Last Saturday I experienced the Highland Bowl and the infamous Cloud Nine restaurant as if for the first time, through the eyes of two new friends I met on the chairlift.
On yet another absolutely gorgeous spring-like day I closed up my computer and drove up to Aspen, the bowl was calling. It was to be my third day in a row of hiking it solo and so when I met Bob and Chris on the Loge chairlift, two very entertaining professionals from Ohio enjoying their last day of their annual ski trip, I joined them to experience their first bowl encounter before they went home to their real world where Bob has successfully completed over 600+ executive and Board searches for global money centers and Chris creates chemical blends for a chemical company.
One of the many reasons I live here is that I love small town living where everybody knows your name. It gives me a sense of comfort to know that we locals for the most part are all looking after one another, but for me it’s important to not get too comfortable with that and to expand my horizons and meet the incredible people that come through here whenever given the chance. Having a lifestyle blog provides this outlet for me and whenever the opportunity arises it is a favorite past time to meet adventurous travelers and experience Aspen through their eyes, and also add to their experience by bringing them into my world.
While waiting for the snowcat to arrive, that would eliminate about one-third of the hike, I pointed up to what at first glance might give one the false hope that there is a people mover taking skiers up to the peak, but as the eyes focus in it becomes apparent that the black moving line is the procession of hikers booting their way up the 782-foot vertical spine of the bowl that leads to 250 acres of some of the best in-bound big mountain skiing in the country. Bob and Chris seemed to be able to stomach that it would take them approximately 40 minutes to reach the 12,392-foot summit – It didn’t occur to me to mention that once at the summit, there was no hiking back down.
After unloading from the cat I suggested that Bob and Chris not wait for me to strap on my skis, sometimes the hike can be a bit humbling for first timers and so I like to hang back. Off they trudged, throwing their own skis over their shoulders – had I noticed earlier that they didn’t have straps to carry their skis on their backs I would have directed them to the ski patrol shack where they sell straps to those who would prefer to forgo the hike than huff their skis on their shoulders the entire way up. Not Bob and Chris though, their minds were already made up and they were ready to go.
Before the final hump we reconvened. Bob and Chris were exhilarated (as you’ll see in the video) but when we arrived at the summit the temperament changed when Bob, in complete awe of the majestic views of Castle Creek, Aspen Mountain and the 14,000 foot Maroon Bells, looked past the boundary line into the steep and deeps of the backcountry and became as frozen as the Abominable Snowman. “THAT’S WHERE WE’RE GOING?” he exclaimed, following with a firm statement that he was NOT about to ski that and proceeded to exit stage left and hike back down against the stream of hikers hiking up. I never really thought about it before but there are no signs stating that once you commit to start hiking, you are committed for the long haul and I can only imagine that fear roll in like a ten foot wave you weren’t expecting. I tried to tell him that where I was going to take them skiing down was far more gentler than the terrain they were looking at but he was already gone…solid gone. Leaning into Chris I suggested that he go talk to his friend, “You mean, talk him off the ledge?” Chris replied, “Nahhh, he’ll stop eventually.” Not wanting Bob to get down too far before he came to his senses, I asked a ski instructor to please redirect my new friend’s intention – and that he gently did, coaxing Bob back to the top.
We began our descent and slowly but surely worked our way down into North Woods in search of the gentlest terrain with promises of beer in the foreseeable future. Bob has torn cartilage in his knee and was preferring his earlier groomed runs to this steep and bumpy terrain.
When we were finished I stated that it was time for the party and we skied down to Cloud 9, the best place to Apres-Ski in Aspen, that is if you don’t mind skiing down to the bottom in a champagne-soaked inebriated state. We began with a Charcuterie plate and Bob treated us to a couple of bottles of nice Pinot Noir in celebration of new friends and the amazing things that happen when one challenges oneself. And, yes, the snack transitioned into dancing on chairs and getting soaked by endlessly flowing, and spouting, bottles of Champagne and beautiful woman flocking like the Salmon of Capistrano.
It was a day to remember and even though Bob will not have that iconic congratulatory photo of his standing proud at the peak amongst Tibetan prayer flags and a magnificent backdrop of mountain peaks to show to his friends to let them know what he conquered that day, that’s ok, he doesn’t need a photograph to remind him of what he accomplished, the memory will be in embedded in his mind forever to summon forth the next time he needs to choose whether to take the challenge or go for the easier, more groomed route (and of course, he can always show them the video).