Thursday, February 2, 2012

Highlands Bowl

The Bowl at Aspen Highlands provides what is unquestionably one of the best “in bounds” riding experiences in the world. We have talked to guests who are lucky enough to have skied all over the world who have said that the bowl provided one of their most memorable skiing or riding experiences. As many of you know already, the bowl is only accessible by hiking, and it’s not a particularly easy one at that. There is a snow cat available to get you past the first part of the hike, which would save on average 15 minutes or so of hiking. This still leaves you with about 30-45 minutes of high-altitude hiking in ski or snowboard boots. The hike itself discourages enough people from making the trek that the bowl is always the least “bumped out” part of all of Aspen’s four mountains. The bowl also usually gets more snowfall than other parts of the mountains both because of its elevation and also because, well, it’s a bowl. As a bowl, it has wide range of aspects which will usually mean that at least one area in the bowl is “wind loaded” meaning much more snow has built up than the ski report would indicate. When you combine the low traffic with high snowfall, the bowl almost always impresses anyone who gets to ride it. If the snow is good on other parts of the mountain, it’s great in the bowl. What is most important about the bowl, however, is the incredible amount of work that goes into making it a safe adventure. It essentially provides a back country experience without the significant risk involved with back country riding. As soon as there is a foot or more of snow, Highlands ski patrol along with an army of volunteers literally walk up and down the bowl to boot pack the early season snow. This helps create stable layers of snow that serve to mitigate what would otherwise be very dangerous avalanche conditions. Then, throughout the season, the ski patrol spends lots of time and money on the bowl to make sure it’s safe. They continually boot pack, cut the snow into zig zag patterns to decrease the size of a potential slide, and bomb fresh snow causing it to slide under controlled conditions. It’s pretty incredible that the bowl offers powder skiing on 40+ degree slopes while keeping the risk of an avalanche exceptionally low. Hiking the bowl is not for everyone. But for those who are ready and able it provides great memories, lasting motivation to stay in peak condition, and perhaps the best run of their life.