Author Archives: Catherine Lutz

About Catherine Lutz

Catherine is a freelance writer and editor who is lucky enough to have Aspen/Snowmass and its amazing lifestyle offerings as her usual subject matter. Even better, she gets to enjoy the unparalleled skiing, recreation, and culture of the area, as well as raise two children here.

Some locals taking their earned turns down Highland Bowl.

To figure out where to go on a powder day at Aspen Highlands, it helps to think about weather and aspect (meaning the features of the mountain and landscape). With so many of the runs facing east or west, a lot of variables are at play: From which direction did the storm blow in? (Most come in from the west, which often means windloading on easterly aspects.) Was or is there a lot of wind? (If so, seek shelter and powder in the trees.) Was it sunny and warm the previous day? (This question is especially relevant for spring skiing.)

Here are some powder day tips from Jeff Nagel, a longtime Pro based at Highlands and avid Highlands skier.

On big powder days when it can get busy, most locals will go straight up to Steeplechase or Highland Bowl, leaving the rest of the mountain available for more leisurely exploration. The lower half of the mountain, accessible from the Thunderbowl chair, contains some great steeps and phenomenal terrain, such as the P-Chutes, Epicure, and Upper and Lower Stein.

The Deep Temerity area warrants exploration off the beaten track on a powder day. Highlands Patrol has done some selective glading over the last few years, creating areas where the trees are spaced just perfectly or where you just might stumble upon an open meadow in which you can link half a dozen fresh blissful turns. Look for some of the newer gladed areas at the top of Canopy Cruiser and looker’s left from the bottom of the Deep Temerity chairlift. Or just follow a cat track and see where it takes you — but do not pass any ropes or boundary signs.

Most people won’t even touch the Olympic Bowl area until the afternoon, as its westerly aspect makes it prone to windscouring and sunbaking. But a lot of the gullies have small, north-facing aspects that hold good, deep winter snow, and there are plenty of pockets not affected by the wind. In the lower Oly Bowl area, Jug’s Hill is often overlooked — here the terrain is mellower than up above, but still has a few steep pitches and great tree skiing.

In Steeplechase, there are lots of little secrets and shots to be found, especially on the lower portion. Don’t be afraid to get into the woods and poke around — but stay away from the gullies, which tend to get quite bumped up.

Of course we can’t talk about powder without talking about Highland Bowl. This legendary, hike-to terrain encompasses 250 acres and entails walking or skinning about 800 vertical feet to reach the 12,392-foot summit. A short snowcat ride can cut off about one-third of that, but the fact that the Bowl isn’t lift-served limits the number of skiers and riders who venture there. The north-facing G Zones, which range from wide-open G8 to the tree-covered North Woods, are known to hold the deepest and most wintry snow. But most people have “peak fever” and walk by a lot of less traveled terrain along the ridge on the way to the peak. The east-facing B Zones actually get some of the best-deposited snow, and the west-facing Y Zones — which entail the least hiking — have some of the most interesting and adventurous terrain features, with some of the least tracks. Just don’t drop in first thing in the morning after a sunny day, as it can be like frozen coral reef.

If all of the above sounds like challenging stuff, that’s because most of it is. Powder days can even out the bumps and take the chatter out of the snow, and while the double blacks can get chewed up pretty quick by local powder hounds, intermediate skiers have their pick of Highlands’ many groomers, where the sides of the runs can hold powder for hours. There’s also nothing quite like skiing the intermediate runs under the Cloud Nine chair with new snow, Gunbarrel and Dean’s. Even the lower-mountain green runs, like Apple Strudel and Red Onion, have been known to give up some face shots.

Ski school for kids at Aspen Snowmass

The practical part of preparing your child for ski school — having proper equipment and how to layer, for example — is only one aspect of it. Equally important (if not more so) is emotional preparedness, which will help the child get the most out of his or her lesson, plus provide the foundation for a long-term interest in skiing or snowboarding.

At Aspen/Snowmass, this less-tangible side of learning to ski or snowboard is at the heart of every lesson. Pros use the CAT model (which has cognitive, affective, and physical components) to help their students achieve. And the “affective” piece of the equation — the emotional aspect — “almost supersedes all other things,” says Alex Kendrick, Buttermilk Children’s Coordinator for the ski schools.
Children enjoying Aspen-Snowmass
“If a child is a very strong skier but they’re afraid or don’t feel included, it doesn’t matter what they physically can do,” says Kendrick. “We want to make sure they’re comfortable before anything else. We’re teaching people here — I call them little humans — and everyone comes to us with different needs and different experiences.”

Here are some questions to consider when enrolling your children in ski school, along with Kendrick’s tips to help them have a positive experience that can translate into a long-term affinity for the sport:

How can I, as a parent, help prepare my child emotionally for a ski or snowboard lesson?

Ask your child what they’d like to do, what their goals are (the way you ask the questions will depend on the child’s age). Ask what they’re excited about and what they’re concerned about. Understanding what the child’s expectations are can help mold the parents’ expectations.

Especially with kids who are tentative and may not want to go, it’s important to have this conversation. Tell them that this is an opportunity to learn a lot, to make new friends, or to have an instructor who can show them all the cool stuff on the mountain. Sometimes, it’s just about taking the time to introduce them to their instructor and talk to them about what they’re going to be doing that day, and who they’re going to be with.

What about at the end of the day, especially the first day? What should I talk to my child about to make sure the remainder of the lesson goes well?

As a parent, we want to ask our kids, “What did you learn today?” But typically a child will not know how to answer that; they’ll say, “Nothing.”

A good set of questions starts with, “Did you have fun?” To find out what they learned, you have to be more creative. Ask them what the best part of the day was, and what would they have changed if they could. If they say they wished they could go faster, maybe they need a higher-level lesson. But if they say they were scared or had trouble getting down the slope, maybe it’s worth talking to the instructor about whether they’re in too advanced of a class.

What can I do at the end of the lesson to best prepare us for skiing or snowboarding together as a family?

We strongly recommend that the parents talk to the children’s instructor at the end of the lesson. Ask what runs are appropriate for the family to ski together. Ask what skills they’ve worked on throughout the lesson. Then, allow your child to shine and to show off the skills he or she learned in ski school. Let them lead you down the run.

We also talk a lot about safety, so let the child tell the parents about the safety tips he or she learned as well.

Some additional tips for getting ready:

  • If you have a child who is tentative or has never experienced snowsports before, there are plenty of online opportunities to get them prepared visually before leaving home. Look at the website of the resort you’re going to; show them trail maps and photos. If they can start to see some of things they’re going to experience online, then when they arrive it won’t all be so brand-new looking.
  • Talk to your kids about what the experience is going to be like. In order to set them up for success, sometimes kids need to know in advance what it will be like to get that emotional reinforcement.
  • If possible, come out to the mountain the day before the lesson starts. This gives children the opportunity to see where they’re going to be, to see the instructors dressed in red uniforms, and to get a feel for what they’re going to be doing. For a child, information is power; it can assuage a lot of fears.
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They’re your most important piece of ski equipment, yet for many people, ski boots are a mystery. Because your footwear has so much to do with performance (the pressure your booted foot exerts controls the skis), it’s important to choose ski boots that fits properly — and be committed to a refinement process so they fit perfectly. Continue reading