1/6-1/10/2019 Aspen, CO -- Powder Daze


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  1. #1

    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Lower Hudson Valley

    1/6-1/10/2019 Aspen, CO -- Powder Daze

    Bringing in the New Year, I decided to burn my 5 Aspen days on the Ikon pass. My host also has Ikon Base just like me. And she has 3 days off from work. So we decided we would drive there in separate cars.

    Day 1: Sunday (1/6), it started to snow... Let's try Buttermilk!

    I was already in Aspen, but the thought of 1-2" on top of slick, scratchy hardpack didn't appeal. So I took my time with a slow breakfast.

    My friend from Summit county was only driving there in the morning. Estimated arrival time was a bit before noon.

    Some crazy idea came to me: I've never skied in Buttermilk, one of the 4 mountains that make up the "Aspen resort". It's mostly beginner terrain. But rumor has it there's also nobody skiing it when it snows. Maybe the groomer there would be less scratchy and less slick? And the new fluff would stick better?

    My friend liked my crazy idea, so Buttermilk is was. We managed to pull into the parking lot about the same time, Both scored front row parking spot, albeit on the overflow lot.

    By then (11'ish), ~3 inches had fallen, and it was still chucking down, big sticky flakes. We slowly got ready and got on the chair. The slope beneath was nearly empty. Only occasionally groups of 2-3 skiers glided by silently (hint, no scratchy sound). It was clear the edge of the trail had a thick coat of new snow. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to conclude that's where we should go.

    Just some blue groomers, which by now have about 3-4" of new snow on top of nicely groomed perfectly flat surfaces. Our skis glide on the new snow silently, we slide effortlessly back to the bottom of the chair in no time.

    Oh, did I mention there's no line for the chair?

    By 2pm, we've covered all the chairs and all the groomed trails, some of them several times. (The ungroomed trails were not so great. 4" is still not enough to cover up the bumps. Fortunately, there weren't that many ungroomed trails in Buttermilk.)

    And annoyingly, the snowing had slowed, then stopped. Though the forecast still calls for a 2nd round later in the day. So we quit while we were ahead. Best to rest our legs for the next day, as more snow were in the forecast for overnight.

    Day 2: Monday (1/7). Full on powder day at Ajax!
    Woke up bright and early, check the snow total... Sadly, it was "only" 8-9 inches! (worse: 4" during the day, 4-5" after lift closing)

    My Colorado friend wasn't impressed. She wanted to wait for a friend of hers from the east, who arrived at Denver the day before and only made it to Glenwood Spring the night before, to drive in from Glenwood Spring in the morning. The friend got up early but nonetheless got hung up on the morning rush hour.

    I, on the other hand, aren't going to wait for anyone on a day with 8"!!! I arrived at the Ajax gondola square at 8:45 and booted up promptly. Slightly annoyed that they actually started loading peeps onto the gondola! Thankfully, what little "line" there was went really quickly...

    When the gondola got near the summit, we could hear the howling of the wind. And the blowing of snow across the top. Getting out of the gondola building was a fight for balance!

    I quickly went towards the little "Guest Service" hut to use as a shelter. Debating whether to bother checking in with my friend on their progress towards the mountain. Then I saw a ski patrol standing there. So I asked "where would you go if you were free skiing?" "I would go to Back of the Bell"!

    There's a good reason that's a good choice: it's out of the wind (the Gent's Ridge act as a wind block). The bumps weren't very big so the 8" completely bury it. It skied like it was bottomless powder!

    The only drawback: the Gent's Ridge chair was slow as a snail crawl. On the plus side, the chair too was out of the wind.

    Trying to meet up with my other friends proved futile so I gave up after the 2nd attempt. They went to the Ruthie side. While the skiing was probably just as good, they got the full brunt of the wind.

    Eventually, after making my own tracks in several trails, other skiers joined me in chopping up the fresh powder. It was time I try the other part of the mountain to see what I was missing

    I skied to the bottom, found yet another short section of untouched powder on an out of way trail. I took Shadow Mountain, yet another slow chair back up, which happened to connect with Ruthie. While on Ruthie, I saw my 2 friends making their way to the lodge at the top. So I joined them.

