Marolt: Choose your friends and mountains wisely
It’s funny that the people you ski with affect how you ski.
Whenever I take a few runs with my 17-year-old son, I seem to have an off day. On the other hand, whenever I meet up with Lo Semple, I feel like an Olympic champion. Weird.
I guess you could say similar things in a different way about the mountains we ski on. While Buttermilk doesn’t make me feel incompetent, I can’t help but feel that ski-wax technology still has a way to go. It is undoubtedly a great beginners’ hill, but since Aspen has no novices in anything, there is little need for it except to stage the extreme sporting events of the X Games. Hmmm …
Then, there’s Snowmass. It is undoubtedly the mountain most popular with our visitors. That correlates with our lack of knowledge about it. I could go on about its seemingly endless offerings of homogenous terrain, but it’s better to listen to its most ardent local advocates. Shortly after the most recent once-every-10-years incredible storm cycle, I ran into a buddy of mine who regularly touts the magnificence of skiing Snowmass. I wanted to talk deep powder. He countered that the storm had actually let loose with too much snow, evidenced by the fact that it was impossible to make turns in it. I assured him that this wasn’t a problem on Aspen Mountain or Highlands.
That reduces the debate about the best local ski areas to two. Ever since I made my first tracks there in 19-I-have-little-idea-when, Ajax has been at the top of my list. I’ve had more thrills, chills and close calls in getting my pass pulled there than I could describe in a soliloquized ramble during a ride up the old Lift 1 in its current state of repair. Recently, though, I am beginning to doubt my love affair with that mountain. Why? Because I’m not doing Highland Bowl anymore.
I have made a conscientious decision to ski Highlands this winter for everything but. Oh, I know that’s a hollow vow, and if I was to think about it a little longer, a vow of silence might have been more realistic, but I really am determined to ski Highland Bowl as little as possible. Go ahead, take away my stopwatch, nix me from the Powder Posse, and tarnish my legacy as a local; I’m going to be a happier ski bum without getting caught up in worshipping that false god of the ski world.
Let’s make an honest assessment of the terrain up on the bowl. It’s great! Hmmm, that didn’t come across quite how I envisioned it to make my case. I mean, it’s expansive, steep and long, the snow is usually soft, and if there are any moguls at all, they aren’t sharp or choppy. Oh yeah, and it’s kind of a miniature expedition with five-star room and board and shopping and nightlife waiting for you at the end of the day, too. So what’s not to like about the bowl? Nothing.
But the thing I’ve forgotten about Aspen Highlands for the past 15 years is that there is a ton of lift-served terrain on that mountain that is just as good as, if not better than, the bowl! Keeping my eyes almost solely on the highly publicized prize that the bowl is has kept me from seeing the other treasures that have been practically screaming at me to take them as I skied right past. The bowl is definitely big, but there are bigger challenges at Highlands than it. The bottom fall line is that the less I ski the bowl, the more I like Highlands.
The point of all this is that the perfect day of skiing comes from satisfying both your ego and your spirit of adventure. That’s not a simple thing to accomplish. If you choose the most challenging slopes to attack, you do so possibly at the expense of a battered ego. If, on the other hand, you choose to give the ego a big boost by racking up laps on the best gently sloped groomers money can buy, you might end the day only tired of feeling good about yourself.
The solution, of course, is to pick your skiing companions and mountains carefully. For the ultimate thrills and ego boost, ski the forgotten double black diamonds of Highlands with terrified friends you don’t mind waiting for. If you really want to learn something, take a few runs with your teenagers any place they will tolerate you.
Roger Marolt looks forward to skiing with his kids and Advil. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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