WORDS & IMAGES BY IAN FOHRMAN | PRESENTED BY STRAFE OUTERWEAR & POWDER PRODUCTIONS
A swath of dark, north-facing timber near the top of Highlands peak is parted in two. A thin, treeless scar, a few car lengths wide, cuts straight up the steep fall-line. Dead center of the scar, a single line of matte black steel towers are tethered together with a thin thread of smooth braided cable that sags under its own weight.
Looking down the Deep Temerity lift line on a stormy day in January 2016.
Neither the scar nor the towers imposes much on the land. The trees on either side reach high above. Walk a couple dozen steps into the forest in either direction and you wouldn’t know they existed. Across the valley you might see the scar but not the towers. You would see the modest buildings at each end of the line but your attention would quickly be drawn away by the massive sprawling mansions littering the valley far below.
“It’s a foolish boldness to put everything on the line for some thing you believe in. That’s how this area (Aspen Highlands) got to be where it is today.”
– MAC SMITH Highlands ski patrol director
Highlands Ridge disappearing into the clouds.
The Champ, George Rodney, always making it look fun.
The Deep Temerity lift at Aspen Highlands is the first lift in our Iconic Lift series. It made the cut because of exactly where it’s placed on the mountain. Deep Temerity, or DT in local speak, rises 1700ft straight up from 9980 to 11580. Rise for run, it’s the steepest lift in our series. The terrain directly under the chair offers some of the steepest sustained turns in North America and it earns its rank for that reason alone. However, one can hardly mention DT without mentioning “The Bowl”. Highlands bowl is 250 acres of skiing heaven. It’s the obvious meeting place for locals skiing Highlands on a powder day and a bucket-list test-piece for tourists.
“The first season they put Deep Temerity in, it dramatically increased accessibility to highland bowl.”
– JOHN GASTON Strafe Co-Founder
The bowl was completely closed to skiers for 13 years following a fatal avalanche in 1984 that killed 3 patrollers in a massive 1000’ fracture and subsequent slide. After years of “beating the drum” to open the bowl, Patrol Director Mac Smith and Snow Study Supervisor O.J. Melahn were allowed to launch a detailed study of The Bowl and in 1997 they opened the northern most terrain: Y-Zones, Whip’s Veneration, and Filip’s Leap. It was a step forward but the most tantalizing high alpine and North facing terrain still remained off limits.
The Highland Bowl sign, a small but impactful piece of wood.
1976 map of proposed locations for the Deep Temerity lift.
Deep Temerity immediately changed the bowl for skiers. That thin line of cable and simply welded steel chairs adds 1000 vertical feet of skiing, more than doubling the descent. On a powder day, the bowl is undeniably one of the best places on the planet for a skier to be. Though the steep 782ft hike can occasionally be bumper to bumper with frothing skiers, the bowl naturally spreads out the traffic and even after weekend crowds there is often fresh lines to be found all week. The summit of Highlands Peak features a permanent single static chairlift hanging below a weather vain and festooned with colorful wind tattered prayer flags. It’s a sacred gathering place where locals catch up about their lives, tourists furiously document their achievement, and everyone feels the magnitude and power of the mountains.
Whit Boucher, George Rodney, Pete Gaston and Jordy Agamie near the top of Highland Bowl.
George Rodney and Jordan Agamie find powder in G Zones.
“I think the opening of the Deep Temerity lift changed a lot of people’s lives for the better.”
– JOHN GASTON Strafe Co-Founder
John and Pete Gaston take an uncommon break from hiking to enjoy the view of the Elk Mountains.
The jagged line of Highlands Ridge stretches southward from the summit. A long sharp fin of broken earth, the ridge beckons to those skilled and knowledgeable enough to read and safely navigate Colorado’s deadly snowpack. Just to the West of the ridge stands the monolithic and imposing Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells. Whether in the loudly ripping frozen winds of winter or the calm heavy air of spring, a the silent void of the universe rings through the empty air of the deep valleys on either side of the summit.
The brothers Gaston take a walk out Highland Ridge.
A playful wind lip stretches from the summit down into tree-line at the top of the G-Zones, the steepest descent on the bowl. The grade increases as you chose a line through the open pines that guard the gold. As the pitch approaches 45 degrees, the trees give way to clean chutes and the fall line beacons with 500 more feet of open, protected, nearly 50 degree pow turns. On a good day, it’s an experience that’s hard to call anything but spiritual. If nothing else, you will pump your fists, hug your friends, and have a difficult time wiping the grin off your face as you drift into almost always empty bottom coral of Deep Temerity for another lap.
George Rodney contemplates his line above Filips Leap.