Feb 22 2010

Aspen – The Powder of Four

Shredding the Big Burn - Snowmass

When the general public thinks of Aspen, they often associate it with the lifestyles of the rich and famous. But for skiers and riders in the know, Aspen holds another treasure trove – that of its’ fabulous ski hills. Four resorts, 5000 plus acres, the largest vertical drop in the US (Snowmass – 4406 feet) and home to the X-games, Aspen has it all. But the best part is that given its’ relatively remote location, it’s never ever crowded.

I know my skis are around here somewhere...

After a very dry start to the winter Aspen is finally starting to get some good snow with over 3 feet in the last week including two feet in the last three days. Fortunately for me, this is the week that my college buddy does his annual trip to Aspen, a tradition that I’ve joined in for the last 11 years. We’ve had many great trips but few if any rival the last two days.

The name says it all

When I first started visiting Snowmass at the start of my ski career, I thought the Big Burn at Snowmass was as good as it gets. A huge meadow with nicely spaced trees, dynamic gullys and wide open spaces, it still warms my heart but it’s now the steeps at Snowmass that really get my attention. High Alpine, The Cirque, Hanging Valley Wall,  and much much more make a day at Snowmass a real adventure with endless possibilities for powder.  The toughest decision are where to go first but it really doesn’t matter because unlike most major ski areas, the good snow lasts a long, long time. (A map of Snowmass can be found here if you want to follow along)

They don't call it Rock Island for nothing

While Sunday was a great day, Monday had people using the word “epic ” from the start. Four days of continuous snow had made everything so deep and soft that even the big bump fields skied like easy groomers if you like getting face shots all the way down the hill. We started with a couple of Sam’s Knobs just for fun, moved on to Big Burn when their wasn’t a track on it and then started to get serious. The Cirque never opened due to avalanche issues and the steep gully shots were on hold but Rock Island was open and offered a pillow filled odyssey into the heart of the Cirque gully.

All sweetness and light

My friend Guv, pictured with mouth wide open above (for hooting and hollering) is very partial to the High Alpine lift and I myself, can not get enough of the Hanging Valley Wall so like a lot of locals we tend to do laps on Reiders until the Wall opens. A short and easy ten minute hike opens up huge possibilities, all involving steep shots and deep powder as the wind blows in big time here often doubling snow totals. The Wall requires two lifts to get back to but is well worth the trip and helps guarantee that it will not get cut up quickly (that and its’ huge expanse and serious cliffs). On Monday we took our time getting there because the rest of the mountain was so good but once there we saw that as usual there was plenty left that had yet to be touched.

Yeah, powder cords would be good

On the way back from the Wall we originally decide to hike Long Shot, the 5.3 mile, 3000 plus vertical run that also has a backcountry gate leading to untracked shots available days after a storm, but it was closed like numerous other runs because of avy danger. So instead we had to suffer through a powder choked run down Elk Camp and another ride up High Alpine. This time after an obligatory Reiders run we headed in the other direction to Green Cabin and the Dikes which was outrageously good – so good in fact, that when we were done we had to do the whole routine over again – two more lifts and a hike back to Hanging Valley and then two lifts again and a hike back to the Dikes.

May I have another please - Hanging Valley Wall, Snowmass

At this point we were totally exhausted, but the endorphins pulsing through our bodies convinced us that we really needed to do one last run off the Sheer Bliss lift because after all it stays open till 4 and who leaves the mountain before closing time when the conditions are that good. Fortunately we made it down without hitting anybody or anything and then crawled to the car. We had been spouting superlatives since 8:30 and could barely talk but with the memories of this day now permanently etched into our minds, words no longer seemed necessary. Today will last me for a long, long time or at least till next weekend when I’ll be back in Aspen and yes, I know, I am a very lucky boy…