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Highland Bowl considered a sacred rite of passage for Aspen locals

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times
Bowl hikers unload a snowcat that brings passengers partway up the ridge.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

Some locals consider a hike up the Highland Bowl a rite of passage; others say it’s a religious experience.

Whether the Highland Bowl serves as one’s holy mecca, daily workout or badge of honor, there’s no denying the bowl is Aspen’s crown jewel.

“For quite a few locals, it’s a very sacred place,” Aspen Skiing Co. ski instructor Terry Bannon said. “I come to church every Sunday by coming up here.”

And forget 100 days of skiing — Bannon and many other locals set out to accomplish 100 bowl runs for the season.

Local John Trujillo is another self-proclaimed “bowlist” who intends to hit 100 bowl laps this season. But it won’t be a first-time occurrence for Trujillo, who skied his 100th bowl lap for the 2014-15 season on closing day last year.

The Colorado native said he expects to hit triple digits sooner this year— he already has 64 laps under his belt as of Thursday, just more than halfway through the ski season.

Demonstrating that Aspenites view a lap up the bowl as nonchalantly as the rest of the world views taking their dog for a walk, Trujillo said he knows locals who’ve accomplished 10 or 11 bowl runs in one day.

But the reality is that the Highland Bowl offers some of the steepest and most challenging ski terrain in the U.S.

The 782-foot vertical hike, which takes anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, can be particularly difficult for those not used to the altitude.

But the skiing and the views are worth every slick step, as most people will tell you.

“I like the hike for exercise, the top for view and the skiing because it’s the best in the valley,” said former Aspen resident Will Stratton, who skied the bowl Thursday and currently lives in Toronto.

But Stratton remembers his first bowl summit a few years back, when it was more than a workout with a view at the time.

“It was very intimidating,” Stratton recalled. “The endurance required, the hike, and then just how steep it is when you actually get up there.”

Like Stratton, people don’t forget their first time up the bowl.

Bannon said his favorite part of hiking the bowl, aside from the spiritual component, is being able to share the experience with others.

The ski instructor often leads first-timers up the bowl and says their reaction once they reach they top is “priceless.”

“There’s a lot of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs,’” Bannon said. “Every single person who comes up here for their first time understands why it’s so special.”

Some locals are so passionate about the bowl, they seldom ski other local terrain.

Thirty-two-year-old Basalt resident Matthew Picurro said he skis every chance he is able — and when is able, he skis the Highland Bowl.

Picurro said he works about 40 hours a week and squeezes in a hike up the bowl about three times a week.

“Sometimes I’ll ski Temerity on powder days, but usually I’m here consistently,” Picurro said.

Originally from Maine, Picurro said it is the bowl’s top-notch terrain and rewarding views that continue to draw him back.

“You just don’t have this back East,” Picurro said. “You’d hike 500 yards for 100 yards of skiing.

“It’s definitely a special place that should not be taken for granted. So every day that I can come up, I do.”

erobbie@aspentimes.com


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