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 wind-loading 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 Aspen Highlands and avid Aspen Highlands skier.

Lower part of Aspen Highlands
Lower part of Aspen Highlands


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.

Powder Day at Aspen Highlands
Shredding the powder at Aspen Highlands

Then ...

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.

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.

Finally ...

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.

Powder Day at Aspen Highlands
Aspen Highlands Powder Day

About the Author

Catherine Lutz 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.