Aspen: The Power of Four – Highlands
Hitting Highlands for Day 3 in Aspen, best known for steep, big-mountain skiing. Find out why it’s the locals’ favourite.
Just over the ridge from Ajax is Aspen Highlands. The “locals’ mountain”.
What this chat translates as: it’s the best of the four mountains for skiing and riding. Keen skiers I’d guess would pick this one for getting in the best Aspen has to offer. And it’s the one most locals pick for a day off to spend on the slopes.
Mid-mountain there are wonderful blue ‘groomers’, it’s what they call pistes over there. Of the 1,040 acres of terrain, more than half are black diamonds, or doubles. But what Aspen Highlands is really famous for is the Bowl. Hike the ridge to Highland Bowl for one of the ski-world’s famous resort descents.
The entire mountain is geared towards advanced skiers – steep pitches and deep powder, when it’s in town. I wasn’t lucky in the fresh powder department, but the day trumped any other for snowpack and sun.
But I got the sights. And heck are they good.
Views over and up valley to the snow-covered Maroon Bells remind you that this is Colorado at its best.
Lifts reach 3,559 metres.
To reach the Bowl you need to hike to 3,777m. It’s around a 45 minute hike at very high altitude so cuts the unfit from the line heading up there.
It is open to all, and a snowcat (a piste basher) brings bowl riders to the base of the ridge. Exhibition Lift will take you up to mid-mountain and scoop round below it to find Loge Lift – your ride up to heaven. Head round the patrol cabin, on the edge of a cliff, for the best views I’ve experienced in the USA. An experience it is, too, with the high, white Pyramid Peak at the end of the valley, and Maroon Bells.
I could see the thin stream of hikers booting up for their Bowl action.
And appreciated their pilgrimage. I vowed to do it on the right day, wanting to take it on during a powder day, rather than on a fine clear day in a rare week in Aspen this season without snow. If it’s a bucket list run, best do it service…
Aside from the Bowl, big descents to search out for a challenge are Golden Horn route and Olympic Bowl.
There are 8 lifts in Highlands in total. The Thunderbowl lift opens up wide ski runs on far skier’s left. Cloud 9 is one that’ll take you up high, and bring you to a fantastic late-lunch spot.
Famous for apres and its European style of apres, it’s one not to miss. Though you’ll have to splash some Aspen cash here.
On entry there’s a Val d’Isere-style Champagne bar. Inside it’s rammed and buzzing (not the usual formality and space of American joints) and the smell of cheese fondue is wonderfully overpowering.
Though if it’s sunny, you’ll want to brave it outside, for the views of the Maroon Bells. I had the charcuterie-fromage board for a mere USD 38, the most reasonable thing on the menu.
‘When in the mountains’, no matter the range. You can take the skier out of the Alps….
There is the Seafood Platter for USD 225 but need we eat seafood atop a mountain? There are great restaurants down in Aspen town for fish – and really, already relaxing on Aspen’s favourite mountain at its famous Cloud 9, there’s no need for more of a show.
As lunch wore on, music and dancing started – European-apres bound. My cue to head down to base (I mentioned in Day 1 blog I was doing Aspen on a sort of budget).
The Base of Highlands’ game is strong.
It’s a smooth run into Highlands and onto the slopes. I parked in the underground car park for $15 and took the elevator up to the slick base station. Arriving in the morning there are coffee stations just before you step onto the snow. Suncream and cold water, too.
These small concessions go a very long way. It’s also a sun trap down in base-stat.
Facing the sun here, seemingly all day long, are two fantastic lunch/apres spots right at the base of the slope with great atmosphere. One is a bistro, the other a more relaxed pub.
Leave a ski buddy here in the sun for a few runs to yourself if you’re separating and both will be happy from the ease of an extra/skipped top to bottom.
Extra thoughts on Highlands:
I heard a handful of the slopes have a gradient of 48 degrees.
The blue trail Broadway isn’t one, but beautifully winds you down from the high Loge point, with dozens of double black routes spinning off.
Though you need to use your sense of slope pitch to find the easiest way down – the signs are confusing and could take a lower intermediate easily from the blue cruises down and off down a diamond glade.