Bumps in the road to Aspen’s Bells
Vail, CO Colorado
ASPEN, Colorado ” I’ve seen the Maroon Bells in their winter glory just once ” when I was too stupid to know better.
It was in the mid-’90s ” my first winter in Aspen ” and I had no ski pass, or alpine skis for that matter, so I had plenty of time for alternate wintertime pursuits. I drove up to the Maroon Creek Road closure at T-Lazy-Seven Ranch and walked up the snowpacked road to Maroon Lake, ate lunch in the stillness of the deserted, frozen lake and the Bells, gleaming white in the sunshine, then walked all the way back. I’m guessing it was 12 miles or so, round trip.
I remember crossing through one avalanche path that had been plowed open through debris that towered over my head. A newcomer, I don’t remember thinking much about avalanches other than admiring the aftermath of that particular slide.
I tried skiing up there last season, but turned around after the first mile, when I reached the sign forbidding T-Lazy-Seven guests and employees from going farther because of avalanche danger.
The same sign was there when I returned with a friend on Monday. The area snowpack had stabilized considerably though, according to the avalanche reports I’d been consulting daily, and we continued on.
We skied upward, wisps of snow blowing off imposing Pyramid Peak in front of us, and were nearly to the split of the East and West Maroon valleys, where the road makes a sharp turn and the Bells come into view for the first time, when we chickened out.
We’d already skied over numerous chutes that had slid previously ” piles of debris sculpted into soft mounds by more recent snows ” but we couldn’t help wonder if sunshine and warming temperatures would release yet more snow somewhere far above us. In all likelihood, it wouldn’t, but we turned around anyway.
After crossing one huge debris pile, I gazed upward at the bending path of the slide. Far away, starkly white against the blue sky, was a cornice of snow overhanging the top of the chute, just waiting to give way.
Thankfully, it didn’t.
The first mile of Maroon Creek Road beyond T-Lazy-Seven Ranch is groomed for classic and skate-style cross country skiing. Beyond that, the road is packed by skiers and snowmobilers, but ungroomed. Wider, touring skis make for an easier ski up the valley.
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VAIL — The lift operator in the maze at Vail Village’s Gondola One tilts his head back and hollers: “Masks up please!”