Vagneur: Summit, the great equalizer

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

The other day, on my way out of Bonnie’s on Aspen Mountain, a fellow skier, whom I’d never met before, grabbed my arm and asked, “You’re the guy who likes Summit, aren’t you?” Summit is a nondescript name for a ski trail totally lacking in any description of what it’s all about or why it was cut other than that it’s near the top of the mountain. Trail names are like that — not even Corkscrew equates with its original vision and layout. Mention Summit to those in the know, and the almost immediate feedback is, “You mean ‘Vomit’?”

Jimmy Gerbaz introduced me to Summit the winter I graduated from college. Red Rowland had cut the trail sometime during my university years, and one day after a good snowstorm Jimmy and I got first tracks down the mother in about a foot of wet, heavy stuff. I swore I’d never go back.

I’m not much of a tally man, and it would be impossible to say how many times I’ve skied Summit since, but if you take my youthful years on the ski patrol when I religiously skied it at least once a day, just for discipline, and then take the 14 years lately when I’ve gotten back into skiing (and hit Summit three or four times a day when it feels right, but at least once), a good ballpark number is 3,000, more or less. Sometimes my back tells me it’s nothing to brag about.

My buddy, Bob Snyder, who matches me run for run, once lapped it 13 times in a day, which may be a record. The man mentioned in the first paragraph (anonymity is sometimes good) has meticulously kept written records of his runs down Summit since the winter of 1987-88 and claims more than 3,500 successful conquests of the brute. I readily concede to such dedication and fastidious attention to detail. He wrote it down, dammit!

There’s a reason some people have nicknamed it “Vomit.” Most like to say it has a double fall line, unaware that it’s actually the triple fall line that gives them all the trouble. And by fall line, I don’t mean the latest fashions out of New York — I’m talking the direction a rock would roll if tossed down the hill. Also, it’s narrow, and due to its ever-changing topography, the bumps have absolutely no rhythm.

There are three basic entrances to Summit, the first being a simple traverse off of Dipsy Bowl. The more adventurous can drop in off the Buckhorn Cutoff road, but my favorite is just past the trail sign, down to the left of a lone pine standing there. Other people sneak in from either Ankle Grabber or the side of Midnight, but that’s like skiing Little Nell and saying you ripped Aspen Mountain. At any given time, you might have one great run down the SOB and go back for seconds only to exit totally frustrated by its capricious bruising of your ego.

A lot of guys look good and feel confident about themselves blasting down the Face, the Ridge or Perry’s, but the great equalizer is Summit. No matter how you might try, you cannot bullshit your way down its twisting, off-kilter terrain. You have to be on your game the whole way down, alert to each turn. Many a skier, smooth and controlled everywhere else on Aspen Mountain, has been exposed as the true intermediate he is once he dips his tips in Vomit, er, Summit.

My favorite day on the mountain, which hardly ever comes around, is dropping into Summit when it’s about 20 below on top of 8 to 12 inches of fresh snow. Launch off the road high, hard and fast, and your smile will be a mile wide. Miss a beat, and you’ll be picking up after a yard sale of your own making.

Talking about Summit with a friend who skis it all the time is like listening to two men talk about the woman they are both sleeping with. Every nuance, every caress, every iniquitous move is appreciated by the other in a way that only one who has been there can truly understand.

And in the end, fidelity to the cause and respect for Summit itself makes it about smiles, laughter, love, cusswords and oaths never to return, depending on the day.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at