Aspen’s Best Outside

Aspen Times writer
Mark Fox/Aspen Times Weekly

All rise.This is one of those categories that’s probably pointless by now, since Highland Bowl is so much more than a simple ski run, or even a collection of ski runs. It’s an experience and an environment unto itself, from the ridgeline hike to the 360-degree view at the top to the quad-burning plunge to the bottom.Thanks to the Aspen Highlands Patrol, the experience seems to grow and evolve every year. The runout to the Deep Temerity lift marked an improvement last year, and for next season the patrol has gladed new terrain in the thickly forested G Zones and cleared new fall-line shots in the runout.There’s simply nothing quite like skiing the Bowl. ‘Nuff said.

Aspen is blessed with a world-class nordic trail system, so this isn’t necessarily an easy choice. But the Owl Creek Trail, a nine-mile trek through woods and meadows between the Aspen Cross Country Center to its counterpart in Snowmass Village, is a consistent favorite. It’s also home to the Owl Creek Chase, one of 11 stops on the U.S. pro tour for nordic skiers.

Other vote-getters in this category include Ashcroft Ski Touring, the long-running nordic ski area high in the Castle Creek Valley, the Aspen golf course, where trails meander through the greens and fairways just outside town, and Spring Gulch, a favorite for downvalley residents just outside of Carbondale.

The shrines of Aspen Mountain set it apart from virtually all other ski areas. They add mystique, culture and local flavor to a mountain that’s already rich with mining and skiing lore. And the shrine to Jerry Garcia, the late and great guitarist for the Grateful Dead, shrine is without a doubt the biggest, baddest, most popular and most colorful shrine of them all.

John Denver got a number of votes, as did the Storm King memorial, but the ragtag monument to Captain Trips has the mojo and wins every year.

There were a lot of contenders in this category, but in the end Aspen Times readers selected Cathedral Lake as their favorite hike. It’s a perfect half-day trip with enough elevation to get anyone’s lungs pumping but not enough to slaughter most Aspenites. And the reward – a sparkling alpine lake surrounded by 13,000-foot peaks – is delicious.In past years, lunchtime favorites like Smuggler Mountain and the Ute Trail have garnered many votes, but this time readers leaned toward the backcountry with the Lost Man Loop, American Lake, West Maroon Pass and even Capitol Lake drawing votes.We don’t know the right answer. We just love them all.

This one also drew a variety of votes. Aspenites love to pedal their bikes everywhere they can, paved or unpaved, and there were votes for all sorts of rides, from steep mountain roads to winding, wooded singletrack. But the Maroon Bells, meaning Maroon Creek Road to Maroon Lake, took top honors for the second year in a row. Almost every local cyclist has done this ride at one time or another; it’s a test piece for new or inexperienced riders and a tough-but-quick training jaunt for strong riders. It’s also a beautiful spin through a famously scenic canyon.

Other vote-getters included the Rio Grande Trail, Woody Creek (did they mean Rio Grande to the Tavern? Or Woody Creek Road to Lenado?), the Government Trail, Smuggler, Ashcroft and Independence Pass.

For the second year in a row, Pyramid Peak snagged this honor – hands down. It could be the clear view of Pyramid from Highway 82 that gives it a unique distinction, or it could be the challenging hike to the summit. But no other local mountains, even the other Elk Range fourteeners, were even close.Mount Sopris came in second, with the Maroon Bells, Mount Daly, Capitol, Castle, New York, Aspen Mountain and Hayden Peak getting at least a vote each. But when it comes to this contest, Pyramid is the unquestioned monarch of the upper valley.

Given all of the mountains around town, Aspen abounds with views. You can walk, pedal, drive or grab a gondola up any number of local hills and enjoy a spectacular view of town. And those options were reflected in the votes on this one. The Ute Trail, Red Mountain, the gondola, Aspen Mountain and the Sundeck all registered in the results (has nobody enjoyed the view from the Sunnyside Trail?), but Smuggler was the clear favorite.Locals have argued about the merits of the viewing platform, complete with handrails, that was erected a few years ago to replace the crumbling wooden stage that used to perch atop the Smuggler Mountain trail. But there’s no arguing with the view itself, which encompasses everything from Mount Sopris in the distance to downtown Aspen and the entirety of Aspen Mountain ski area. Smuggler – the road, the view, the open space, the experience – is a local gem.