48 Hours at Aspen Highlands

Highlands: Day 1

I inched my ski tips over the edge of Steeplechase at Aspen Highlands. One little push, and I’d be ripping turns and playing with gravity on the elevator-shaft pitch. That’s my favorite thing to do on skis. I love me some steeps. (Of course, I love me some powder, but that goes without saying.)

“I am not skiing that,” my daughter announced. “No way.”

My husband, Jeff, and my 18-year-old son, Quinn, looked over the edge. The snow looked enticingly creamy. The pitch, steep. They exchanged a look, salivating ever so slightly.

“Okay, fine,” I said, martyred. “I’ll take Anya on the groomers, we’ll meet you later.”

“I’m wearing fuzzy blue lynx ears. Where do you think I’m going to want to ski?”
Spoiler alert: Not Highland Bowl.

As they skied down the double-black-diamond slopes, Anya and I skied the blues, jumping in and out of the bumps, but mostly scribing arcs in soft corduroy on trails like Broadway and Meadows. We took turns leading and following. I took lots of pictures that she refused to smile for. (“Enough, Mom. Let’s go!”)

On the chair, we chatted and took selfies. From the top of Cloud Nine, we made lazy turns down Grand Prix and Red Onion. I never knew how many blue groomers there are at Highlands. Every time I’ve skied at the mountain, it’s always been about hiking and skiing Highland Bowl and the steeps off the Deep Temerity and Loge Peak lifts.

After a few runs and some deep Lamaze breathing, I settled into the realization that sometimes skiing isn’t all about the terrain. It’s about the company. My little chickens will be flying the coop before I know it. My son is heading off to college next year, and his younger brother just started high school (he was at Highlands for a Super G race, which we had come to watch). In two shakes of a lamb’s tail, he’ll be a high school senior, too.

Snuggling on the chairlift–this I like.

Time flies, as everyone tells you but you don’t believe until the college acceptance letters start filling up the mailbox. I know I need to celebrate these precious moments on skis with my kids. My daughter, even though she has entered the ranks of sassy middle-school teenagers, still loves to wear furry ears on her helmet and snuggle on the chair. Thankfully, she’s still a kid.

A kid who sometimes gets pooped.

Highlands: Day 2

The next day, Anya said she was too tired to ski. Despite my cajoling, she wanted to take the day off, do some homework (read: watch YouTube crafting videos) and eat cheeseballs in the lodge next to the stone fireplace. That meant Jeff, Quinn, and I were free to hoof it up the Bowl. We made a beeline for the Loge Peak chair, but when we got to the top, it was cold, the wind was howling, and it was snowing sideways. Highland Peak was barely discernable through the fog.

“I don’t know if today is the best day to hike the Bowl,” I said, feeling a little bit wimpy.

“We are not not hiking the Bowl,” said Quinn (with the same emphasis my daughter had used the day prior about not skiing Steeplechase).

So, that was that. We caught a ride on the open-air snowcat, which probably shaved 15 minutes off the hiking time. Then we marched up. We all had ski- and snowboard-carrying packs filled with snacks, water, and handwarmers. (The last time I’d hiked the Bowl with Quinn, we had gone unprepared. Read that story here and an accompanying story on gear for hiking Highland Bowl here.)

Quinn had on my old Patrol Pack from The North Face, which in another lifetime, I’d used for ski-touring in Val d’Isere and heli-skiing in Valdez. The pack is literally older than he is.

This time, I had a brand-new Sweet Protection Switcher helmet with 22 adjustable vents, which proved to be key for hiking. I opened the vents so my head didn’t get too hot on the way up, and then for the descent, I closed them up again.

My son wore my old The North Face Patrol Pack, which is literally older than he is.

At the top, the mountain was seriously socked in. The first dozen turns gave me vertigo.

Jeff called back to me, “Watch out for the….,”

But his warning was lost in the wind. I tripped right over a wind lip and face planted. Not the best start. But once we got down to the trees, it was pure Highland magic. We leapfrogged past one another through the fluff. When we stopped in the woods to regroup, the snow was coming down so hard it felt as if we were inside a snow-globe and someone had just given it a good shake.

The woods in Highland Bowl felt like the inside of a snowglobe.

Just like the day before, when I embraced the moments spent skiing the groomers with my daughter, I relished the quality time with Quinn. It brought me big-time joy to be plunging down vertiginous slopes with my teenaged son. There in the woods, as we caught our breath, I turned to him and told him that I loved him.

“I love you, too, Mom,” he said breezily. Then he skied off, dropping off a small boulder and hooting, the straps of my old pack fluttering behind him like ribbons. 


  1. Just the best Helen! All choked up dammit. Thank you for the best message, too fleeting these moments. At least we’ll still have grownup steeps when this parenting biz wraps up. Plan to take a few runs with you!!

    • Helen Olsson says

      They are fleeting indeed. Let’s ski when the kids are gone. We’ll fill up the loneliness with steeps and pow.

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