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Snowmass Ski Area gets extreme

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Starting today, the Snowmass Ski Area plans to add chutes that by any measure would be called “extreme” and about 35 acres to its gated terrain.

The extreme section, located in the cliffs that fall off from Sheer Bliss, is designed for skiers, most of whom are in their teens and early 20s, who like to jump and drop (better known as hucking or free riding) their way down the side of cliffs.



“These sections have mandatory air ” your feet are going to come off the ground,” said John Brennan, Snowmass snow safety specialist. “There’s no easy way down.”

The new extreme terrain has two “runs” ” Gluteus and Stilhetto ” that will be open after most snowstorms. They were picked from the terrain used in recent years for the Colorado Free Ride Series competition. On huge powder days, a more extreme shot called Triple Jump will likely be open as well, Brennan said.




“When you say you’re a skier from Aspen, people don’t think about cliffs and steeps,” said 24-year-old Billy Poole, a member of the Obermeyer Free Ride Team.

“This is the kind of terrain we’re all looking for all year ” word about Snowmass will get out.”

In addition to preparing the extreme terrain for more intense use than the occasional guided tour and free ride competition, Brennan spent about two months last summer felling trees beneath the cliffs that separate Sheer Bliss from Alpine Springs. The result is about 35 acres of glades that run from the base of the cliffs into the Cirque Headwall run out and Green Cabin.

The new glades, named Buckskin and Hang-on-Halvin’s, can be seen from the deck of Gwyn’s High Alpine Restaurant by looking toward Sheer Bliss and the Big Burn.

Like Gluteus, Stilhetto and Triple Jump, Buckskin and Hang-on-Halvin’s can be accessed from gates off the Sheer Bliss trail. The lower two-thirds of Buckskin can also be reached by traversing from the middle of Rock Island.

Brennan said the access gates to the extreme areas are designed to allow a skier who decides he is in over his head to bail out with either a traverse or short sidestep. “If you get scared at the top, it’s just 25 sidesteps out to get in line with the exit,” he said.

Although free riders have been finding cliffs to huck their way down for several years, today marks the first time any of the four mountains owned by the Aspen Skiing Co. have opened up specific sections exclusively for this extreme set.

Doug Mackenzie, general manager at Snowmass, said the idea came from patrollers like Brennan and free riders like Poole after the ski area began hosting a Colorado Free Ride Series competition in the 2001-02 season. The competition allows anyone to sign up for the first round, and each year the event filled up to the 100-competitor maximum.

“It surprised me that so many people were into that kind of stuff,” Mackenzie said.

After two years of successful free ride competitions, Brennan was able to convince Mackenzie and the other top brass at Skico that it made sense to open some of the extreme shots whenever conditions permit.

“I think this terrain opening is just an example that shows how every day our employees are trying to improve on things ” whether it’s just a little bit or a lot,” said Mike Kaplan, Skico director of operations.

Brennan has also identified some new, more extreme terrain upslope from the open areas that will work well for the semifinals and finals in the free ride series competition later this winter.

That terrain will remain closed to the public, but Brennan plans to take athletes in on guided tours and for photo shoots in order to prep it for the competition later this winter. But, as with the Triple Jump, conditions need to be just right.

“I’m not going to let anyone in there if I don’t think the landings are appropriate for hucking it through there,” he said.

Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com


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