The Best of Aspen: On the mountain
July 24, 2003
BEST SKI OR SNOWBOARD RUNOne of our favorite stories of the past year was the opening of the G-Zones, meaning that for the first time the entire Highland Bowl was open to the public. The story had been in the making for years, and we had all watched impatiently as, piece by piece, the Highlands Patrol pushed farther out into the Bowl each year.And then there it was, in big bold letters on the front page, with a huge graphic showing the history of this seemingly impossible undertaking. The entire Bowl was open!We had always known the Bowl would be the crown jewel of our four mountains. People have said so for years.So it’s no surprise that Highland Bowl earned top honors in this category for the fourth year in a row. Aspen and Snowmass have dozens of the best ski runs in the country, as shown by the number of entries in this category, but there’s something about climbing to the top of a 12,000-foot ridge, and then launching over the edge that makes the Bowl the best.On the other hand, many love the groomers and challenging runs that don’t require any huffing and puffing to reach. Snowmass’ Naked Lady tied for second with Bell Mountain on Ajax. Strictly speaking, however, the honors go to Naked Lady, since we got votes for Face of Bell, Ridge of Bell and Back of Bell. It’s the same mountain, with very different faces.Our favorite answers: Well, this year no one felt the need to be creative, as they did last year. Which leaves us to agree with the top pick. A couple of people answered, “anywhere out of bounds,” and we can’t argue with that.BEST SKI OR SNOWBOARD TUNING SHOPIf you’re like many of us here at The Aspen Times, you don’t get your skis tuned very often – if at all. Which is a shame, because there are many great ski-tuning shops in town.We say that with confidence because the winner of this category seems to change every year, and just about every shop gets at least one vote. Last year Hamilton Sports took the trophy, but wasn’t even in the running this year.The Ski Service Center, that out-of-the-way, local joint tucked into a space across from Rio Grande Park was the clear winner this year. And maybe that’s what makes it great. No one knows they’re there, except for locals. And if you treat locals right, you’ll get their vote every time.Coming in a somewhat distant second was Aspen Sports, last year’s winner.Our favorite answer: “Any shop that barters.” We’re glad they’re still out there. You’d be amazed at the service you can get from some shops when you show up with a cold six-pack under your arm. BEST CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING TRAILThough some would be appalled at the notion, there are other ways to enjoy wintertime around here besides roaring down a steep mountain.Cross-country skiing is the best way to escape the crowds, to avoid the fur-lined outfits and the bone-jangling bumps, etc. We are blessed with wonderful scenery, and it can be enjoyed all year long. You just need the right pair of boards and the lungs to get out there.Though we get some 20 entries every year in this category, Ashcroft is clearly the best place for cross-country skiing. And why not? It’s got a little bit of everything. You can ski through a ghost town, along gurgling Castle Creek or make for the head of the valley where the view of the Elk Mountains is beyond compare.Coming in a fairly close second this year was the Government Trail, which runs between Aspen and Snowmass Village. Though occasionally challenging, Government’s winding course through groves of aspen, spruce and pine makes it a locals’ favorite.Our favorite answer: We always get a couple votes each year from downhill hard-cores that dismiss cross-country skiing altogether. But our favorite answer this year was “the kind of trail you break yourself.” Now that’s real dedication.BEST SKI OR SNOWBOARD SHOPFor the second year in a row, readers agree that if you need new ski gear, the place to go is Aspen Sports. And Lord knows, a lot of us around here need new gear. The ski swap at the high school is a popular place to get cheap gear, but we recommend that everyone treat themselves once in a while to a new pair of skis or boots. You won’t regret it.This year’s voting was almost a rerun of last year’s. Though the difference in votes was greater this year, Durrance Sports was clearly Aspen’s second favorite shop. D&E Snowboard Shop followed closely behind in third.Our favorite answer: Again, most people stuck to the letter of the competition and didn’t offer creative answers. However, we must give the nod to Replay Sports (formerly Use It Again), the secondhand place nestled in the Mill Street Station across from the post office. As the price of skiing continues to rise, laying your gloves on quality used equipment gets more and more appealing.BEST SHRINEWe knew there were a lot of ski shrines tucked away on our four mountains, but we had no idea just how many. Does everyone know there’s a shrine for Britney Spears, or are we just out of the loop? How about Yankee Stadium?Guess we need to spend more time in the trees. And judging by this year’s winner, the people casting votes spent plenty of “quality” time hanging out in the woods.The shrine for the Grateful Dead’s late, gray-haired leader, Jerry Garcia, was far and away the most popular. Jerry has been an all-time Aspen hero, and apparently the legend lives on.Way back in second was the John Denver shrine. Denver wrote “Rocky Mountain High,” but perhaps wasn’t as much of a hanging-out-in-the-trees kind of guy …The Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix shrines also proved popular.Our favorite answers: Some people apparently missed the header at the top of this category that stated “On the Mountain.” St. Mary’s Catholic Church is certainly a beautiful shrine, but last we checked it was smack dab in the middle of town. Either way, a good handful of people called it their favorite shrine. The roundabout also got a vote, though we’re not sure what it’s a shrine to. Endless highway construction? The way Aspenites go around and around?Our favorite answer was “the new shrine we are going to build for Toad.” Toad Olson, the kids ski instructor who died recently, certainly deserves the best shrine Buttermilk can offer. Everyone pitch in.