Marolt: Wandering Snowmass looking for the promised land
My wife skied Piss Gully. (I don’t name them, I just ski them.) It was her first time on that run; a steep, narrow, tree-twisted drainage (literally, and I will get to that) that is not in anyone’s regular quiver of runs to nock and let fly. But the powder was deep and we had circumstantially ended up skiing with one of the founders of American extreme skiing and a well-known adult ski-film star who didn’t know Aspen and needed some guidance, so she had no excuse to use common sense or keep caution in her pocket with a wadded up Kleenex and stick of lip balm.
I was proud of her. Our new friend was impressed. She said her heart was pounding as the clock ticked while she stood at the top contemplating that first turn ever into that uncharted territory.
The run is not on the mountain map. It’s hard to see, unless you know exactly where to look. It is not adjacent to a high-traffic corridor. Its inglorious history is that there was once a small ski patrol shack clinging to the edge of its precipice. There were no facilities in this ramshackle shelter used to store avalanche bombs, spare “closed” signs and evacuation toboggans, so when a patrol-person needed to use the non-existent facilities, they had to let it go in the shadow of the shack and into the steep gully with a view. Thus, the run also is called “The Yellow Streak” in polite company.
The experience caused me to consider my recent forays into my own uncharted territory — Snowmass Ski Area. Do the locals call it Sjax or something else definitively non-touristy? I know almost nothing about the ski area that my living room window brackets.
As I admitted here several weeks ago, I had not skied Snowmass since about the time they cut the ribbon on the much ballyhooed opening of the Elk Camp gondola. So let down by that underwhelming achievement in Base Village accoutrementation, I pushed Snowmass out of my mind as anything resembling a serious ski area. Some of my buddies can’t believe I dismiss the convenience of skiing right here in my own backyard, but I can’t believe they drive all the way to Aspen to play golf, either. They claim it is because they are serious golfers. Well …
At any rate, I skied Snowmass a few weeks ago and I went back on a recent Sunday. I found a few good runs, but, I’m afraid, a serious rut was established over the course of just two afternoons — AMF, Gowdy’s, KT Gully, Rock Island, Bus No. 8 back home. People told me that “Possible” is a thrill, but it was closed both times I made it all the way over there. Is it, possibly, perpetually closed, ironically making it impossible?
What I need is a guide! I need somebody to show me the golden icicles of Snowmass.
I’ve considered the Long brothers, but haven’t figured out the logistics of following guides who can’t keep up. Besides, Ian’s nursing a nasty knee replacement, Greg seems to always be in California these days and Keith is my neighbor, so I hardly ever see him. Dresser would be good, but his Jeep is usually heading for the slopes before my first cup of coffee is brewed, and we have a Kuerig! Bill is a possibility, but he hit his head on a tree up there a few years back and I’m afraid he might get us lost. Wilkinson tried to show me around once, but he is enamored with powder, no matter how old or flat. Tim, a recent convert from Highlands, said he’d take me out, but is all talk as usual. Ken is a snowboarder.
One promising prospect popped up recently, though. Suzanne told me that her husband, Rob, would love to show me around the mountain. He logs about 80 days a season up there and is always looking for someone to ski with. She said she would have him call me. I’m anxiously holding my breath but also am realistic. I know that I am now just another item on a honey-do list. Yes, Rob will eventually get around to calling me, but it might be next summer.
I could pick and peck around Snowmass for the next 25 years and eventually, maybe, figure out its magical secrets, if any. My fear is that by the time my new world is self-discovered, I will be too old to enjoy it and may only be interested in finding the best on-mountain bar. Somebody, help. I am weak of faith in the promised land.
Roger Marolt is not lost for lack of reading the trail map. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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