Some call it snowboarding, some call it hell, others consider it a rite of passage. Whatever it means to you to earn your turns, if you’ve got the chops for the ride down, you need to hike Highland Bowl at least once. I’m not going to say it was spiritual but it is definitely worth it.
Highland Bowl isn’t that hard of a hike all things considered. You only gain a few hundred feet and it’s roughly a 40 to 60 minute hike. However this is the safest back country you will ever get. It’s easily accessible, avalanche mitigated, and patrolled in case you break yourself off.
If you want to go hike the bowl, get good rest the night before, eat well, and take some water with you and you will be fine. The whole way up is boot packed so you don’t need snow shoes or skins. Though there is a skin track on the way up if you have the equipment for it.
As you walk up in a line of people, you realize it isn’t true back country. However you also get a greater sense of comradery as you all struggle together. Make sure you keep your footing as both sides of the ridge in places are legitimate no fall zones. The picture above is about the only time I felt safe taking my phone out while walking in order to snap a photo.
Highland Bowl ain’t no joke. You’ve got to be a solid rider to make it down safely and have fun. It actually took my second lap down and a tip from another instructor before it became as fun as it could be for me. Depending on which drop you take, you will wind up over 40 degrees steep. Ever reached back and touched the mountain behind you while standing up? Yeah, it’s like that.
There are some tricks to finding fresh powder here. However it can even days after a storm. It is a bowl so it collects wind blown snow, but it is heavily trafficked so you have to still be willing to go off the beaten path. Go to the top for the experience and photo opportunities, but keep in mind that the best lines aren’t off the summit. Mostly because that’s where everyone rides. I won’t tell you where to go, but explore the area for the best lines. If you see a line that looks good, scope it and drop it rather than getting greedy for the top.
Once you get off the bowl, it flattens out quite a bit. There are two main ways out that I saw. The way we rode out, there are walls on both sides for drops, hips, and lips. If you’re creative and like to jump, you can do lots of it here. Jump over trees, off of rocks, or just push piles. Though your mogul game probably needs to be on point as we were constantly landing in them.
The riding isn’t the only reward here. You also get some of the most epic views attainable. You also get bragging rights with your friends back home. How many of them have been down something this steep before? You also get the satisfaction of being able to earn your turns in avalanche terrain without needing back country gear. So long as you trust your riding ability and don’t just make safety turns, you will become a much better big mountain rider. Sure it isn’t pure back country, but it’s still the same quality of riding. This journey will be what you make of it. If you have the legs and lungs, it can even be done multiple times a day.
If you’re ever in Aspen, grab your buddies and go for the hike. Even if we cheat to get there, it’s still earning your turns. There is something gratifying about standing atop a mountain without sign of a chairlift and I urge you to give it a try.