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First ascent

Jon Maletz

Many locals call the Bell Mountain chair their favorite. The lift is a vestige of the good old days that existed long before gondolas and high-speed detachables. It also offers direct access to some of Ajax’s best terrain.With the Silver Queen Gondola cars sitting idle because of wind early Friday morning, I had no alternative but to head for the venerable lift. I soon found out I picked the wrong day for my first ride.First off, because of my tendency to look over my outside shoulder in anticipation of the oncoming chair, I almost lost an arm on the chair’s awkward middle bar. A lift operator even yelled at me for looking the wrong way, which was pleasant. Almost as pleasant as the wind that pelted my uncovered face – it was a bad day to forget my neck warmer. I laughed when a lift operator standing at the top of the Gondola Plaza steps said gusts in excess of 50 mph were swirling at the summit. I soon found out my four layers of clothing and thick socks were no match.I tried to will the chair to move faster, but to no avail; I think they should rethink nicknaming the Gent’s Ridge lift “the Couch.” As I huddled under the hood of my soft shell and curled my fingers into balls, the wind whistled through my helmet vents and chilled my entire midsection. I watched skiers take complete runs down Copper Bowl. The only solace was knowing 5 inches of untracked snow was waiting in the trees. To make matters worse, five or so minutes into the ride the gondola started moving. Just three days earlier I was throwing the football in the street and wearing short sleeves; I was now wiggling my toes to make sure they were functional. Undoubtedly, people above were sprawled out on the seats with gloves in their laps and cell phones plastered to their ears.As we exited the lift, I shook the frost from my face. My friend looked at me as he adjusted his goggles, then spoke. “Is this Aspen, or Killington?”Snow reportAspen Mountain picked up 4 inches of new snow overnight, while Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk all got 3 inches of fresh stuff, according to the Aspen Skiing Co.’s 3:46 a.m. snow report.Avalanche reportBackcountry avalanche danger in the Roaring Fork Valley is considerable at and above treeline, and high in the Marble area. Below treeline, avalanche danger is moderate.The most tender areas are currently on NW-N-NE slopes steeper than 30 degrees at and above treeline. Watch for pillowed rollovers and cross-loaded terrain. Remember to look for signs of instability, such as cracks or sudden collapsing of the snowpack. Make sure to check the bond between the new snow and the underlying crust.


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