Blogsters: Aspen area guide Ron Rash (part owner of Aspen Alpine Guides) is helping get me off the keyboard (and out in the backcountry) every so often by contributing a newpaper column style guest blog. Here is his first.
Boot Packing the Bowl – by Ron Rash
A few days ago I filled out the liability releases for boot packing Aspen Highlands ski area. Boot packing ski resort slopes was fairly common decades ago, but not many resorts still allow you to do something like this; hike steep slopes to pay for your season pass.
Last year was the first I participated, and I thoroughly enjoyed the activity. Actually, to be truthful Iâ€™m ecstatic about getting paid to do something in the off season that I might do in some form anyway to maintain my fitness.
So starting around November 1st I’ll be meeting members of Highlands Ski Patrol at the base to take the lifts up and then walk out somewhere in to the Bowl to start packing. The day starts at 8 and goes till 4:30. We will walk side by side down sections of slope anywhere from 200-400 feet long. On the uptrack we hike single file. On steeper exposed sections we’ll use climbing harnesses and be rigged to a rope. Years ago the patrol tried sending their ragtag crowd of boot packers down one of the steeper slopes — with no ropes. After a few took slides for life, ropes were employed. That’s how steep Highland Bowl is.
Its truly amazing in this day and age that simply walking the slopes is still the best and cheapest method for stabilizing steep terrain.
By bootpacking those first snowfalls, the snowpack is set up for an entire season of stabilization that’s done by ski cutting the slopes, using hand charges, or simply skiing the slope. All depending on new snow accumulations and wind deposition.
The formula is simple: When the first snows of the season fall and before we get a lot of layering and slab development in the snowpack, the terrain is bootpacked. The hardest part is not walking uphill — it’s walking downhill — or I should say stomping (not walking) through any existing layers and getting as close to the ground as possible. Doing it right can be quite strenuous. Hence the workout.
I carry a 30-liter Speed pack from Black Diamond along with beacon, probe, and shovel. In my pack I carry extra base layers, extra gloves, mittens, goggles, neck gaiter, and a down jacket for the lunch break. Of course you need skis or snowboard to get around when you’re not on foot, and it’s a good idea to have climbing skins for the initial approach.
Last fall when I first showed up for bootpacking I brought some fancy gaiters to keep the snow out of my boots. The patrollers quickly turned me on to using duct tape as the closure between ski pant and boot. It works splendidly over all other methods. I also bring a lot of food. Iâ€™m snacking on Snickers and Peanut M&Ms all day long plus a couple of sandwiches at lunch. I bring 2 liters of herbal tea thatâ€™s full of honey and vitamin-C.
The veterans of the Highlandâ€™s Bowl walk will tell you, with good prudence, that this is not a marathon and to pace yourself. The heck with prudence — this is flat out training for backcountry skiing and other winter fun. So I try to go as hard as possible on each lap. Sure, I’ll never be as fast as some of our local “human lungs.” But it can be a long winter guiding season and I want to get in as good a shape as I possibly can. Works for me.
If you’re in the Aspen area and want the ultimate workout, a season pass, and the perfect oportunity to scope all the best powder lines, call Aspen Highlands (970-925-1220). See you up there!
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.