Boot Packing the Bowl — Guest Blog by Ron Rash

Post by blogger | November 2, 2007      

Blogsters: Aspen area guide Ron Rash (part owner of Aspen Alpine Guides) is helping get me off the keyboard (and out in the backcountry) every so often by contributing a newpaper column style guest blog. Here is his first.

Boot Packing the Bowl – by Ron Rash

A few days ago I filled out the liability releases for boot packing Aspen Highlands ski area. Boot packing ski resort slopes was fairly common decades ago, but not many resorts still allow you to do something like this; hike steep slopes to pay for your season pass.

Highland bowl inbounds backcountry skiing.
Ron’s gym.

Last year was the first I participated, and I thoroughly enjoyed the activity. Actually, to be truthful I’m ecstatic about getting paid to do something in the off season that I might do in some form anyway to maintain my fitness.

So starting around November 1st I’ll be meeting members of Highlands Ski Patrol at the base to take the lifts up and then walk out somewhere in to the Bowl to start packing. The day starts at 8 and goes till 4:30. We will walk side by side down sections of slope anywhere from 200-400 feet long. On the uptrack we hike single file. On steeper exposed sections we’ll use climbing harnesses and be rigged to a rope. Years ago the patrol tried sending their ragtag crowd of boot packers down one of the steeper slopes — with no ropes. After a few took slides for life, ropes were employed. That’s how steep Highland Bowl is.

Its truly amazing in this day and age that simply walking the slopes is still the best and cheapest method for stabilizing steep terrain.

By bootpacking those first snowfalls, the snowpack is set up for an entire season of stabilization that’s done by ski cutting the slopes, using hand charges, or simply skiing the slope. All depending on new snow accumulations and wind deposition.

The formula is simple: When the first snows of the season fall and before we get a lot of layering and slab development in the snowpack, the terrain is bootpacked. The hardest part is not walking uphill — it’s walking downhill — or I should say stomping (not walking) through any existing layers and getting as close to the ground as possible. Doing it right can be quite strenuous. Hence the workout.

I carry a 30-liter Speed pack from Black Diamond along with beacon, probe, and shovel. In my pack I carry extra base layers, extra gloves, mittens, goggles, neck gaiter, and a down jacket for the lunch break. Of course you need skis or snowboard to get around when you’re not on foot, and it’s a good idea to have climbing skins for the initial approach.

Last fall when I first showed up for bootpacking I brought some fancy gaiters to keep the snow out of my boots. The patrollers quickly turned me on to using duct tape as the closure between ski pant and boot. It works splendidly over all other methods. I also bring a lot of food. I’m snacking on Snickers and Peanut M&Ms all day long plus a couple of sandwiches at lunch. I bring 2 liters of herbal tea that’s full of honey and vitamin-C.

The veterans of the Highland’s Bowl walk will tell you, with good prudence, that this is not a marathon and to pace yourself. The heck with prudence — this is flat out training for backcountry skiing and other winter fun. So I try to go as hard as possible on each lap. Sure, I’ll never be as fast as some of our local “human lungs.” But it can be a long winter guiding season and I want to get in as good a shape as I possibly can. Works for me.

If you’re in the Aspen area and want the ultimate workout, a season pass, and the perfect oportunity to scope all the best powder lines, call Aspen Highlands (970-925-1220). See you up there!



5 Responses to “Boot Packing the Bowl — Guest Blog by Ron Rash”

  1. Kydan November 2nd, 2007 10:06 am


    I have always wanted to do this. To do something like that, meet alot of similar people and get to play on the mountain all day exercising to get yourself a season pass is nothing short of amazing. Unfortunatly, I live in Utah, and as far as I know, none of the resorts practice such a thing. Do you know of any way to work for a pass instead of paying half the equity of my car for one? As a poor College student who’s season is only going to last until feburary, its hard to justify the price.



  2. Danny B. November 2nd, 2007 10:58 am

    As a newcomer to these mountains I’m psyched for an opportunity to get some great pre-season excercise and cut down on (high) pass costs. This seems like a very cool program that benefits everybody. Thanks for the gear tips, see you out there!

    PS: How bad does the approach and getting around between packing beat on your skis? Are we talking total destruction, or just character building wear and tear? I know rock boards are recommended but I don’t have that luxury at the moment.

  3. Eyesack November 2nd, 2007 1:50 pm

    I have boot-packed times in the past. I noticed its harder on your pants than it is on your skis. The first time I boot-packed it cut up the insides of my pants. My skis fared much better I was walking on some rocks but you are not skiing over them, with all the energy that you build up falling down the hill. I don’t recommend new skis because you are going to be walking on some rocks, the biggest thing I would recommend is skinny skis. The fat ones get a lot of snow on the tops of them that you have to pick up with every step.

    I know that Silverton Mountain does boot-packing for day lift tickets during a couple weekends in early season. I also worked at a Summit resort for a pass during the fall and spring doing trail maintenance. If I were you Kydan I would call up some of the smaller resorts and ask them what you can do to get a pass, I have found that the smaller places are much more willing to give you a pass for work than the big places.

  4. Ron Rash November 2nd, 2007 5:14 pm

    Danny B,

    It all depends on how careful you are with equipment. With that being said yes bring rock skis and even old boots. You will tear the heck out of your equipment unless of course it starts dumping tons of snow.

    Ron Rash

  5. steve seckinger November 2nd, 2007 8:47 pm

    I can’t imagine the mob scene if Alta offered this same type of program, but then again, the weekend of 10/20 accomplished pretty much the same effect.

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