    After a quick pee break, we re-visited the Gent's Ridge. By now, most of the trails had been chopped up (it's amazing that even though there's no line on the lifts, the trails did get skied!). We did find a few short sections of freshies hidden in out of direct line of sight. But by now, our legs were demanding rest. And with the urgency of fresh untouched lines gone, it's perfectly good time to rest and had some lunch.

    After lunch, we explored a few more trails. Fresh loose snow were being chopped up and pushed into big piles. The best part of wide open fresh powder were over. We tried the trees. But the dry fluffy snow were not the best cushion for slick surfaces underneath.

    We decided to quit while we were ahead. The early quitting also set us up for a long apres which included stopping at THREE bars!

    Day 3, More powder at Snowmass, lucky us!

    hile we were enjoying our share of powder at Ajax on Monday, we didn't know how lucky we were in our random decision to ski Ajax (only because we stayed at Aspen, and it's obviously the closest mountain, without involving long bus rides). The terrible wind we had to fight through on the top of mountain were worse in Snowmass. So many of the upper mountain's lifts were shut the whole day!

    So when we again randomly chose to ski Snowmass on day 3, we unwittingly made the best choice of skiing the one mountain that the fresh snow hadn't been skied!

    But we weren't quite as lucky as our dumb luck would had us. One in our party, who came from the east, weren't too keen on wind-affected heavy untouched powder. Even my 90mm skis were a bit of a struggle to cut through the semi-heavy cement. So while my Colorado friend (on her 100mm+ skis) kept on hinting we should head to the double black terrain of the Cirque, I did my best to advocate the lessor severe Hinging Valley (mostly single black and glades). In the end, we "compromised" to stay with our friend on the pleasant cream cheese on easy blues of the Burn & Elk Camp area. We had a blast and couldn't care much less that we weren't chasing the 8+" heavy powder on the expert terrain.

    (I would found out 2 days later that coverage on those terrain were still quite thin. So it would have been a rather abrasive ride had we gone over there).

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Lower Hudson Valley
    The day before Aspen, I was skiing Copper by myself. I was enjoying the blue bird day, even though the snow condition was only ho hum. Dropping into the back bowl (Copper Bowl), I saw the Tucker cat was running and the line was surprisingly short...

    I've been in Colorado for about 10 days by then. Whatever acclimatization to altitude I need, I should be close to being as good as I would get. So I decided I would ride the cat and hike Tucker Mountain! (I had done that before, I knew one needs to hike even with the help of the cat). I asked if anyone had been up there earlier in the day, to get some sense of the condition, but got no reply. Seems everyone was doing it for the first time, EVER. I ended up explaining to the people in the line what's involved after leaving the cat, but got no info on the condition of the runs. Still, I decided the view off the ridge on a clear day alone would be worth the hike. But also in the back of my mind, I was thinking of hiking Highland Bowl if the condition were conducive. So the hike up Tucker would be a short preview and/or practice hike.

    (the skiing was excellent, except I went too low and had to side step up a bank of a trench to get back to the lift)

    Day 4, Highland Bowl Hike, rewarded with chopped up powder

    (to be continued)

    Day 5, More cream cheese harvesting in Snowmass

    Last edited by abc; Jan 15, 2019 at 9:59 PM.

  3. #3
    Thank you for this report.. my teenage son and I are headed out to Colorado briefly on the Ikon 31 Jan and are debating about Aspen / Copper / Winter Park / Steamboat. Plotting for a mix of Aspen and Copper but would change based on conditions..

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Lower Hudson Valley
    Day 4, Highland Bowl Hike, rewarded with chopped up powder

    I've skied the Highland Bowl before, but only from near the cat drop off point. Both times, I was alone and the hike just totally freak me out (hint, steep drop on BOTH sides of the boot track). More over, I've been told the hike to the peak of Highland takes somewhere between 45 min to an hour. That's a long hike to do by myself. I really could use some moral support of a hiking buddy! Not to mention the concern if I run into any issues that far out, I'd be on my own to deal with. I'm really not a back country skier so my resources aren't what I'd like them to be.

