Workers’ Herculean effort adds to Highlands’ steep and deep |

Workers’ Herculean effort adds to Highlands’ steep and deep

Highlands Ski Patrol Director Mac Smith points out the stabilization work needed to put in the new traverse to the base of the Deep Temerity lift Wednesday. Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times.

The drool factor at Aspen Highlands is growing by leaps and bounds this summer.Thanks to the sweat off the brow of about 20 workers, the extension of some of the steepest skiable terrain on the mountain is taking shape.One crew planned to punch through the last few feet of thick woods today to complete a one-mile road that will replace the Grand Traverse and allow some of the steepest trails to be extended by up to 1,100 vertical feet.

Other crews, mostly composed of ski patrollers with a keen eye for ski lines, are strategically removing trees here and there to open up routes down that steep, heavily wooded new terrain.One of the most difficult jobs is being tackled by a crew for chairlift manufacturer Poma. They are working in terrain so steep that heavy machinery cannot be brought in to dig holes for towers for the new Deep Temerity chairlift. So they dig the old-fashioned way, by shovel.”The public’s not going to understand the effort it took to do this project,” said Mac Smith, the ski patrol director at Highlands and supervisor of the lift construction and terrain expansion. “So you just hope they enjoy it next winter.”That’s a given. The new chairlift will allow skiers and riders to make quicker laps in popular areas like Highland Bowl, Temerity and Steeplechase. It will extend the bowl by 1,100 vertical feet. The lift will add several hundred vertical feet to some trails in Steeplechase. The new traverse will bring skiers and riders back to the base of the new chairlift.

The cutting of the new traverse was Smith’s biggest challenge after 35 years of working at Aspen Highlands. Don Robinson, the longtime trail supervisor at Highlands who passed away a couple of years ago, typically would have been at the controls of a bulldozer and taken the first crack at creating the route through the woods.The job went by default to Smith, who studied under Robinson for years. He plowed a rough path through the woods while traversing the mountain at extremely steep angles. He acknowledged it was nerve-racking at times.”I tell you what, I sucked the vinyl off the seat more than once,” he said.

After he cut the rough road through some of the toughest stretches, crews installed “baskets” of horse panel fencing with finer mesh wire on the downslope side of the route to work as a sort of support wall. The baskets allowed excavators to fill in dirt and build up the road. Sometimes two or three levels of baskets were needed because of the steep angle of the terrain.Other heavy equipment came in after the bulldozer to pulverize the jagged sandstone into a smoother surface.For Smith, installation of the Deep Temerity chairlift culminates a 30-year-old dream. He helped survey a lift line that Highlands founder and former owner Whip Jones planned to install. The chairlift was sitting on a dock in Seattle when the order was canceled because of the drought winter of 1976-77, Smith said.The idea was never revived until after the Aspen Skiing Co. acquired Highlands. The Crown family, owners of the Skico, approved the lift this year.

By all rights, the project should have taken two years because of the trees that needed to be felled, skidded out and removed, plus the creation of the catwalk and preparation for the chairlift. But the Skico decided to condense the work to one year.Smith credited the dedication of the crews for completing Herculean tasks in a short time. For most of the workers, the project is more than a job. Many of the summer employees are also members of the ski patrol, work elsewhere on the mountain during winters or are simply big fans of Highlands.”That’s what you need, is people who believe in the dream,” Smith said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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