Marolt: A year of difficult skiing
My new watch tells me how steep the runs I ski are. I wanted to see how accurate it was, so I did an internet search for the steepness of ski runs in our area. An article popped up titled, “The hardest ski runs in Aspen.” That got my interest.
The deeper I read, the more I liked it.
I thought, “I wish I’d written this!” I could find no argument with the author’s choices. Halfway through, I had to know who this genius with my same world view was. Sure enough; it was me! I had published the piece back in 2005.
The thing about writing two newspaper columns per week for 15 years is that when you Google something you are interested in, there is a good chance you will hit on something you wrote. All it means is that my focus is very narrow and hasn’t changed much over the years.
At any rate, here was my 2005 list of most difficult ski runs with very abbreviated descriptions:
10. Gowdy’s, Snowmass: This run is steep and narrow on top. The smallish, cornice wannabe at the top adds an element we don’t see much here.
9. Silver Rush, Aspen Mountain: It used to be tougher but they let saplings grow at the top so that you can’t ski the steepest part now. Go figure.
8. Deception Glades, Highlands: You survive the mammoth bumps on the first part of Deception and then dart quickly to your right and ski through the woods on legs like noodles.
7. Lower Lift Line, Aspen Mountain: It’s steeper than it looks. It’s also narrow with a natural crown that wants to chuck you into the trees on either side. If you hold the center line, there are lift towers to contend with and it reaches its steepest pitch two turns from the bottom. If the lift is full of skiers, this can be the most difficult in the valley.
6. Elevator Shaft, Aspen Mountain: It is one of the steepest pitches anywhere. Hug the tree line on the right and you will be tested.
5. Kristi’s, Aspen Mountain: If you do this from the top, it’s tough. Often there are large dirt patches created by Level 9’s cutting in from the sides. The big moguls make it difficult to get under control after you point ’em straight through that mess.
4. Trainor Chutes, Aspen Mountain: Small cliffs in dense woods; if you make it through this section without having to stop, you are cool. If you mess up, you might be cold as a stone.
3. No Name Bowl, Highlands: After Five Towers knoll, pick a line through the gladded area on your left. This one is steep with incredibly tight trees. It gets side-slipped more often than the employee-housing rules, so it’s usually smooth and tough to get a good edge in. You can forget about carving GS turns.
2. Little Geronimo, Highlands: Reflect at the memorial in honor of the ski patrol members who lost their lives in a huge avalanche on Highland Bowl back in 1984. Look out at the mountains with rattled confidence before heading onto the pucker string-steep ridge in front of you.
1. S1, Aspen Mountain: This is the hottest dog in the picnic basket. The first four turns on the centerline are as difficult as it gets. If you miss one, you’ll ruin your skis, or worse. Even if you make it through this section, you still might get diced by a stand of aspens directly below in the fall-line.
And with this edited version of the list, I have just butchered my own original work. But, that’s not the point. After this lean year of snow, I believe I have discovered what I now think is an even more challenging run than any of these.
This January when the snow was thin and old and hard, Aztec on Aspen Mountain was nearly un-skiable. I know of two times the patrol closed it because it had become so dangerously icy.
Most days, anyone can make his or her way down this usually smooth run, but rarely does anyone look pretty doing it. Typically, it’s a couple fair turns that inadvertently become a series of progressively bigger ones until you mercifully dump your speed with a large “J”-shaped turn all the way across the slope at the bottom.
This year, there were days when most skiers could not have sideslipped it confidently. To make anything resembling a carved turn then, much less linking two or three together under control, was next to impossible. Any fall would have put you in the trees or rock on either side.
For what it’s worth, Aztec during January 2018 goes down in my book as the most difficult run in Aspen … ever.
Roger Marolt still thinks the hardest part of skiing the Highlands Bowl is the hike up. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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