic, I worried that skiing Aspen Mountain might be rather anti-climactic. I shouldn't have worried.

I used another residential parking day passes ($8) to park a few blocks from the lift and walked. That way I could stash my stuff at the end of the day and easily pay a last visit to town before leaving. And I don't mind walking.

Candidate for best view from a McDonald's, even with the bus station below:

I rode the gondola up with a local trio of friends, a middle-aged couple and a young woman who worked at a local gear shop, who was your basic picture of a pretty blonde from Aspen. The topic of the latter's new argon gas (I guess it's a good insulator) vest came up, and an ad hoc comedy routine ensued -- all good-natured -- involving the price, the 3-year supply of argon gas, whether it was just an expensive gimmick, and the possibility of a nitrous-oxide backup system. Apparently it works well. And it was "only" two hundred-something dollars. You know, some gimmicks become the standard when they succeed...

At the top, I just started exploring the mountain. A couple of intermediate runs, then I went in search of the goods. It was cloudy early in the AM.

I had spotted some nice-looking steep aspen tree runs on the ride up, and decided to find them. I did, starting with S-1. I'd been skiing difficult trails all week, so I figured why not? The easy-looking part:

The top was steep, and I hadn't gotten to the tough part yet:

And this trail proceeded to beat me, when I totally lost my nerve navigating the section near some rock outcroppings (not pictured). The snow was steep and firm, as it seems to be on top of willow bushes, and I didn't think I could cut the turns. I stepped my skis down the slope and slid sheepishly and clumsily over minor boulders and through knee-deep snow to below the outcroppings.

Even then, the deep snow was firm, and there always seemed to be trees where I wanted to turn, or a turn was too long to think I could make it and stay in control. It was the same way at the aspens at Beaver Creek. I wonder if it's something about the character of powder in open trees like aspens, that it gets a little more sun?

The trail back down to the gondola:

Since S-1 was such a "success", I decided to work my way through the double blacks on Gent's Ridge chair. But seriously, sometimes trails are easier or harder than their rating. Hopefully I could ski these. I could, and they were great. I stayed there for the rest of the day.

Although the upper part of Kristi beat me too.

Around noon, the clouds broke for a while and I got my first panoramic shots of the trip. This is Highland Bowl from the top of Aspen Mountain:

At the end of the day the snowcats were coming back from taking people out to ski. Who should step off one of them but Ted and Christy (great blog, read their bios if you are unfamiliar). I also knew from a tweet that they had also done a lap on the Power of Four ski-mountaineering race course over at Snowmass in the morning. Holy cow, what a day. Anyway, I introduced myself and we chatted briefly. Nice to meet them in person.

Ski patrol was getting ready to close Walsh's at the end of the day, and let me through for one more trip down.

Looking up towards Independence Pass:

I stashed my gear in the car and did another walk around town, grabbed a meal at Big Wrap, had a couple of brews at Aspen Brewing (the Conundrum Red is fantastic), and headed back to Carbondale. It was already starting to dump snow, and I wanted to get an early start on the highway Sunday, otherwise it was going to be a nightmare. It was still pretty bad, but I got through it and was home at 11 AM Sunday.

What a great trip. I'll be back.

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