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Aspen/Snowmass expert tips

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
I'm making my first ever trip to Aspen at the end of the week.  I have 4 days to ski, but 2 of the days depend on the rest of the group and 2 are on my own.

For the 2 days on my own, I'm looking for the best expert terrain, trees, and steeps that the area has to offer. After doing some reviewing I'm thinking about a day at Highlands and a day at Snowmass.  The Highland Bowl area, steeplechase, and olympic bowl look very nice.  I've seen some pictures and the terrain looks like some of the best I've seen.  Snowmass has a huge reputation as one of the best overall mountains in the country, so I figured I should try it out.  The Cirque and Hanging Valley look nice.

Opinions and tips?

Is Ajax better than Highlands and Snowmass and should I really make an effort to get there?
post #2 of 13
I just returned from Aspen this evening.  If you are truly an expert skier, then you must ski Highlands.  The bowl is great, but it does require a bit of work to get to: about a 40-60 minute hike, and it will take some out of you.  But, the lines in the bowl are fantastic, and it is a classic not to be missed.  It certainly has lines that are as steep as most anything in Colorado.

The Deep Temerity lift has added a lot of terrain that does not require a hike to access.  We skied Canopy Cruiser, a wonderful gladed area in Temerity that has lots of terrain, good snow, some steeps, and lots of bumps.

Beyond Highlands, take your pick of Snowmass or Ajax.  I skied Snowmass on Saturday.  There's good terrain at Snowmass in the Cirque and Hanging Valley.  However, I personally like Ajax.  While there probably are lines at Snowmass that are steeper than what you'll find at Ajax, Ajax has more terrain and probably fewer people than at Snowmass.  But either will serve you well.

post #3 of 13
 Snowmass and Highlands are both worth the trip.  I would hit Snowmass day 1 and Highlands day 2.  The Cirque and the Hanging Valley are where you should spend most of your time at Snowmass. Hit the Cirque first by taking Village Express and then Sheer Bliss. Once up on the ridge top take the surface lift (Cirque) to the very top.  Warm up on the Cirque Headwall to get the lay of the land.  The best shots are skiers left, AMF and Gowdy's  The entrance to Gowdy's is like a smaller version of Corbet's, though much wider. You can lap the Cirque on Sheer Bliss and the Cirque lift.  Next go to Hanging Valley.  Ski down from the bottom of Sheer Bliss to the bottom of Alpine Springs.  Take Alpine Springs to High Alpine.  Hanging Valley is also steep but also much more interesting. A few thin glades up top hide the headwalls.  Down below you will find what I think is the best glade skiing on the mountain.  This area is harder to lap than the Cirque as you have to go all the way down to the bottom of Alpine Springs each time.  Don't worry too much about Campground.  These are long cruiser runs but the exposure and the low altitude let the snow bake.  You will like the other two areas better.

Kessler's Bowl from Deep Temerity Lift

Highlands Kessler from Deep Temerity lift.jpg

Kessler's from the side

Highlands Kessler Lateral.jpg

Hanging Valley

Hanging Valley.jpg
Highlands has a much better layout for getting lots of steep lines in a short stretch of time.  You will want to take Exhibition to Loge Peak. The runs off the ridge to lookers left will entertain you for hours. The pictures above are taken from the Deep Temerity lift overlooking  Kessler's.  This run is representative of the pitch on this side of the mountain.  It is steeper than the Olympic Bowl side which is also fun, but not as much as the Temerity side.  Lastly, you will want to go to Highland Bowl.  It will be worth the hike, (not to bad, especially if the cat is running-I hope it is still running this year!)  When you come down at the end of the day the runs off Exhibition have much better snow than most steep runs that low on the mountain.  I don't know why, but I had fun on these runs at the end of the day.

Aspen (Ajax) has a lot of good terrain but if you only have two days you will not want to miss Highlands and Snowmass.

Good Luck and have fun
post #4 of 13
Thread Starter 
 Ok, now its seems the first day will be at Ajax due to the people I'm staying with.  I know I will definitely be hitting Snowmass for a day, but hopefully still gonna hit Highlands. too.

Looks like Ajax has 2 main ridges with many short, steep shots off each side.  Recommendations?
post #5 of 13
The previous responses have been very insightful. I would add that there is a time element. Highlands Bowl access (including access to Canopy Cruiser and Mushroom runs) and Cirque lift at Snowmass seem to only be open mid day 10 to 2:30 so plan around that. Watch the weather. If you want to ski Cirque or Hanging Valley or Highland Bowl and it is clear at 10 am better go for it as clouds can move in quickly and drastically change visibility. If there is a day with poor visibility Aspen Mtn (Ajax) may be the best choice because there are trees to help? No one has mentioned the hiking factor at Hanging Valley. It is a short 15 minute hike from the top of High Alpine lift to Hanging Valley. Access is possible via a very long traverse from the top of the Poma lift. Last time I was at Snowmass, the Poma lift was not running due to poor visibility but Hanging Valley was open via hike. If you hike the Highlands bowl it is not recommended with skis over the shoulder due to the climbing and length of hike. I would use a backpack to carry skis and leave hands free for using poles as you follow the narrow ridge up. Ski Patrol Shack at the top of Loge lift sells a strap made from 10' of 1" webbing material that when looped around skis at bindings allows slinging skis over your back and can be stashed in a pocket when not hiking (a good alternative to carrying skis on a backpack)
Conditions were packed powder yesterday, coverage was okay though nothing like the last 2 years. Supposed to be warmer with chance of snow Thurs'Friday. If the snow is springlike, remember that Highlands and Ajax are situated on ridges so half the runs get morning sun and half the runs get PM sun. Start on the east facing runs in AM and move with the sun. Highlands Bowl has the best snow and coverage on the far side (where the trees are and it is north facing). The runs along the ridge as you hike up are south facing and sun affected.
To get to the Canopy Cruiser run mentioned above follow the signs for Hyde Park (which was well marked yesterday).
Wih the free bus system it is possible to ski Ajax half day and then take the bus to Highlands or Buttermilk in half an hour while you your sandwich on the bus.
post #6 of 13
 You can also get to Canopy Cruiser by catching the cat.  You ski back down the ridge about 50 yards and drop in there.  If you follow Canopy Cruiser all the way down, you come to Y12, the last chute into the bowl, which purportedly also has the steepest line (but with a bit of southeastern exposure, so watch the snow) -- over the right shoulder is supposedly 48 degrees for about 75 yards or so.

