Hiking to ski at Highlands

The last of the four mountains to be folded into the Aspen Skiing Company’s portfolio (in the mid-’90s), Aspen Highlands retains a more independent, local, and rugged feel than the other three. Given the fame of the hike-to, double-black-diamond terrain of Highland Bowl and the lack of any green runs, “family friendly” doesn’t necessarily come to mind when describing this mountain. But families that thrive on discovery and adventure, and can appreciate Highlands’ local flavor, are sure to bank some memorable experiences here.

“Our ski school encourages skiing in the trees, making your paths, and learning how to read the mountain,” says Olga Lawson, private lessons coordinator at Aspen Highlands. Because of the mountain’s more advanced terrain, kids must be at least intermediate-level skiers or riders to take group lessons here.

Parent Tip: 
“Never make little kids carry their stuff through the parking lot. Gear is heavy for them, and it’s hard walking in ski boots. Taking kids skiing is not the place to teach life lessons; your job is to teach them how to have fun on the ski hill.” —Steve Marolt

The kids’ map to the Aspen/Snowmass ski areas shows just a few designated kids’ trails on Highlands, but Lawson can rattle off about 10. One fun route she recommends starts from the mid-mountain Merry-Go-Round restaurant (an ideal central meeting spot), encompasses the Grouse Grove tree trail, then takes riders through colorfully descriptive features, such as Baby Beluga, Humpabeluga, and the Magic Chute. “It’s easy blue bumps and an intro to jumps and skiing in the trees but in a safe, cautious way,” she says.

Ask your kids to lead you to Chix Coop (beware the jump called Lose Your Lunch), where an old chairlift hangs from a tree and affords jaw-dropping views of Pyramid Peak.

A cool family adventure for advanced skiers: find Highlands’ seven bowls—bonus points if everyone skis them all. The pinnacle, Highland Bowl, has heaps of extreme terrain. If you’re up for the ultimate challenge of hiking and skiing the bowl, be prepared: Stop by ski patrol headquarters on Loge Peak to get the lowdown on conditions and buy special straps to carry your skis or board. Or go with a pro—Highlands instructors are often sought out more as guides, tapped for their knowledge of the mountain, where the good snow is, and its secret stashes. Once you get to the bowl’s 12,392-foot summit, it’ll make for one impressive family holiday card photo.

Where you’ll find local parents: celebrating a kid’s first Bowl hike with snacks and high fives at the top; cheering on young racers during competitions on Thunderbowl

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