Sean Beckwith: Chasing the 20-20-20-20 club
Like LeBron James being cut short of a shot at another title, I, too, was cut short of a chance to achieve relative greatness. Instead of another magazine cover announcing my glorious accomplishment, the ski season was prematurely closed by COVID with my end goal in sight.
In reach of the 20-20-20-20 club — tallying 20 days on each mountain in Aspen Skiing Co.’s quiver — I was at 15-15-15-12 when the order came down to uphill or chill.
In the same vein as Bill Walton winning the MVP despite an injury-shortened regular season, impressive stats feel empty if you don’t get a chance to defend your title.
However, I still picked up a few things during my pursuit of arbitrary greatness. So in honor of what would’ve been the last week of lift-served skiing, here’s a report on a season unfinished.
Getting to know you
The reason I started this whole venture was because I finally downloaded the Aspen-Snowmass app, which breaks down how many days you visited each ski area. I spend about 80% of my time on Aspen Mountain, according to the data. No wonder T to B’s and hot laps on 3 and Ruthie’s were becoming routine — still fun but routine.
I’ve never been a “Sprint to Highlands on a powder day” or “Tiehack is actually a lot of fun” local but I have been a Snowmass Brat and an Aspen aficionado. Now that I got a taste of those approaches, they make sense because each mountain offers different incentives.
If you catch Highlands on a sneaky powder day, Deep Temerity is one of the best powder playgrounds anywhere. Parking right at Tiehack and having a bigger, emptier and better groomed version of High Alpine (sans the Wall and Dykes) is a fantastic way to spend a sunny afternoon off. And you get to throw back après at the two best base-of-mountain eateries: Highlands Alehouse and Home Team BBQ.
Commiserating over commutes
Proximity and convenience definitely dictated why I went to Aspen at such a snobbish rate. I mean seven-minute bus to the gondola or 15- to 30-minute trip anywhere else?
I don’t have any scientific proof of this but there’s something gratifying about putting on and taking off your boots right before and after riding. The drive also is oddly satisfying.
More or less living on Aspen Mountain requires a lot of dragging your shit around town because apresing at the base of AJAX is a rich person or “I know someone who works at the Tavern” thing.
You do have a little of that with the Highlands bus, especially if you’re trying to connect with the Hunter Creek bus. (Tip: Take the Castle Maroon bus, not the direct, get off at the Shell station and you can get on at the Hotel Jerome stop with little wait. You’ll be sprinting after the HC bus if you catch the direct. It always arrives just after :00, :20 and :40. And running in ski clothes sucks.)
The ‘It’ Lift
Each ski area outside of Aspen has the “It” lift. We all know which lift I’m talking about. On Snowmass, it’s High Alpine; on Buttermilk, it’s Tiehack and at Highlands, it’s Deep Temerity.
On a powder day, get to those spots early because they’ll be skied off late with the possible exception of Tiehack because, you know, it’s Buttermilk. Anyone who has watched snowboard porn within a week of a substantial storm thinks their GoPro footage of a falling leaf down St. Moritz is going to get them sponsored.
Yes, you can get untouched on the Wall, if it’s open yet. If not, you straight-lined to High Alpine for maybe a nice run or two through Reidar’s trees. There’s plenty of great terrain at every mountain and a lot of it doesn’t get touched until the “It” lifts get tracked out.
The key to the perfect powder day is knowing where and when to hit certain runs — and also to check to see if wind closed the top half of Snowmass.
Best of/worst of
Aspen Mountain: Bell Mountain is iconic but I still think I have the most fun in the Dumps and on Gent’s Ridge.
Occasionally the Sundeck feels like a reunion for the “Real Housewives of my Worst Nightmares.”
Aspen Highlands: I alluded to this before but if you can catch a sneaky snowy day that has you saying “I didn’t realize there was this much snow up here,” then chances are you’re lapping DT and smiling through face shots.
Other than the catwalk over to Thunderbowl on a slow snow day, I would say the DT line on days when the “I only ski on verified powder days” people are out.
Buttermilk: Sunny, bluebird days ripping groomers with lunch and beers at Home Team.
The worst would be, I don’t know, riding West Buttermilk when it’s a powder day and you’re stuck teaching friends who aren’t good.
Snowmass: I would say a whiteout day where you can’t see a thing but sideways snow and it ends with you drying out over Zane’s wings while watching the snow continue to pile up.
The worst is getting there early to sully untouched snow only to have the lifts closed due to wind.
I would have more to report from my pursuit of the infamous 20-20-20-20 club, but the ski season ended in March, this isn’t the Aspen Times Weekly and I’m out of space. Happy offseason!
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I watched from that other valley for nearly two decades as the ATW flagged, then was reborn, re-energized, surely for good this time, at last, things looking up. Only to slip and the cycle begin again.