Hiking Highlands Bowl
One of the best locations for skiing steep terrain in bounds with good snow, and the bonus of a high mountain experience, is Highlands Bowl at the Aspen Highlands ski area. Known simply as the ‘Bowl’, it’s also a good workout. A mandatory 750 foot hike up the ridge to the summit of 12,381 foot Highland Peak is required to reach the top of the Bowl. The first day after yet another (yeah go Ullr!) big storm cleared out of the Colorado mountains, Chad and I headed up to Highlands for fun skiing and to work off some of the holiday excess.
The Bowl can be a popular destination with a long line of hikers strung out along the ridge racing to get the goods. A single-track boot pack provides few opportunities to pass making the hike slow going. This day it was relatively quiet and I took the opportunity to take it slow myself. Sparkling ice particles floated in the air and the fresh snow squeaked and creaked under foot as we marched upwards under bluebird skies. Between the huffing and puffing, and with a quick look around, one could observe the significant avalanche activity following the recent storms. Highlands Bowl itself is major avalanche terrain and the ski patrol works hard to ensure its safety for skiers. At times we walked over snow blackened with the residue of explosives from their control work. After about 40 minutes we arrived at the summit, prayer flags fluttering in the cold wind. The 360 degree views north to the Flattops, east to the Sawatch and south, close and deep into the Elks, were stupendous. Highland Peak provides a direct view up Maroon Creek to the deadly Bells and Pyramid Peak anchored at the end of the valley.
After taking in the scenery, we launched into the east side of the bowl and skied chopped, fresh powder through the glades of the North Woods. The 3,000 feet descent brought us to the base of the Deep Temerity lift and we signed on for another lap. Second time around we rode the snow cat a short ways up. Although it doesn’t save much time on the hike the line was non existent and therefore hard to pass up given our leisurely pace of the day.
The ridge was deserted on our final climb. The sun hung low in the sky casting the bowl into shadow for the descent. This time I skied the center of the Bowl and tried to stop as little as possible. Quads screaming for relief coincided with the closure of the lifts, giving us good reason to retire to the bar. While hiking Highlands goes some way in working off the excess of Christmas, maintenance of stamina for the New Year celebrations was deemed necessary.