On the Hill: Want to beat the heat? Ski
July 29, 2005
It’s a sunny, gorgeous midsummer day in Aspen – not a cloud in the sky. What to do … what to do?Why, go skiing, of course.In the winter, locals have four mountains to choose from, but in the summer, after the window on Independence Pass has closed, there’s only one place in the valley to make turns while other folks are hiking and rafting and playing Frisbee.Montezuma Basin, in the shadow of fourteeners Castle and Conundrum peaks, is the site of many locals’ first and/or last turns of the season. I hear it was even home to a summer ski camp (with a rope tow!) at one time.I’m not sure whether skiing in July counts as early or late season, but at least there were turns to be had for a group of four avid (OK, obsessed) skiers, one of whom happened to be turning 40 that day, and saw his birthday wish fulfilled.Those turns didn’t come without some effort and sweat, however. The 4-wheel-drive road to Montezuma sports some unusually tricky spots this year. A high and strong runoff has created some big ruts and placed some large boulders very strategically in the already rocky path.We started hiking just after the sun’s first kiss on Montezuma’s permanent snowfield (a little after 7 a.m.), and the snow was pretty good for our ski boot slog: just softened enough on top to get a toehold, and firm enough underneath to not punch through. It was kind of like butter that had totally melted, then stuck back in the fridge, then taken out again. (Follow that?) The consistency changed a little as we got higher – though it was doughy in spots, we were never post-holing. The suncups were deep and wide in some places, smoothed out by recent rains in others – the slope at times looked like a giant egg carton. Our sweaty trek ended at a rock face just a couple hundred feet below Castle’s peak. In the gap where it met the snowfield a couple bucketfuls of hail had collected, looking like hard candy nibbles.We took our time resting, contemplating the gorgeous ring of peaks and bluebird sky in front of us. Then we skied down, gingerly but with big grins all round.It was the icing on the cake.