“Dad, check it out,” Dade said. We had barely been off the Silver Queen Gondola long enough to snap our requisite Ski All Colorado selfie, and we certainly had no idea where we were going. “That guy’s setting up a hang glider or something.”
“Let’s take a look,” I said, and led Dade, Roan, and Tyler down the upper portion of Walsh’s run at Aspen Mountain on Sunday, March 20, 2016. Maybe 25 yards or so beyond the entrance of Walsh’s, the mountain plummets at a fairly drastic downhill angle. It plummets so drastically, in fact, that, according to the trail map, this spot is one of the area’s two paragliding launch sites.
Which is funny, because, as you can imagine, in order to properly launch a paraglider, the terrain needs to be nice and steep (so you can, you know, essentially run off a cliff), and we hadn’t even been off our first lift of the day 10 minutes.
“Nice warm-up run, Dad,” Roan said. “Hey everyone, let’s get loosened up on the trail that’s so steep more people paraglide off of it than ski it. Good one.”
“Yeah, good one, Dad,” Dade added. Tyler didn’t say anything, but I’m sure he was in agreement.
Oh well. We watched for a few minutes and then decided to go ahead and start down. Right before we turned skier’s left to join Lud’s Lane, I looked up and saw a big blue and red chute carrying a single rider across the cloudless sky and over the endless forest beyond the ski boundary.
“That’s pretty cool,” the boys all agreed. “You don’t see that every ski day.” No, you don’t. But that’s sort of the modus operandi at Aspen Mountain, better known as Ajax, reportedly after a large silver mine that brought people to this area before the advent of chairlifts.
This is a different kind of place. There’s not a single green run. Instead, countless black and double-black diamonds cascade off the spine of the mountain. They’re short and steep, quick hitters intermittently speckled with pine and aspen trees. There are plenty of blues, too, but this is not the place to perfect your pizza-pie snowplow technique. Don’t fret, though, because there is a Veuve Clicquot champagne bar at the base if you need a little high-class courage before bombing Blondie’s, Short Snort, or Jackpot. Or, I suppose, launching off of Walsh’s run.
Even without the Veuve, the boys and I handled our business. We had no agenda, so for the rest of the day, I let them lead. They picked runs that sounded good or looked good — or, sometimes, just because they were there. I followed and smiled, letting them build a big head start and then catching up.
There’s a tremendous sense of freedom in skiing unknown territory with no plan. And a splendid sense of pride in watching your kids achieve that same outdoor independence and fearlessness.