    I was hoping my friend from Colorado would join me for the long hike on Highland Bowl. But unfortunately, the timing didn't quite work out. My backup plan however, was I knew the mountain runs a "Highland Bowl Tour" every Wednesday! That ended up working out just right timing-wise.

    I jumped on the Snowmass --> Highland "direct" bus at 9am, which dropped us off at the Highland base lodge ~9:30. After booting up, I approached a guy in the Ambassador jacket and asked about the condition of the Highland Bowl...

    "Condition is pretty good. You thinking of taking a hike?"
    Me: "Yep, isn't today the day you guys do the Bowl Tour?"
    "Yep, Today's the day. I'll be seeing you shortly then"
    Me: "Oh, you'll be in the tour?"

    A little bit of detail: The "Highland Bowl Tour", as it turns out, is limited to the first 10 people signed up. So to be sure of making it, one should get to the Merry Go Round promptly at 10:30am. Though on this week after the New Year, the mountain was pretty empty. So there's no big worry about it filling up. Still, I didn't take any chances. Got on the chair there and put my name down as #2. The actual meeting time for the "tour" is 11:45.

    The next question was where to warm up. One can choose to just cruise the groomers, saving one's leg for the hike. Or one may try the Termerity to get a "preview" of the steepness of the run and the snow condition. For those who aren't sure if they're up for skiing the bowl, that's a chance to get a reality check and back out if need be. (I was told later on a family did back out from the bowl tour after a lap there) I've done the steeper part of the bowl before so wasn't too worried about the skiing down part. I opted to save my legs by just cruising on a couple of groomers, but also dipped into a short bump section just to get my legs "really" warm!

    Then it's a quick bite before showing up for the hike at 11:45.

    Ideally, one should have a pack that can carry skis. My planning wasn't up to par so I didn't have anything to carry skis with. I also didn't envision hiking an hour shouldering my skis. Not to mention through the section with huge drops on BOTH sides. But I also know the ski patrol offers a strap for $10. That's a price I'm willing to pay for my lack of planning. (I could have borrowed a pack from my friend in Colorado, had I remembered to ask her to bring it with her!)

    Then we're off.

    First, a quick ride on the cat (free ride). Then, it's "de-layering" at the cat drop off point. The sun was out and strong. The slope as we could see, was clear and obviously going UP. So we stripped off as much as possible (helmet off too). Within about 5 minutes, the "guests" were all breathing heavy as we slogged along. The Ambassadors, who are locals who hike the bowl every other day, were taking it real easy.

    (there were 4 "guests", accompanied by 3 "Ambassadors", a very reassuring ratio)

    The first section was the scariest for me, with the steep drop off. I was glad I had the strap for the skis, so my hands were free to use the poles for balance. (BTW, the advise from the Ambassadors "if you're fear of heights, just look at the boot path in front of you, don't look sideways" )

    The second section was the most strenuous of the hike, nicknamed "Stairway to heaven". The boot holes were made by "average" size skiers who are about 6 inches taller than me! My legs weren't too happy to be stretched those extra inches on each and every step. Thankfully, I had them poles to literally help PULL myself up each step, saving my legs for the skiing later on.

    Then, we were at the top of "Stairway to Heaven" in no time. And we could see the peak seemingly SO CLOSE! Though in reality it's another 10-15 minute hike UP. But everyone knew the hard part of the climb was over. Whatever time it took our group, it didn't feel too long. A little bit of chit chat and a few mini-breaks to catch one's breath, the hike was over pretty quickly!

    The 360 degree sweeping view on the top was gorgeous.


    I'm not one who take pictures for my skiing usually. But I thought this is one occasion it justify being a "tourist". So I pulled out my phone intending to snap a picture or two, of the summit sign and the views. Lo and behold, my phone informed me it really preferred to get a "software update" installed at that very moment!!!

    Although I knew there's a way to bypass that demand, but I couldn't really read the screen well enough in the bright sunshine to get through the bypass process. So sadly, no pictures.


    The ski down was a bit anti-climatic. The powder from 2 days ago had been pretty thoroughly "harvested", by a lot of people, good amount of traversing no less. Still, the snow was deep and soft (and forgiving). It was relatively "easy" despite the nearly 40 degree angle.

