Central Aspen from the Gondola Plaza
While there's a whole Gathering trip report thread, as a first time attendee, and an intermediate skier, I thought I'd write up my own trip report.
Much like their favorite resorts, the Gathering participants tend to be what you'd call "expert weighted". So the question may come up for some - should an intermediate skier attend the Gathering? For me, the answer is an unequivocal YES. I had a terrific time, met and skied with a lot of great people, and generally enjoyed the hell out of everything.
I suppose there were two factors that sold me on attending the Gathering. First, I had met a couple of Epic participants already, and I “know” a lot of the users from their posts on Epic; so I figured I’d at least know a couple of people. Second, I don’t mind skiing alone at all… so worst case, I’d meet some new people, and spend some great days on the mountains skiing whether with the others or not.
As it turns out, I met a lot of new folks, skied with several, and everyone was friendly, helpful, and enjoying themselves. The meetups worked great, apres was nice, and my roommates couldn’t have worked out better.
If any intermediate was thinking about attending a Gathering, I’d highly recommend it. Come in with an open mind, a good attitude, a love of skiing, and a willingness to roll with the casual nature of things, and you should have a wonderful time!
Background and Planning
This trip was just my second time out west after going to Vail for a few days last year. So I was excited to see how Aspen compared, and to get another chance to ski a big mountain (or 4 of them in the case of Aspen).
Since I’d be skiing 6 days for the Gathering, I purchased a Mountain Collective Pass. I purchased it way back in March 2015, so I got the additional third day free in Aspen. And the other 3 days would then be 50% off the usual 1-day rate. That gave a little savings over the usual 6-day purchase, and if I were to use the MCP anywhere else, I’d be well on top. As it turned out, there was also a Gathering group ticket rate that was even better, but as I am going to use several other days on my MCP, it works out great.
For the trip lodging, while I have a few friends I ski with occasionally, none of them were able to commit to a week-long western trip. So I wound up making use of the nature of the Gathering and the trip threads to find a roommate or two to help share the costs of attending. I wound up rooming with @MattSmith (and eventually with @northeasterner too), and it worked out great. I hope to meet up and ski with them both again in the future.
I figured this would be a bit of a splurge trip for me, between the flight, lesson (more on that later), lodging, etc., so I wanted to go ahead and stay right in town. We found a VRBO condo walking distance from the Gondola and bus stop at Rubey Park for a (somewhat) reasonable rate. The complex also had a shuttle, which meant we actually could avoid the 5-6 block walk in ski boots, which worked out great too.
As for the flight, I had two options, coming from Washington, DC – either fly to Denver and rent a car, or fly directly into Aspen. The cost to fly direct to Aspen for a single traveler from DC was similar to flying into Denver and renting a car (actually it was less if you’re talking about an SUV rental, even with an excellent corporate rate). Plus, Aspen is about a 4 hour drive from Denver, which is nice to avoid. So I wound up booking a flight direct to Aspen.
That sorted my flights, lodging, and lift tickets, so now it was just a waiting game for the actual trip and skiing.
Day 1 – Wednesday, February 3rd – Aspen Mountain (Ajax)
The last couple of seasons, I’ve had 3 private 1 hour lessons, which have made a big difference in my skiing. So I thought for this “splurge” trip, I’d go ahead and book a day long private lesson with the very well recommended instructor, and fellow EpicSki member, @Bob Barnes. Bob was only available for the first day of the Gathering, and suggested we take the opportunity to do “First Tracks” on Aspen Mountain, which would let us take the Gondola an hour early at 8 AM, before the public opening at 9 AM. (You can sign up the day before, or be with an instructor to participate.) That sounded awesome to me, so we had a plan.
This was the scene at the Gondola just before 8 AM.
We spent the morning doing some really fun skiing in very soft conditions after all the snow from the previous few days. Everything was “hero snow” conditions, like I’ve never skied in before. And we did some work on quite a few drills to help me start to feel separation and the correct body position. It was a terrific morning and Bob lives up to his reputation. I was really getting a feel for things, and I think it helped my skiing the rest of the week.
Getting to ski early also meant things were very quiet and empty on the first couple of runs :
Bob and me at mid-mountain :
The view off of Buckhorn :
The view to town down Ruthie's :
View of Highlands, including the bowl, from the top of Aspen Mountain :
We met quite a few other bears for lunch, and I got to put a bunch of faces to names that I knew from Epic. It was very nice to meet everyone, and have a nice time chatting about the mountains and everyone’s adventures and skiing and plans for the rest of the Gathering.
After lunch, we headed over to Buttermilk, to meet up with a couple of other intermediates, @kasuncion (Kara) and her boyfriend Peter, and have a bit of a group lesson. @Tog tagged along too, and we had a lot of fun learning and doing drills together, as I got to practice some things from the morning, and learn even more from Kara and Peter’s additional questions and talks with Bob. Thanks definitely go to Bob for a great day lesson. And big thanks to @Tog for just voluntarily helping out with his expertise too!
