In the Saddle: An unremarkable, dear lump of earth
Light Hill is one of many uncelebrated mounds throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, but it’s dear to me.Named for a longtime ranching family that lived on East Sopris Creek, Light Hill is a long ridge covered in piñon pine, juniper, scrub oak and sagebrush between Basalt and Old Snowmass; it juts upward between the Roaring Fork River, East Sopris Creek, Capitol Creek and Snowmass Creek in a steep but unremarkable way.Everybody in the valley has laid eyes on Light Hill at one time or another, but it doesn’t appear as a named feature on all maps. Its eastern tip dives down toward the Conoco at Snowmass Creek, and it rises steeply behind Basalt High School. It’s well-known to observant Basaltines for the deep furrows on its north side, which produce deep contrasts of light and shadow late on summer afternoons and change color as the sun sets.I’ve spent many hours watching the sun and clouds play on Light Hill; for some reason my wife suspects a sinister plot associated with it, that the federal government may have warheads or captured aliens stored there. It’s a smart spot for such activities, because nobody would suspect … I’ve seen hunters up there, some motorcycles and ATVs, and a few hikers on the flanks. But it doesn’t seem to get heaps of use. On July 4, I spotted headlights on top; somebody picked a helluva viewpoint for the Roaring Fork Club fireworks.Though Light Hill tops out at nearly 8,500 feet, there are little ground-hugging cacti up there.There are also spectacular views of Basalt Mountain to the north and the Elk Range to the south. I ride my mountain bike up there a few times a year, when I have a two-hour window and I don’t feel like driving to a trailhead. It’s a nice, steep spin through the Gateway subdivision until you hit BLM land, then the grunt continues up long switchbacks to the crest. There are some ups and downs along the ridge – one cobbly climb is honestly more suited to a motorized vehicle than a bicycle – and then a steep descent to East Sopris Creek, and back into Basalt via Emma.No sweet singletrack, and nothing you can’t ride in a thousand other Colorado locations. But Light Hill is like a soft-spoken old friend, and for some reason I ride there only by myself.
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International visitors have traditionally accounted for 10 to 20 percent of Aspen Skiing Co.’s skier visits in recent past seasons. Travel fears and restrictions tied to the coronavirus are expected to wipe out most of that market for 2020-21.