So you’re ready to hike Highland Bowl at Aspen Highlands. Summiting at 12,392 feet above sea level (Mount Everest base camp is at 17,000 feet, so, perspective) the Bowl offers roughly 270 acres of north, northeast, east and southeast-facing terrain accessible only by snowcat, hiking or skinning. Eighteen named lines fall off along the ridge like a giant pleated skirt, all pitched 35 ̊- 48 ̊ degrees, making for some of the steepest descents in Colorado. The ascent, from the top of the Loge Peak lift to the summit, is 782 sweaty, why-am-I-doing-this, vertical feet.

Opening in its entirety during the 2002-03 season, Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol devised a unique solution to what seemed like an impossible problem. The Bowl is too steep for snowcats and without grooming, the avalanche risk is considerable. So what to do? People power! The “Boot Packers” — as they’re called—go in pre-season and pack down the early snow falls. This creates a stable base and mitigates slide potential throughout the season.

F.A.Q.s

F.A.Q.s

How Do I Get Up There?

Highland Bowl gate
Highland Bowl gate

Take Exhibition Lift, then Loge Peak Lift. At the top of Loge, you will see signs for the entrance to the Bowl. Before you start the hike, you have to schuss up a small hill. If you don’t have any way to carry your skis or board, stop by the ski patrol hut (skier’s right) and purchase some bowl straps - a convenient and lightweight way to carry your skis on your back hands-free. Ask your friendly patroller how to use them and about current conditions on the bowl.

You can either take the snow cat up 1/3 of the way (cuts about 15 minutes off your hike) when conditions permit and the cat is operating. Or just hike all the way up. There is no wrong way.

Preparing Yourself

WHAT DO YOU WEAR?

Hiking the Bowl is a unique athletic activity insofar as you should be prepared for both intense heat (generated by your body) and intense cold. Make sure to unzip anything that can be and remove layers before you start. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes and do not wear goggles. Unless it is a full-on blizzard, they will fog.

Strap those skis: Carrying skis on your shoulders is pretty miserable. Strap the skis to your back or attach to a back pack. Bowl straps are available at the Aspen Highlands patrol headquarters, make sure to swing by prior to the hike.

Face coverage: To avoid the sun and wind burn, which is a concern, wear a nice breathable neck gator. The wind usually is whipping from one side, so being able to cover just one side is nice.

Bring water. Camelbak'sare weight efficient, but just bring something.

Sunscreen is essential on a sunny day.

Lastly, skiers, unbuckle your boots while you're hiking for additional mobility (and to keep your blood flowing to your feet to keep them warm). Your feet and ankles will thank you later!
Image of what gear is suggested for hiking the Highland Bowl.
Image of what gear is suggested for hiking the Highland Bowl.

HOW MUCH TIME DOES IT TAKE?

1. Exhibition Lift + Loge Peak Lifts: 20 minutes
2. Getting straps from patrol: 5–10 minutes
3. Hiking: 30–60 minutes. Most people average 45 minutes*
4. Summit time: 10 minutes
5. Skiing / Boarding: 20 minutes
6. Deep Temerity Lift: 7 minutes
7. Ski / Board down to bottom of Exhibition Lift: 15 minutes

Expect 2 to 3 hours total.

*The record time hiking the Highland Bowl on Strava as of December 2019 is currently 14 minutes and 41 second by John Gaston.

What if You’re Scared of Heights?

If you are very scared of heights, this may not be a great activity for you as the ridge of the bowl gets quite narrow in places. Even for those who are good with heights, it can feel rather harrowing when the wind is howling.

How Hard is the Going Down Part?

It’s very, very steep and sometimes the conditions can be pretty challenging. If you aren’t able to make it down a double black diamond, you are probably not ready yet.

The Experience

How Should I Pace Myself?

The mountain tends to pace most people all by itself, but definitely no need to sprint at the beginning and then tucker out on Heartbreak Hill. If for some reason, you really can’t make it to the top, you can pretty much ski off from any point along the ridge.

Also, never a bad idea to put the Highlands Patrol phone number in your phone in case something goes wrong. 970-544-3052

Insider Tip: Don’t Let Heartbreak Hill Break You

About 2/3 thirds of the way in, some people may feel like they have really made a terrible mistake, but fear not. You are on Heartbreak Hill, a long uninterrupted pitch that seems to go on forever. It does not. You just have to slog on and when you reach a nice bit of flat at the end, you are not exactly done, but you have definitely past the hardest part and it’s just another few minutes before you summit.

Is There Any Etiquette I Should Know About?

Locals may be trying to squeeze in a lap before they are due at work. Others are trying for a PR (Personal Record). Either way, be mindful of people you are surpassing or others trying to pass you. When passing, you should create a passing lane to the side and carry on at your own pace while respecting other hikers. When stopping to rest, make sure you simply step to the side when comfortable at a reasonable distance from the line of traffic.

What am I looking at from the summit?

Drink in that views of the Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak to the South, Red Mountain to the North and Aspen Mountain to the East.

The Terrain

Highland Bowl Overview
Highland Bowl Overview

Where do I ski/ride?

Be One and the Hot Y’s are the some of the steepest lines in the bowl with the steepest pitch reaching 45 and 48 degrees. Drop in directly below the summit for Be One. This lower terrain is open when conditions permit. Check the Aspen Snowmass App to verify open terrain before you go and always respect ropes and barriers to terrain.

The G-Zones: 8 different north-facing lines along the skier’s right side of the bowl offer a lifetime’s worth of terrain. Ski/ride G-6 and G-8 for steep, open pitches of untracked powder on the quintessentially Aspen bluebird powder day. Work your way along the ridge on lap two where common to find untouched snow a week after storms in the trees and hidden stashes of G-2, G-3 and Child's Play.

The Runout: Once you have cleared the amphitheater, there are still lots of turns left as you make your way to the Deep Temerity Lift. Two gullies fork to three with dozens of hidden terrain gems. You may have a bunch of lactic acid coursing through your legs at this point, but grin and bare it baby!

What Should I Do After?

A bowl lap pairs exceptionally well with a Cloud Nine lunch. Reservation required. Otherwise, pizza and beer at the Ale House is a local’s favorite.

About the Author

Author David Meyer
Author David Meyer

DAVID MEYER

David Meyer is a journalist, novelist, editor and copy writer. A contributing writer to Architectural Digest, Aspen Peak Magazine, Du Jour and The Aspen Times, he specializes in art, entertainment, fashion, food and nightlife. David’s family has been in Aspen since the '40s. David moved here in 2017 from New York City and loves skiing, skinning, swimming, and tennis.

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