Marolt: Mining black diamonds all the live long day
I’ve always thought Aspen Mountain is the perfect ski area. In the early 1990s, my buddy since childhood and best friend on a powder day set out for proof of this conviction which, up to that point, had relied completely on faith for existence. We needed quantifiable esthetic exactness.
John Callahan and I embarked on an amazing journey. One Saturday morning we relished, as we ordinarily did, being the day’s first passengers on Lift 1A. Our standing logic said there is no point in jockeying for the last ride up Lift 6 at 3:45 if anyone had been ahead of you at dawn.
We didn’t ride chairlifts passively. We spent our time evaluating snow conditions from above, scouting zipper lines of moguls all over the mountain as they appeared from behind trees and as we rose above ridges concealing them, and used the gathered information to plan our chain of ski runs at least up until lunchtime.
On this first ride we talked about how flawlessly Aspen Mountain was laid out with its incredible density of expert terrain connected by short but satisfying cruisers. We wondered if it was possible to ski all the black diamonds in one day.
Excited with the prospect, we started haphazardly skiing the best of Aspen Mountain as quickly as we could. By noon we were gassed and disappointed. Over cups of split-pea soup and trail maps at the Sundeck, we realized that we had covered only a fraction of the expert terrain available and had just three hours left in the day. Surely the quest to ski all 43 of them was impossible. We gave up and skied the afternoon as usual.
That evening the quest of discovery began. Was there a way to do what we had failed to do that day? Could a little time at the drawing board allow us to link runs and lift rides together in the most efficient manner possible in order to squeeze every last black diamond run into one ski day?
We started plugging an Excel spreadsheet with ski lift ascent times and estimated skiing times for all the expert runs and began running semi-manual goal-seeking iterations of permutations hoping to arrive at the holy grail of ski days. We endured blurry eyes and headaches without good result. We cut out lunch. We cut out bathroom breaks. We pushed the estimated time it would take to ski each individual run to the point we would need to go as fast as we could while still holding it together through monstrous mogul fields without the luxury of stopping to catch our breaths. Still, the numbers wouldn’t squeeze tight enough.
We nearly shelved the wax. Then John came up with a wonderful, awful idea: We might have to replace some longer lift rides with shorter hikes to get all the runs in. For example, if we hiked from the bottom of Silver Queen up the old goat road to the top of Super Eight more quickly than the estimated 15 minutes it would take to ski all the way down to Lift 1A and back up, we would be ahead of the game.
The hiking possibility opened up many more iterations. The main constraint was that we still had to quit after the last lift ride at 3:30 to preserve the lift-served, one-ski-day theme. We also had to consider the fatigue factor of throwing several hikes into an entire day of non-stop skiing on Aspen’s most difficult terrain.
It wasn’t as significant as Bell discovering the telephone, but to us it could barely have been more exciting. When we plugged the last number and the calculation said it was possible, we could scarcely contain the excitement while concealing trepidation of now having to put theory to the test.
We needed a day when there would be enough snow for all the runs to be open, but that did not converge with spring break when long lift lines might thwart us. The rest was all physical. The calculation said it would take 7 hours, 3 minutes. We did it in 6:59!
Today, of course, the Black Diamond Festival, as we called our annual event, would be impossible. Since we concocted the idea, Cone Dumps, Bingo Glades, Rayburn’s, the T-chutes, Silver Queen Ridge, Kristi Glades, Dark Side of Mooney, and the tree thinning on Bell Mountain have expanded the expert terrain beyond attainment in one daily grind. The good news is that Aspen Mountain is even more perfect than ever!
Roger Marolt remembers the Black Diamond Festival as a fun day of interval training. Email at Roger@maroltllp.com
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