Always expanding at Aspen Highlands |

Always expanding at Aspen Highlands

When Mac Smith took the reins of the Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol as director in the 1978-79 season, it consisted of 380 acres. He and the patrol have pushed over the years to open four distinctive areas of expert terrain, pushing the terrain to more than 1,040 acres. Here is a thumbnail sketch of those expansions.

* Steeplechase, opened in 1977-78. The ski industry hadn’t pushed to open natural avalanche terrain like that, at least not in the Continental climate, where snow sets up differently than areas such as Utah, California and Washington, according to Smith. Highlands founder Whip Jones agreed to let Smith and the patrol explore how to open the terrain and get skiers back to the Loge Lift. However, he initially wanted to quietly open the expert terrain because he didn’t want to scare off intermediate and beginners, according to Smith.

* Olympic Bowl, opened in 1986-87. During a dry period during ski seasons in the mid-1980s, the ski patrol poked around to see what would be required for catwalks and avalanche mitigation to get Oly Bowl opened. Their efforts soon paid off. Deception is one of the first steep runs to open each season.

*Temerity, opened in pieces starting in 2003. “That was like a big, blank piece of canvas because it had so much potential,” Smith said. Mushroom and Hyde Park were the first trails open. “Lucky Find and Mystery Gully is one of the most celebrated pieces of this terrain that’s happened in the last 10 years. You look at ’03 and there’s nothing there and now you look at how much is cleared out. What we’ve done in that period has really changed skiing in Aspen.”

* Highland Bowl, opened beginning in 1997-98 and completed in 2001-02. “When we made our first proposal on what we could do in there, we thought we could open up for 40 to 50 days per year,” Smith said. It is open for 110 to 120 days per season thanks to advanced avalanche control developed by the ski patrol, including the pre-season boot packing to compact the base.

Aspen’s best skiers had poached Highland Bowl for years and the ski area operated some guided and helicopter tours before it opened to the general public.

Exploring how to open the Bowl came at a price. Patrollers Chris Kessler, Tom Snyder and Craig Soddy were killed during control work on March 31, 1984. For a comprehensive look at Bowl skiing and avalanche work, look at Tim Cooney’s article online at Aspen Journalism,

Smith and the rest of the patrol took the loss of their colleagues hard.

“You have to control that demon the best way you can from the moment you have to,” Smith said. “Then, it suddenly releases some day. I can’t really tell you the day it released but it did. Somewhere in the 1988, ’89 time, it was like, ‘OK, I don’t have to feel this way anymore. You don’t have to feel the guilt. You accept it as part of life.”

Aspen Times Weekly

This week in Aspen history

“Without any exception the worst snow storm known since the advent of the railroad west of Leadville has been raging over the crest of the continental divide since last Thursday,” asserted the Aspen Tribune on January 31, 1899.

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