Alison Berkley: The Princess’ Palate
December 22, 2010
Last Tuesday we were skiing with my friend Steve who is a diehard Highlands Guy and were trying to decide which run we wanted to take.
He’s like, “Let’s take Lamb Chop Alley to Lower Big Jug and then we can traverse over to Peacock Drop.”
And I go, “I have absolutely no idea what the hell you’re talking about, but that’s cool. We’ll just follow you then.”
It was another epic day in what has been an epic early season. We hiked and rode the cat and rode powder until our quads wouldn’t let us anymore (or in Cathy’s case, her boobs, but what is a breast-feeding/hardcore-skier-mom to do?)
I came home that night and told Ryan, “I’m totally a Highlands Girl. I want to be a Bowl Rat this year. I’m gonna get a lot of days in up there for sure.”
When people used to ask me what my favorite mountain was, I would diplomatically answer: “I like all the mountains. It just depends on the day, and who I’m with.” I never understood why people always tend to gravitate to one mountain and then latch onto it as if that selection is an integral part of their identity – until it happened to me.
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I don’t know why I’ve never thought of this before! Since it’s been an eternity since I’ve done a list, here’s the Princess Guide to the Power of Four: How to wear the mountain that’s right for you.
• Type A is for Ajax
Of all the mountains, fans of Ajax are perhaps the most die-hard. They also love to count. They can tell you how many “days” they’ve skied (one day = two hours). They can tell you how much vertical they skied and how many runs. Skiing top to bottom means not stopping and never waiting. That way, they can have their own little race and rack up the necessary vertical/days skied in the requisite amount of time (two hours or less) to be able to boast and maintain their 100-day status even though there is no clock, no crowd and no one who really cares.
I call Ajax “the little big mountain” because for it’s relatively small size (sorry, boys, but since you’re into measuring everything, the numbers do say it all) it does have a lot to offer in terms of terrain, pitch and, yes, top-to-bottom vertical. Being more Type B or Type W (as in “whatever”) I’m certainly in no contest or no hurry when opting for the in-town shushing session. I’m all about the comfort of the gonjala, the social scene at the Sundeck, the swankiest of swanky apres scenes at The Sky, and checking out the best-dressed skiers and snowboarders on the planet. Aspen Mountain has its time and place but it’s only part of the puzzle as far as I’m concerned. It’s like a pair of sky-high heels – a little glitz, a little glam, but not for every day.
• Get off your Snowmass
Anyone who lives within the pearly gates of downtown Aspen acts as if you need a passport to drive over the Maroon Creek bridge, so forget about getting them to go out to Snowmass. I suppose the same is true for people who live in Snowmass (read: snowboarders/foreigners/young ski bums) who can finally reap the benefits of their location once the lifts start running. What those Aspen snobs are missing is huge – like literally.
The biggest of all four mountains, Snowmass has just that – size. Bigger really is better when you’re talking about the endless vertical and steeps that empty out into playful, gullied terrain that seems as if it were custom-made just for snowboarders. What it’s lacking in nightlife is there in the daytime. At no other mountain can you find fresh tracks in the late afternoon just because the terrain is so expansive there’s always some untouched snow somewhere. You just have to know where to find it – and that’s what being a Snowmass local is all about.
• Get your butt over to Buttermilk
Sure, people see it as the bunny hill but it’s anything but. In case you didn’t already know, the halfpipe has been voted No. 1 by the readers of Transworld Snowboarding magazine for however many years now, and like it or not, it’s what people see of Aspen when they watch the X Games on TV.
What a lot of people don’t know is Buttermilk’s true beauty is anything but skin deep. It’s the soul of Tiehack’s old, rickety double chair and the earn-your-turns powder posse that skins up on their lunch break year after year. There’s also the quiet solace of West Buttermilk, where the best corduroy and powder can be found for anyone with the patience to ride the long, slow chair. Of course there’s the popularity of full-moon parties, the bonfires up top, and the only unofficial night skiing west of Keystone.
• Smokin’ the Bowl
While the Bowl Lappers are like the Type Ajax’s in terms of run-counting/stopwatch-timing/vertical-foot-measuring, there’s something inherently more rugged about Highlands than its uptown counterpart. Yes, it’s cold riding the lifts. Yes, it takes a few extra minutes to get out there and up there. Yes, a true Bowl lap is a bigger time commitment if you’re only able to get out before work or on your lunch break.
But there’s something about hiking up high and having all that time in the mountains without riding a lift. There’s the energy on the summit, the prayer flags and the chairlift bench and the anticipation of the turns that are always worth the effort. There’s the jaw-dropping views that I can’t seem to get used to no matter how many days or seasons go by. If anything, I’ve lost count. And that’s exactly why I moved to the mountains in the first place.