I only took a couple of pics at Buttermilk, for some reason. This is the view of Highlands from the top :
That night Matt and I met up with @marznc and her group for dinner in Aspen, and met several folks I’d ski with a few times the rest of the week. And we got to see a bit more of the town and have a nice evening. Quite a successful first day and a great way to kick off the Gathering for me.
Day 2 – Thursday, February 4th – Snowmass
The next day was the earliest meetup, at the village base at Snowmass. Snowmass is a huge mountain, with as many skiable acres as the rest of the mountains combined. Lots of folks showed for the meetup, and I got to meet several more folks, including the Gathermeister (who I didn’t know was @mdf until that morning!).
I spent the morning skiing with a few folks, and decided to take the mountain tour with @kasuncion and Peter. Since we had done a few runs already, we decided to take a different trail and re-meet the tour at the next lift. Unfortunately, I got confused, and separated from the tour. So I took my own little tour through the Big Burn/Village Express areas, then the Elk Camp Gondola area before meeting up with people for lunch at Gwyn’s.
Me in the morning :
View off the back of Sam's Knob :
After lunch, @marznc went with a few of us (@Lofcaudio, @drewder, @MattSmith, me) to take the Poma lift to the top of the mountain above the Cirque. It was a great experience, and the run down from the Poma, then through the Sheer Bliss area was some of my favorite skiing of the trip.
@drewder at the top :
We finished the day skiing back over to the Snowmass Mall for the PugSki/EpicSki apres party. It was well attended and a great way to end a great day.
Good turn-out for apres ski :
Day 3 – Friday, February 5th – Aspen Highlands
This morning was another good meetup, with several groups breaking off for runs. As this was the planned day for the bowl hike, a bunch of folks wanted to get warmed up and get an early start on the hike. (The bowl actually opened a bit late though, due to some control work I believe. But many folks did do the hike.)
I got in some quick early runs with @marznc and her crew (Olesya, Bill, Jason, and Mel). Then did a nice long run through some great groom down Golden Horn to the bottom with @marznc, @Lofcaudio, @drewder :
Aspen trees lit up along Golden Horn :
The view of the bowl from the top of the Loge lift :
Pyramid Peak :
@marznc's crew - Olesya, Mel, Bill, and Jason at the patrol deck :
View of Highland's Bowl from the patrol deck :
More amazing scenery from the patrol deck :
The rest of the day was spent with several folks, skiing some nice steep groomers and taking in the amazing views from the mountain. Cloud Nine area was really nice, as were some of the runs from the top. I was feeling like the trip was finally catching up with me, so I actually quit fairly early, before 2:30. After a bit of lodge resting and coffee, I did make apres with @MattSmith and @northeasterner. The outside seating in the sun on a bluebird day was very nice.
Day 4 – Saturday, February 6th – Aspen Mountain (Ajax)
Aspen Mountain tends to not be very crowded on weekends, so it landed the Saturday spot at the Gathering. And it was another great day! Beautiful weather and conditions. @Lofcaudio, @drewder, and I started off with two top to bottom runs down Copper Bowl and Little Nell. Then a couple of laps on the other side of the mountain near Ruthie’s. We met up with @Jamesj and a couple of other folks and had some fun and pretty fast runs.
Highland's Bowl very clear view in the morning :
View of Bell from the top of the FIS run :
Lunch at the Sundeck with an amazing view and a lot of bears :
After lunch with a lot of folks, I wanted to go off and do some lesson drills. Well @Old Boot agreed to go with @drewder and I to have a bit of a lesson in the afternoon. It was very generous of him to help us out, and I think @drewder got 3 lessons worth of talk and drills in a short time, while dealing with a sore shin. But he worked through it and, I think, had a great afternoon. I know I did.
And apres was pretty nice too, at the Ajax Tavern with some good food and drinks.
@Old Boot on Buckhorn :
Bluebird groomer :
Apres scene at Ajax Tavern :
Day 5 – Sunday, February 7th – Aspen Highlands
Monday was back to Aspen Highlands. The morning started rocky with a run for me down Golden Horn, which wasn’t very well groomed and frozen pretty hard. (Felt like morning east coast conditions.) After that, it was a lot of great groomers though, skiing with @kasuncion, among others.
Morning view from Upper Robinson's overlook :
After lunch, many folks were again doing the bowl hike (some for the second time!). @KingGrump agreed to show me the ropes of a bump run, and gave some very good instruction, despite several falls on my part. I managed to make a few OK turns, before tiredness won out and I traversed out back to the groom.
After seeing some folks off to do the Highland’s Bowl hike, and several of the other folks off to go ski Olympic Bowl, I did a few more Cloud Nine laps and a nice long top to bottom run to finish up.
