Seeking higher ground at Highlands
As I plod and kick up Highlands Bowl, skis on my back, someone hikes so close behind that twice, when I lift my poles, his descending baskets nick mine.
Custom traditionally holds that a slower party moves aside. However, if I step anywhere now, it will be a long one into Maroon Creek Bowl.
I am ready to suggest a place for him to put his pole.
This is the world of “the Bowl” at Aspen Highlands. The ridge, 1,000 vertical feet to the 12,382-foot summit, in recent years opened up 150 acres of above-lift terrain, and the mountain I’d been skiing for 15 years suddenly got even ” actually, a lot ” better.
The Bowl offers 1,500-foot powder or Styrofoam (or crud) shots, and the approach is part of the experience. I can always use the exercise, and always find the hike hard.
I pull off, and my tailgater passes and pulls aside. I start and then he starts, and we repeat our pas de deux. Finally, the words blow out of my lips: “Could you either go in front of me or behind?”
He turns a flushed, glazed countenance to me. “Oh, sorry,” he says in an Australian accent. “I’m just exhausted.” We smile, and all is OK.
I catch a struggling, bearded man. “This is stupid!” he says. “I’m a fat guy from sea level!”
These days everyone wants to “hike the Bowl,” from hard-cores, to mediums like me, to the nice people I just rode the lift with, who said it was their goal.
A couple approaches, and two of us step aside. I am happy to, but can’t say I like it when the woman’s skis clip me across the goggles. I hear her partner admonish, “You have to be more careful with your skis! Those people were plenty out of the way.” She snaps back and they vanish upward into mist, arguing.
As I battle up the last of the steepest section, someone storms up behind, and clears his throat, trumpetingly, three times. I say nothing, in case he truly has the worst postnasal drip on the whole Western Slope, and with difficulty step aside, but indulge in a baleful look. He stares back, braid drooping from his chin.
Oh, I know the problem is mainly in my own head. I’m getting hot, tired and grumpy.
A fine, chalky run, snow cookies showering past, rewards me. My husband and I often bring our kids up here, and once the older one, Teddy, told me, standing reverent and pop-eyed: “Mom! I just did the kind of turns I’ve always wanted to do!”
Another day my younger son, Roy, and I came with a friend and his son. Stopping to encourage the son ” though the trail is a trench, the exposure can be scary, especially the first time ” I suddenly looked up to see an accordion of people squeezed behind a small boy gripping the rope handrail strung across a rock ridge, inching across. I half-ran up to the line, apologizing, and was amazed when a patroller at the end turned and said, “Oh, it’s OK, it’s just great that you’re bringing him up here.”
(“Sure,” my friend Jim told me later. “That’s what he told you.”)
Roy has newly stopped grasping the rail, and now asks everyone, “Do you hold the rope?”
I generally hike twice if possible; today, on my second lap, I feel tired right away. A passer-by says he hears Mike Marolt is trying for eight times. (Mike later tells me he missed it by minutes. “I saw them closing the gate.” He laughs: “Actually, I wasn’t too sorry.”)
I settle into a slow rhythm. I find myself in the same state as on a walk along the dirt road by my house. Cares fall into perspective. I daydream. I think of things I need to do. The top of Highlands arrives before I even look for it.
Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at email@example.com (write GSPI as subject heading).
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