Ajax has some great terrain.  You've already got the picture; it is a ridge layout. There are many many lines on the Bell (face, shoulder, and backside) as well as off of international.  These are gladed areas, some tighter than others, with pretty wide lines through them.  They are really nice with fresh snow.  Some are relatively steep, and you can ski a fall line down close to the gully then traverse to get more vert.  Really nice.  There are a few out of the way places that are interesting.  Hyrups is a personal favorite, but be sure to keep your speed up at the bottom as it is a long flat out.

A previous poster provided pictures of Kesslers.  It is great skiing.  However, there is sun exposure (as there will be in areas of Steeplechase as well) so the best snow tends to be skiers right along the trees.  There are also places where there are terrain features including rocks and a few stumps/logs that you need to be looking for.  Watch for the clues of where the traffic generally has gone and be careful approaching those areas; you may have to alter your turn shape or line to avoid them.  This is why I suggested gladed runs at Highlands like Canopy Cruiser as the trees do tend to protect the snow a bit.  We also found some great snow in one of the northerly facing runs in Oly bowl.

I don't think the hike to the hanging valley is more than 5-10 minutes.  It is easy enough that I don't consider it more than a pleasurable stroll.  We skied the headwall going all the way to the rope -- to get to this area, go past the first gate to the second.  You can then follow the traverse into any number of lines on the wall..  There were quite of few rocks emerging.  Look for where they are and they'll tell you something about where the rock band is.  Once past that, the coverage was quite good and we had nice soft snow.

AMF and KT's off of the Poma were also nice in the Cirque area. 

Conditions were starting to set up yesterday in the bowl.  We skied one of the O lines, the first time I've done that line straight off of the top.  I'd bet that the Y and B lines would be manky given the sun exposure.  However, the bowl filled with a cloud in the afternoon, and while the Highlands reported no snow, it is possible that the bowl, which makes its own weather, might have had a good bit of snow.  My advice is to go to the north exposures (the G lines) which will likely be the most protected.

Have fun.  Aspen is my current favorite resort in Colorado.

post #7 of 13
Send Loyd Braun a PM.  He's a good guy and a very good skier that's up on the hill most days.  He would probably show you around Ajax.
Lot's of worker bees ski Ajax, it's right in town and you can get a lot of vert, fast. Plus the Gondola is very social and you almost always run into someone you know.

Highland bowl usually has the best skiing .  But it takes a fair amount of time to access it and frankly a couple of laps up the bowl and I'm toast.  I probably ski Ajax 80%, Highlands 20% and haven't been to Snowmass in a couple of years.  Snowmass in nice, but I just don't go there often.   
post #8 of 13
Thread Starter 
 Thanks for all of the wonderful insight!  I look forward to putting it to use this week.
post #9 of 13
Aprreciate the info as I will be in Aspen 3/4-8 with a group of friends ranging from advanced intermediate to strong advanced...I know this has been asked and aswered with a "not much" before, but are there any lift tix deals around? 
post #10 of 13
They exist, but are very hard to find. In Chicago, we get them from the polish mafia.  Usually you need to find a tour operator that buys them in bulk.

  If your still in Frisco next year,  get a Classic Pass preseason.  It's worth it just for the really busy weekends when you want to get out of Summit County.  
post #11 of 13
Hey MEFree & Wasatch -- I'm going to be in ASE this weekend, too -- mostly skiing with family, but if y'all want to try to get together for a beer or to try to follow any of the above directions, drop me a PM and maybe we can make some turns.

Niege, thanks for the advice on the webbing -- I was pondering dragging my backpack out, but as I'm planning on staying in bounds, it seems like overkill.

post #12 of 13
Originally Posted by SHREDHEAD View Post

They exist, but are very hard to find. In Chicago, we get them from the polish mafia.  Usually you need to find a tour operator that buys them in bulk.

  If your still in Frisco next year,  get a Classic Pass preseason.  It's worth it just for the really busy weekends when you want to get out of Summit County.  
Thanks...they don't sell the Classic in Frisco, but I was going to get one in Denver/Littleton after an airport trip in October, but my daughter wasn't feeling well, so we went straight home...
post #13 of 13
The classic pass is like the other passes; once you buy it in person, you can renew it online.

I got a deal last week at the Laurelwood Condos at snowmass.  $250/night for a 1 bedroom condo with 2 lift tickets included.  Don't know if it's expired, but mention the "KBCO Deal."

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