Vagneur: The Bowl is calling
It has taken a couple of years, but I think I’m back into Highland Bowl. Not like it ever left my mind, but a couple of things happened that took me out of there for a while.
Some look at the bowl as an enigma, something that needs conquering, and if you’ve never hiked the beast, that’s perfectly natural. My first walk up the ridge was around 2002 or 2003 when my friend Erik Peltonen made it clear that he was taking me up, just name the day.
Yep, it was a good hike, and then my buddy Bob started going with us, and before you could say “Ozone,” we were hitting it with steady regularity, once or twice a week, just for the hell of it. We hiked it twice one day and then made a pact that we would never do it twice in one day again. If we feel like multiple runs, it’s at least three or forget it.
When my daughter got out of college, she and I shared a ski-bum winter — my gift to her — often hiking the bowl early and then going over to Aspen Mountain for lunch and a few more runs. We had a good winter.
In 2010, Erik and I headed down G8. About three turns in, the binding on my left ski broke, and I faced the reality of skiing down on one ski. Not a big deal, but not a welcome one, either. We used to cruise around Aspen Mountain on one ski sometimes, just because we could and I’ve seen some of the young, so-called up-and-comers hitting a good lick down Silver Bell on one stick. But this wasn’t for fun — there was no other choice.
It was a workout, but before long I was on the flats cruising right along, but it’s hard to ski on only one when you’re carrying another over your shoulder. And “boom!” — from out of the woods came my friend Mary Woulfe, a longtime Aspen ski pro who volunteered — no, insisted — that she carry my ski with the broken binding down to the Temerity lift for me. A gift from heaven. Thank you, Mary.
Before I could get up there again that winter, I took a crushing fall on Silver Queen and broke my neck, a nasty injury that took me out for the rest of the season. You can’t do much in a situation like that except stay calm and hope the surgery doesn’t screw you up any worse.
Back in the game the next winter, my ski buddy Valerie and I took off for the bowl, intent on making a winter of it. Fresh off the broken neck and 12 weeks in a neck brace, I knew I was a little weak, and although I felt fine at the beginning, the climb soon began to turn into a nightmare. Valerie, whom I generally beat to the top as a matter of course, was getting impatient when I finally made the final grade, sweat pouring off my head. I felt like hell but figured it was from being out of shape and was certain that once I started skiing, I’d feel light as air again.
Wrong. I had to stop every few turns and rest, but more than being out of shape, this was different — something unusual was causing the problem. Finally, I made it to the bottom, feeling totally whipped by the mountain. Miserable, I acquiesced to lunch, thinking food and something to drink might bring me around. It was a dismal affair that I barely survived. At last, I made it home, hurled lunch and then stuck a thermometer in my mouth, which registered 104 degrees. The flu had me, for Christ’s sake.
I hadn’t been back since, likely relying on a subconscious thought process that likened broken bindings and the flu to something unpleasant, like the bowl. And then, a couple of weeks ago, in the midst of the big storm, a scheduled hike went awry and I figured, what the hell, I’d make it up at Highlands.
The boys in the locker room are still giving me hell about my choice of days, what with the top of the bowl socked in, sideways wind blowing and visibility near the zero mark. That’s OK. What they didn’t see was virtually untracked deep powder over in the woods and excellent visibility through the trees. The only other person I saw was Will Roush, a fellow wilderness traveler, which seemed only fitting. Of all the days I’ve skied the bowl, it was definitely in the top two.
I’d tell you more, but I gotta go. The bus to Highlands is leaving any minute now.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.
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