In the age of GoPros, it might seem a little stupid to ski with a Canon 5D camera system and three lenses, especially if you are shooting for yourself and not a commercial client. The excess bulk, the on and off of the backpack, switching lenses in the cold … why bother?
I’ve been a skier since I was 12, and a photographer for the last 19 years. During that whole time, I’ve lived in Colorado. And yet, up until a few weeks ago, I had never done both at the same time. I simply couldn’t bring myself to lug the camera, let alone risk crashing and falling on it. But I had an assignment to do, and without a GoPro mounted to my helmet, it was Canon 5D or Bust.
My day job is running a content strategy and development business, and in full disclosure, Aspen Snowmass is one of my clients. Among the many things I do for them, I am their food and beverage writer, and so I was visiting to cover a few noteworthy things: a chuck wagon dinner at Lynn Britt Cabin, the Mongolian BBQ at the Cliffhouse on Buttermilk, and a culinary-themed post on skiing and dining on Wednesday’s at Aspen Highlands, when they have specials and an amazing après ski scene. This latter assignment gave me the chance to test out the ski-and-shoot approach.
Fortunately, Aspen Highlands is arguably the most photogenic ski area in Colorado. Only Telluride could be in the same conversation.
I spent most of the morning exploring the groomed terrain mid-mountain, making my way immediately to the Cloud Nine lift which crests a false summit and reveals a staggering, punch-you-in-the-gut view of Pyramid Peak and Colorado’s most famous mountains, the Maroon Bells.
Off the lift sits the former ski patrol headquarters, which in 1999 was converted into the Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, one of the most raucous spots for an afternoon drink in North America. More on that later.
After shooting the restaurant and “the Bells” from a few different angles, I glided down Upper Robinson’s and found yet another pristine view of the peaks. Five Australians were trying to take a selfie, so I helped them out. I then proceeded down my only black-diamond run of the day — Robinson’s Run — where I proceeded to wipe out coming into the shadows (tip: don’t obsess on your camera backpack straps while in motion. It’s a good way to catch an edge).
After reaching the base, I headed back up the Exhibition Lift, traversed over to the Loge Peak lift, and reached the area where Aspen Highlands has earned a big-league reputation among serious skiers: the hike-in climb to Highland Bowl.
In the above photo, look closely at the ridge. You can see the die-hard skiers who make the 20- to 45-minute climb up Highland Peak where they can pick and choose from multiple steep lines down the bowl. I hadn’t done it yet, and here I was, skiing on my own, thinking about dipping my toes in the pool and going for it.
But I backed off. I’m not sure I will ever do it. Every run in Highland Bowl is rated double-black or “extreme,” with average pitches at around 40º. I just don’t ski enough to know what to do in there.
Besides, I had an assignment to cover. Over at the Merry-Go-Round, Hump Day festivities were underway. I downed a bratwurst and soaked up some rays while I made notes.
By 2pm, I made my way over to Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro where the après ski scene was in full swing. Aussies took up three tables nearby, but mostly, the scene was locals. Very wealthy locals, in some cases. I overheard one guy tell his friend that “when the economy collapsed in ’08, that’s when I bought my two jets.” (When I hang out with my buddies, I typically brag about my map reading skills, but to each their own.)
I zoned out with a glass of Beaujolais Cru and savored that view of Maroon Bells. At 35 with two kids, slowing down on the slopes is starting to feel right, even at a place with tempting black-diamond terrain like Aspen Highlands. Groomers, brats and a glass of wine is pretty good day by anyone’s measure.