(Christy here) The new Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race is right around the corner, so in an attempt to scout out the complex course and get some time in our new Dynafit ski mountaineering race setups, Anda Smalls and I went out this weekend for a little familiarization.
Because the course is so big– it tags the top of all four Aspen/Snowmass ski areas– we decided it would be best to look at it over two days. Sunday we scoped out the second half of the race, the Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain leg. You can check out the entire race route on the website linked above.
We awoke to fresh powder, howling winds, and heavy falling snow. The day looked more like a Highland Bowl powder day than to be good for a ski tour, but we needed to learn the course and Anda had already arranged for the kids to be looked after for the day, so we charged ahead with Plan A (throwing in our Alpine gear in the car in case we were forced into Plan B: powder laps in the bowl).
Anda and I skinned up Aspen Highlands, to Patrol Headquarters at the top of Loge Peak, and as luck would have it, the storm began to break. Because the Highland Bowl wouldn’t open for a while we would have to skip this part of the scouting mission, which would have been really fun with all the new snow, and instead started down, excited to check out the elusive Congo Trail, new to the two of us.
We dove into Steeplechase with our skinny rando skis and super-light boots and having not yet tested our gear on steep terrain, we were both pleasantly surprised with how the equipment skied. After taking the old traverse, we stopped at what we thought might be the start of the Congo Trail and left the ski area, plunging into the snowy glades below us, ripping some amazing powder turns along the way. Following the actual trail proved to be quite easy, despite rumors of being a treacherous decent.
Finding ourselves on Castle Creek Road, we walked up a short bit to start of the Midnight Mine climb. Skinning this final ascent during the race, after coming all the way from Snowmass is going to be the grunt of the day for sure. We were happy to get to the summit of Aspen Mountain and the Sundeck, where we took a short break with some friends over a bowl of soup before skiing down to the base of the gondola, where the race will finish.
We didn’t find out until later but the actual course doesn’t head straight down Aspen Mountain but instead, in case the teams aren’t tired enough, will take skiers to the finish via Copper, Gent’s Ridge and then Jackpot.
The following day Lissa Ballinger, Anda, and I made plans to ski the first half of the race course, from Snowmass to Buttermilk. Starting at the Base Village we skinned up the trails of Snowmass to High Alpine and then skied down the Hanging Valley Wall, and then skinned up and over to Elk Camp and to the top of Burnt Mountain.
Leaving the ski area, we headed towards Buttermilk, catching some great powder turns along the way. We weren’t sure of exactly where the course will go so we just scooted around in the woods until we found the Sugar Bowls and then headed up the ridge to the top of West Buttermilk, stopping for our last transition of the day. We learned this part on the ridge was a departure from the actual race course, but we were happy to enjoy the views and Lissa’s homemade chocolate chip cookies, after which we headed down to the base of Tiehack and over the ARC bridge, where we caught the bus back to Aspen. Another amazing day of skiing from peak to peak, and all in beautiful wintery conditions!
Traversing the four ski areas is nothing new to Aspen locals. Ted an I have done it several times now as training for the Grand Traverse, one day I even tackled it solo (read story here), but not quite like this. After experiencing most of the course over TWO days, we were left with the realization that this is going to be a long one, and if it all goes well, might even be fun. Kudos to the Aspen Skiing Company, Aspen Expeditions, the Dynafit crew, and all the people involved for helping to make it happen.