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One Mother of a Bowl

Over the years, Aspen Skiing Company has given us all many fabulous gifts. One of the best was the opening of the now world-famous Highland Bowl, which offers some of the West’s—and world’s—most adrenaline-pumping and pleasurable skiing. But before 1996, when this groundbreaking story was published, only the skiing cognoscenti knew of this exotic terrain. It was out of bounds to the public, not opening to them until 2002. Our longtime famous gonzo ski writer, the famed lawyer Gerry Goldstein long dreamed to ski this vertical paradise. Our-ahead-of-the-curve story took our readers on Goldstein’s fantasy adventure, providing a privileged preview of what was to come. Nowadays, anyone with a quest for adventure can ski the Bowl, but Goldstein’s first-time tale of wonder and excitement remains an exciting read.

Hiking to the top of the Bowl with the Highlands Patrol.

Daredevils are attracted to the sheerness of the Bowl.

Spotting a bighorn sheep is a treat.

Excerpted from Holiday 1996/1997. It is 8am on a Saturday morning in March 1996 at the Loge Peak patrol hut atop Aspen Highlands. Two ski patrollers are strapping uphill gear onto my skis while I try to hide mixed feelings of excitement, apprehension and anxiety about what lies ahead. After all, how many mornings do you have a chance to live out two of your fantasies at the same time: foraging the forbidden fruit of Highland Bowl’s steep and deep, while hanging with the ski patrollers who call this extreme terrain their home turf. But whatever my expectations were as I looked up at that big bowl from down below, I could never have envisioned what was in store for me at the top.

There are the stories from old-time locals about days when tours of the big bowl were part of Highland’s ski experience. Stories about a time, two decades, when skiers could only access the Bowl by small helicopter to descend faces that at times approached 45 degrees. Stories about blissful ski days on some of the steepest, most radical ski-area terrain in North America. Then there is the story about that fateful late-spring day in 1984, when all hell broke loose. Highland Bowl slid, and three Aspen ski patrollers lost their lives. The stone monument on Loge Peak, the names of the chutes in Steeplechase and the photo blow-ups of patrollers Chris Kessler, Tom Snyder and Craig Soddy all testify to their sacrifice, and the dangers that so often await anyone—even the trained professional—who ventures into such exotic and enticing places. But, for most of us, the stories end there.

Highland’s steep terrain was expanded beyond the famed chutes of Steeplechase along the northern edge of the bowl’s lower rim. From these new boundaries, you could smell the scent of acres of untracked powder in the soft folds of the bowl’s cup—once a boundless playground, now off-limits. I found myself presented with the rare opportunity to legally launch into the bliss of Highland Bowl before it opened to the public.

There it was: Highland Bowl, rising nearly 1,000 feet to unfold a panorama of steep and varied terrain—an immense basin with more than 200 acres of billowing, velvet powder; steep lines down sheer faces; and wooden glades. Its sheer beauty and massive size beckoned like a forgotten scene from the movie Lost Horizon. The sun had transformed the cornice of overhanging snow into a translucent crown, radiating like a glowing string of jewels, circumscribing the rim of this mother of a bowl.

Looking out over the full glory of the bowl’s expanse, you cannot help having fantasies of diving into its endless 270 degree basin, leaving long rivulets of linked turns in the untracked fresh powder. There is a kind of magnetism that draws your dreams toward the mother bowl’s outstretched arms. And there is the thought of spying your tracks from across the valley at the Sundeck on Aspen Mountain the next morning. It is by far the best skiing in Aspen, perhaps the whole country—the stuff of which dreams are made.