Roger Marolt: The mystery of Powderhorn

Powderhorn’s double-black-diamond designation defies logic

Roger Marolt
Cluster Phobic
A sign marks the double-black-diamond Powderhorn run at Snowmass.
Kaya Williams/The Snowmass Sun

There are great mysteries about Snowmass Village. For one, why do we get our drinking water from a pond where a giant herd of mammoths died inexplicably on its shores? Sure, it was 80,000 years ago, give or take, but we still don’t know what killed them. All we have is the circumstantial evidence. Hmm … how long did they drink from that lake before it was lights out?

This isn’t the only puzzling thing about our town. Speaking of which, for a fun ski run where the conditions are almost always excellent, wouldn’t a better name for “Long Shot” be, “Sure Thing”?

There’s more. Why was the town built where a spectacular golf course could be and the golf course placed on a perfect plot for a fine town? Why do we park at the Rodeo Lot instead of rodeoing by the parking lot? Why does it take so long to get a six-pack lift going again each and every time it stops? Why does it stop so often? And what is that red circle painted on the pavement in the intersection just below the Base Village parking garage and transit center? It is rumored to be a roundabout, but it’s definitely not that. So what is it?

It’s plenty to ponder riding the Campground lift alone (why wasn’t a high-speed lift put in to replace the old lift?), but far and away, the greatest mystery of Snowmass is why the Powderhorn trail is designated a double-black-diamond run. It defies logic, reason and humble skier honesty.

I was riding the new Big Burn lift another time I skied Snowmass this winter, which is like being transported uphill sitting in a row of bleachers at Mile High Stadium, when I perused the map on the footrest and spied the telltale black line outlined in yellow leading down Powderhorn. I was intrigued. I was sure I had skied that run at some point, but since I couldn’t recall a single thing about it, I was filled with a lot of doubt that I had ever been down it and a little worry about losing my memory.

There was only one way to figure it out. I had to get over there and give it a whirl. Unfortunately, I did Gowdy’s from the top of the Burn and ended up somewhere down in the twisty-turning mogul ditches that drain into the High Alpine area. Maybe three lift rides later (I can’t be sure — does riding the six-pack count as two?), I got back to the top of Sam’s Knob. I scooted off between the patrol shack and maintenance facility and got to a “closed’ sign hung across the gate to Powderhorn. A gate? A yellow rope across the trail? Closed at 2:05 p.m.? Wow! The legend of this run piqued interest like wild thistle in my mind.

I was so intrigued I came back the next day with my wife. She thought I was nuts. I figured I might need a witness. “For what?” she asked. You just don’t know in a situation like this.

I am puzzled to report that we had a lovely time skiing Powderhorn. This is not the description anyone would normally use for skiing double-black-diamond ski trails. I did, however, note it would make for an excellent 1970s World Cup downhill race. The twists and turns over the undulating terrain covering more than 2 miles and 2,400 vertical feet would make for a fantastically interesting race course! For regular skiing, though, it is mostly intermediate pitches covered with kind, forgiving moguls, leaving no chance for major adrenaline bursts. Even the most elastic imagination would tear and run trying to stretch this into a double black diamond. There can be no reasonable justification for how it became and why it remains one on the map.

That said, I like Powderhorn. I am glad I skied it twice. I would go so far as saying it might be my favorite in Snowmass. You can certainly coax a bigger rush threading the needle along the fence line at the edge of Hanging Valley or skiing some of that cliffy junk down around Rock Island, but for sustained linked turns over variable pitches, I have found nothing more satisfying.

I also was joking about that slow Campground lift. There’s room in my ski day for a throwback like that, though I can’t really explain why. Some mysteries are best left unsolved.

Roger Marolt is hoping to earn his five-day pin at Snowmass this season. Email him at


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