On the hill: Making a case for Ajax
As I rode up the Silver Queen Gondola recently, I chatted with an older gentleman — we didn’t exchange names — about the wonders of Aspen Mountain. While he didn’t come out and say it, he clearly had a fondness for Ajax that I, too, share.
Admittedly, much of my love for Aspen’s namesake mountain derives from laziness. I live and work in town, and being able to walk from my front door to the gondola without getting in a car or hopping on a bus is a luxury only people like myself can truly appreciate. Most days, even if I happen to get out of bed in time for brunch, the thought of going all the way to Snowmass is nauseating.
So, yes, Aspen Mountain is mighty convenient, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make. I’m just saying that everyone has his or her favorite ski area here in Aspen and mine is Ajax, and it’s not even close. Buttermilk is cute and all, and Tiehack truly is a gem, but by the time X Games is over with and I’ve just spent 12 hours a day there for four straight days, I’m kind of over it.
To be fair to Snowmass, it really is a great mountain, and I only recently discovered the wonders of Hanging Valley. But in the end, there is something about that ski area that hasn’t quite hit the right chord with me. As far as Highlands goes, the bowl is simply the greatest piece of inbound terrain on the planet (I say this having ridden only Steamboat and the Aspen mountains in my lifetime, but one can assume). But, as a snowboarder, Highlands’ cat tracks are beyond frustrating.
So we’re back to my true love, Aspen Mountain. Despite being a mere 675 acres, the second smallest of the four local ski areas, I’m still finding new terrain here in my third winter in the Roaring Fork Valley. Only this week did I discover the wonders of Walsh’s, which is essentially a miniaturized version of the Highlands Bowl. Sure, the trek out isn’t much fun, but it’s better than a 45-minute hike (to be fair, I love hiking the bowl, but to the lazy, sometimes you just don’t get up on the mountain early enough for a trek like that).
When I ride Ajax, I spend a lot of time on Gentleman’s Ridge. I love Shadow Mountain and adore Aztec — the key run of the World Cup downhill course — when it has snow on it. I enjoy the short hike to the top of Bell Mountain and the ride down its ridge. Even a day after our most recent storm I was finding nearly knee-deep powder in the glades.
For those of you who prefer Snowmass or Highlands (sans the bowl), I hold nothing against you. I do enjoy riding each of our mountains from time to time, as they all provide something unique. We are unbelievably blessed to live in a place with so many wonderful options.
But, when it comes down to it, Aspen Mountain is just better and it’s where you are likely to find me. Tuesday was my 24th day this season, and I’ve spent 19 of those on Ajax. I think that pretty much sums up my feelings for her.
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The two days after Labor Day ushered in colder temperatures and tree-toppling snowfall, so a pastor got to work collecting dozens of sleeping bags for Aspen’s homeless residents.