Apres in the sun was becoming a habit at this point, and was very nice again.
A nice bump run (Scarlett's Run) above the Merry-go-round restaurant, and the run I tried a bit of :
Yet another Highland Bowl view - always impressive!
@kasuncion and Peter on the patrol deck :
Me at the overlook late in the day :
Day 6 – Monday, February 8th – Snowmass
The final day for me, unfortunately. Had a great morning skiing the Sheer Bliss, Poma, and Alpine Springs areas again. I followed @MattSmith, @northeasterner, and @Dryheat to see more of the Cirque (from the cat track) and take Green Cabin down, which was a lot of fun. The rollers and little jumps in the Alpine Springs area (especially the Naked Lady run) were really great too.
OK, not quite ready unless the goggles are down :
View and cat track around the Cirque from the top of the Poma. We took it over to the Hanging Valley gate :
Seeing the guys off through the Hanging Valley gate :
The top of the High Alpine lift area :
View of the western wall of the Cirque, including AMF and Gowdy's entries :
View down Green Cabin (my route) to the Sheer Bliss area :
After lunch I finally made my way over to the Elk Camp area of the upper mountain. Great views and some really nice open runs, though conditions were so-so compared to earlier in the trip. Still very nice skiing.
Willow Creek bowl view from the Elk Camp lift :
Top of Elk Camp :
View of Hanging Valley from Elk Camp area (including the Headwall, Roberto's, and Possible I think) :
Pyramid view from Snowmass :
After making my way back to Snowmass mall, my legs were toast… but in a good way (about 22K vertical – a lot for me). And my last run of the trip mirrored my first, all alone in the middle of a beautiful run.
Final run down Mick's Gully :
After a final apres and dinner with Matt, Greg, and @TimGedney, my trip came to an end, and I flew home the next morning.
What a trip!
I didn’t have as many altitude issues on this trip as I did on my Vail trip last year. I still didn’t sleep great, and didn’t have much appetite at times, but overall I felt good. I think staying away from alcohol the first day helped, as compared to Vail, as well as having a longer trip to acclimate.
Coming in at the tail end of a big storm made for great conditions all week. But the first couple of days were clearly better, as a lot more soft snow was around. I’ve never skied runs so soft, even when piled up that could just be sliced right through. Things firmed up later, but many runs were still really great.
The weather was theoretically very cold, but the lack of wind kept things really nice. Even when the thermometer read -10 at the top of the mountain, it never felt that cold. And once the sun came out after the first day, things started to feel warm-ish at times.
Lift tickets wound up being ~$97/day, given the cost of the MCP for me plus the half price days. That assumes that the other 4 days I plan to use on the MCP are “free”. Seems like a good deal to me, though I think the group buy for the Gathering beat it by a bit.
Eating on the mountain was expensive as expected, but the food selection and quality was generally good. I saved a bit by having a couple of dinners at home, and making sure to take a couple of Gatorade’s with me every morning.
As the bus system was free, and I didn’t have a car, there were no other real costs other than food and drinks.
Crowds were pretty nonexistent for the entire time. The longest lift line I waited in was maybe 2 minutes, and only a couple of times at that. Occasionally a particular run would get a bit crowded, but waiting a minute usually cleared things out. Overall, I don’t think I could have asked for less crowding.
I used SkiTracks as I always do, as I just like looking at the data and remembering runs I did. I totaled ~114,000 vertical feet for the trip. That’s a high number for me I think, and I definitely felt it by the time I left. But it was worth it!
As far as the phone working, my battery definitely died faster at Highlands than the other places, as the signal is worse there and I think it’s draining on the battery.
Lastly, I’d just like to thank everyone who was so great to meet, ski with, eat with, or just talk to. (And my apologies if I don't know your real name or got any of these mixed up!)
@Bob Barnes (Bob), @marznc (Meimei), @MattSmith (Matt), @northeasterner (Greg), @Lofcaudio (Brett), @drewder (Andy), @kasuncion (Kara), @Old Boot (Robin), @Tog (James), @KingGrump (Bruce), @Jamesj (Jim), @jgiddyup (Jim), @mgiddyup (Michelle), @TimGedney (Tim), @lady_Salina (Lisa), @Needham (Alan), @Philpug (Phil), @Trekchick (Tricia), @bounceswoosh (Monique), @JohnL (John), @Riad (Riad), @Living Proof, @DanoT, @qcanoe, @Matchstix, @at_nyc, @tseeb, @Rainbow Jenny, @Unpiste, and several others I know I’m forgetting that I met. You all have my thanks for a great trip!
And very special thanks to @mdf (Mike) for being the Gathermeister and putting in the extra voluntary effort to organize a great Gathering!
I’m looking forward to next year at Whistler already!