No. 5: Ron Chauner and Mac Smith
On a recent tour of Deep Temerity, Aspen Highlands ski patrol director Mac Smith pulled out a wrinkled, paper printout of a grainy old black-and-white photo from his jacket. Pointing to it, then gesturing to the run we were skiing, he announced proudly: “This is where, as high school kids, we would ski to escape from the patrol.” The landscape in the photo – a mixture of aspen and evergreen trees lining a steep pitch of pristine white snow – indeed resembled very much what we were looking at in early December. In the middle of the photo, a thin, lanky Smith – frozen by the camera in his trademark wormlike ski stance – grins widely, clearly enjoying his poached powder run in some of Highlands’ best advanced terrain.Deep Temerity, the 180-acre expansion of Steeplechase and Highland Bowl, is the culmination of a nearly 30-year dream for Smith and Highlands mountain manager Ron Chauner. The pinball alley gullies and steep, wind-protected glades have always felt like a natural extension of the ski area – in fact, in 1976 a lift was ordered for Deep Temerity. But that winter, said Chauner, “there was no snow till mid-February.” The local ski areas didn’t open until in January, the lift order was canceled, and Smith’s dream was put on a three-decade hold.Over the years, terrain in the area was gradually added, and the opening and subsequent expansion of Highland Bowl took the spotlight. After six years of inching the boundary line higher, “The Whole Bowl” was ushered in with great fanfare for the 2003-2004 season, and skiers and boarders had legal access to the cold, north-facing G Zones. It’s a tribute to Chauner and Smith’s enthusiasm for the sport – and the badass reputation Highlands enjoys – that even that wasn’t enough.On Saturday, Dec. 10, a week after the third biggest two-day storm in recorded history dumped 20-30 inches of new snow in the area, the Deep Temerity triple chair fired up with a brief welcoming ceremony by Chauner and Smith. It rises 1,700 vertical feet in just more than seven minutes, with an average cable grade of 52 degrees and a price tag of $1.7 million – the $2.7 million total project cost is a steep (in pitch and price) expansion to serve a relatively small segment of the skiing public. The lift was strategically placed to be protected from the elements and unobtrusive – “We didn’t want it to be seen or heard,” said Chauner.
In prepping the terrain, crews selectively cut glades, left vegetation where they could and created meadows, setting the stage for ample naming opportunities of favorite spots alongside official new runs like Fran’s Love, Logjam Gully and the Greatest Line Ever.”A lot of people put a lot of thought and energy into what you’re skiing here,” said Chauner.Chauner, the top boss at Highlands since 1993, was like a kid at Christmas in the days leading up to the grand opening. He described conditions as “so sick somebody’s going to vomit up there.”Well, maybe nobody puked, but everyone seemed quite happy opening day, discovering fresh new, steep, thigh-burning lines and cheerily enduring long lift lines and crowded runs.Chauner and Smith, the architects of the project, are pleased. But their work is still not finished.”We have four to five years of making this as good as it can be,” said Smith.
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Challenge Aspen’s CEO Jeff Hauser has stepped down from the nonprofit in order “to focus on personal pursuits.”