Highlands to open another section of steeps
Aspen Times Staff Writer
It’s hardly the slice of pie served up this season, but another slice nonetheless.
For the seventh straight winter next season, the Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol plans to open new expert terrain, this time with Eden and East of Eden.
Located skier’s left, or south, of No Name Bowl, and contained by the rib that falls off of Five Towers Nob (“No Bank Shots”) opposite Steeplechase, the Eden area is defined by tight trees and cliffs, and the steepest steep in the expanded boundary.
It’s a fitting encore for the G zones, the final piece of Highland Bowl to make its public debut. That was back in December, the crowning achievement of the “whole bowl” project that began in 1997 with the opening of the lower Y zones. Each season thereafter, the rope line in the bowl steadily climbed up and over the peak.
“To me, it’s just what this patrol is all about,” Mac Smith, the director and Highlands patroller of 30 years, said yesterday. “We’re never going to be done.”
Guarded by towering Engelmann spruce and tightly bunched subalpine fir at the top, Eden and East of Eden feature 11 acres with obstacles unique to Highlands’ already extreme portfolio.
There’s an unsurvivable 60-foot cliff named “Point and Shoot,” and a rocky chute steeper than anything else on the mountain, probably any Aspen resort, dubbed “What’s the Point?” What starts as a narrow gully at the top runs more than 3,000 vertical feet in a broadening avalanche path down to Maroon Creek.
Wednesday, during a tour through less-than-desirable sun crust and variable conditions, 21-year Highlands patroller Jimmy Newman stopped and gauged it at 50 degrees with an inclinometer.
And of the fall-away cliff just below, “Point and Shoot” (or chute?), he said: “It’s not a Squaw Valley 60-footer where you can huck it and you’ve got a nice big runout. This one, you don’t want to be anywhere near going off that thing ’cause there’s no runout. You’re landing in the trees.”
Below the cliff, the pitch mellows slightly, though it’s still well-forested and variable with step-down cliffs in intriguing secondary gullies.
“It’s got some interesting things that are so much different from the rest of the area,” said Smith. “We were in there a lot this year, throwing explosives, tromping around, packing certain areas, and we understand it now. So in that exploration, now we’re comfortable enough to open it to the public.”
The patrol conducts avalanche control in the area because sections of No Name Bowl – which expanded by six acres this season, an opening overshadowed by the G zones – are exposed to the Eden slopes. Smith says the patrol still needs permission from the U.S. Forest Service to thin deadfall in the area over the summer, but he expects to get the OK.
“We might not be able to open it up the way we’d like to, to make it as good as it could be, but we’d like to get them skiable,” he said.
Smith said he’s not concerned about the manpower needed to take on the additional terrain, either.
“We know it’s going to take some more packing, more work, but it’s an area that’s easier to pack because it’s lift served, which compared to Highland Bowl isn’t all that daunting.”
What’s most alluring about the Eden and East of Eden section, perhaps, is its proximity to Loge Bowl. It’s reminiscent of the situation in 1995, when the patrol first opened Temerity, which offered a “look but don’t touch” vista of the “closed” Highland Bowl from Hyde Park. Skiers will be afforded a similar tease next season.
Loge Bowl drops from the top of the Loge Peak lift to the west, toward Maroon Creek. And like Eden and East of Eden, Loge Bowl is within the resort’s permit area, meaning future expansion there is a possibility.
“Maybe, eventually, who knows where in the future Loge Bowl would come,” said Newman. “You know, a little chunk at a time, same as we did the Highland Bowl. It’s certainly the next piece.”
“There’s always something else we can do,” Smith conceded. “If we open up Loge Bowl, there’s some places in there that will put everything around here to shame. There’s even some gap jumps down there that are tremendous.”
But Loge Bowl remains a faraway thought, like Highland Bowl was once upon time, like the Deep Steeplechase lift remains.
“It is going to continue,” Smith said. “We still have our permit area for that lift, we’ve still got it for Loge Bowl and I think that’s something we’ll hopefully get a hold of at some point in time. It’s amazing how much more there is if we can just continue to chip away, but we’ll take our time, as usual.”
In the meantime, Highlands closes on Sunday, and Smith said more than 43,000 skiers and boarders have visited Highland Bowl to date. That’s up more than 10,000 from last year, and thousands more than Smith predicted he’d need in order to maintain the terrain safely.
So no more does Smith issue a challenge to the local public to ski another lap for the sake of helping pack, and stabilize, the steep terrain. That notion is over the hill.
“I don’t think he has to put out the challenges anymore,” chuckled Newman, the three-time and only Highland Bowl Inferno race champion. “I think the locals are going to ski the terrain anyway. And they ski the terrain because they love the terrain. I think most locals probably challenge themselves.
“`Hey, can I get four laps in up there today?'”
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