Vagneur: A different Aspen Mountain each season

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

We slithered through the gate without apology, the one with a skull and crossbones on it, traversing out to get a little side-country skiing. I guess it’s called side country to somehow imply that it’s a little less deadly than true out-of-bounds skiing. And it’s close by. It warms the soul to know that in case of catastrophe, which is just as likely in the side country as it is in the backcountry, you’ll be less dead than those other fools who really took the big backcountry chances.

Anyway, it isn’t my intention to start an argument about semantics, and what I first noticed when we got to the much-anticipated ski terrain was that no one had skied off the big rock, nor had anyone even taken the steep entry alongside the rock into the depths of deep, forbidden powder stretching out below. You can get a thrill going in that way, and I guarantee my tracks off the rock were there until the next snowstorm hit.

It’s a long haul coming out at the bottom, on a road named after the Loushin family, and the lack of tracks on a powder day were a bit disconcerting, especially given how great the snow was. As I hacked my way around, finally, to the bottom of Walsh’s (in-bounds), another surprise — there were very few tracks coming out the bottom of it. By now I had taken my skis off and was hoofing it up the road, where a quick glance aloft toward Hyrup’s gave the impression that not many had skied that challenging terrain either.

“People are missing a lot of good powder,” was my thought. But wait, there they are, coming down Kristi, a whole crowd of them. As I stopped to put my skis on, I watched the parade, a horde of medium to good skiers flailing down the steep openness, obviously behind the main crowd as newly formed, toddler moguls were clearly visible along the entire face. Two of those skiers were floundering around like hooked trout on a dry riverbank, trying to locate miscellaneous gear, with a look of panic on their faces. Some of the rest appeared to be doing their flamboyant damnedest to run over them.

The snowboarders were coming out of Hidden Treasure like lemmings on the move to the glacier’s edge, whumping down in the soft transition to the road like sacks of potatoes falling off the truck. One guy did a double front roll. I thought they knew the terrain better than that because they seem to ride it all the time.

Of course, it was obviously apparent, at least in my opinion, those on Kristi (and Hidden Treasure) were skiing it mostly for the easy exit, which lets one avoid the walk uphill from Walsh’s or Hyrup’s to get out of there. Amazing, I thought— laziness has trumped excellent powder. Is this what we’ve come to on Aspen Mountain?

The mountain seems to ski differently every year. Some seasons you can’t find a stash of untracked by 9:15. Other years the stuff hangs around until the next day.

The informal research laboratory of ski innovation and technique can be found in Summit, a triple fall-lined beauty that stole my heart years ago. You want big bumps, try that sucker. Some of them require a parachute on the downhill side, but this year — not so much. It’s a gentler, kinder year, I reckon, but it’s still an over-the-top, immaculate, forced control ball buster. Or worse.

You can never ski it the same way twice. If you want to get even with somebody for something dastardly, take ’em down Summit. From experience I can tell you that ski pros from other areas find it particularly challenging. Oh, yeah, hats off to Bill for the Snoopy Shrine, if you know what I mean.

As Aspen Mountain patrolman Howie Mayer, namesake of Uncle Wiggly’s (under Lift 5) used to say, “It’s just a left and a right.” And remember this: A ski, without your help, can make it down the line of least resistance just fine. Relax and have fun.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at