    All too soon, it was over. We were at the bottom of the bowl. We stopped to look back at the gorgeous bowl we just came down on. It was beautiful. A long flat run out took us back to the Temerity chair. Even though the skiing part isn't particularly special (don't get me wrong, the skiing wasn't bad at all), the view alone was "almost" worth the hike! With fresh snow, I'm pretty sure it'll be quite special.

    So, one of those "iconic" notch-on-the-belt done.
    Last edited by abc; Jan 23, 2019 at 3:01 PM.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Lower Hudson Valley
    Day 5, Cream cheese harvesting in Snowmass

    After Highland Bowl, it's obvious all powder are gone from open bowls, however inaccessible. Still, Snowmass was well known for its glades. And I happened to be staying slope side at Snowmass. So that's the obvious choice for my last day.

    Morning, the sun was out and bright. But the temperature was low. So all groomers were hard (though not slick). The east facing runs were the first to soften. That's Alpine Spring. To get there, I can either go down and back up, or up to the ridge and down from there. Naturally, I opted to go the top down route, with the intention to check out the Cirque on the way. But on the ride up, I happened to share a chair with a ski patrol, who advised me the north facing Cirque headwall were quite thin. So I decided I'd just skip that and go straight across the ridge to Hanging Valley and its (hopefully) delicious glades.

    The ridge was as windblown, as slick as the worst of eastern kitchen tile. Worse, there're small rocks peeking out of the smooth kitchen tile too! Fortunately, its flat, so I just straight line it all the way to Hanging Valley (doing my best to avoid the occasional small rocks) and drop down the Edge, a single black next to the expert run Baby Ruth. I wanted a view of it to see if it's in a doable (by me) condition.

    Surprise, surprised, the Edge was groomed to perfection, and smooth and soft as baby's bottom! And it's a long run all the way down to the Alpine Spring chair. All smooth and soft like cream cheese. And NOBODY on it!!!

    Needless to say, I hop on the Alpine Spring chair, then High Alpine, to lap that same run again. And had the run all to myself AGAIN! Don't think I've EVER done such big S turns taking up the ENTIRE width of the run from edge to edge without a care!

    I thought about the glades. But the groomer were in such excellent condition I just can't resist lapping it over and over. There're different variations to make it different each run.

    Then, it's time for me to leave. I had an appointment to see a specialist back in Summit County and I had to leave...

    It's the best groomer cruising days in my recent memory. The lack of crowd makes it particularly enjoyable. If that were the end of my season, I would have felt I had a good one. (fortunately, it won't be, I have another trip out west in Feb/March time frame, not counting whatever storm chasing I can manage here in the northeast)
    Last edited by abc; Jan 23, 2019 at 3:05 PM.

  6. #6
    Nice trip. Very impressed with your fitness and skill to conquer Highland Bowl! I've skied it four times, but always from the early drop-in.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Lower Hudson Valley
    Quote Originally Posted by jimk View Post
    Nice trip. Very impressed with your fitness and skill to conquer Highland Bowl! I've skied it four times, but always from the early drop-in.
    I could use more fitness. I was the slowest in the group.

    As for skiing skills, you've seen how I ski. And you've skied the steeper part of the bowl too (from the cat drop off). The "tour" chose to skied G5, which is the easiest of all the routes. It was still really too steep for my taste. But having several locals as guides just gave me a lot of confidence. More over, there was another woman in the group who managed to make it down with a lot of taxi hailing moves. She was more aggressive and went first, which reassured me in my ability of making the descend in control (if not in style)

    BTW, I was in the Epic Gathering in Aspen few years back. A group did make plan to ski a route with little hiking. But I somehow made a wrong turn following them to the lift and lost the group. By the time I got to the cat, the group was gone. I was intending to catch the group after the cat drop off. But the hike was so precarious it just totally freaked me out! I dropped in on the first opportunity (I think it was Ballroom).

    I felt a lot more comfortable dealing with the terrain with skis on my feet rather than just bare boots. With skis, I have a lot more options. Without skis and their metal edges, I felt really vulnerable in that kind of terrain.

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