Working For It

When a skiing parent’s relentless care and feeding finally pay off.

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Of the countless apprehensions that plague a new father, my greatest fear was that my children would grow up to be uninterested in adventuring outdoors with me. It was an anxiety that informed my relationship with them as they grew. So I constantly and rather aggressively mandated seasonally appropriate outdoor athletic activity—which, in the winter, meant skiing. I still act this way. I can’t help it, though my sales tactics have become more nuanced in my 13 years as a father. I’ve learned that backing off can be more effective than the hard sell. 

The bowl on a rare crowdless day.Keri Bascetta

When my new job allowed us to live for about a year in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, home to Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Sunlight ski resorts, I was giddy—mostly about Highland Bowl. 

Highland Bowl is the famous and spectacular above-treeline zone of Aspen Highlands. Spilling eastward from 12,392-foot Highland Peak, the Bowl harbors some of the state’s steepest and most thrilling inbounds terrain, on a scale that few other American resorts can match. You’ve got to hike or skin to access the best of it, an entry barrier that makes it far more special than if a lift were to dump you at the summit. The 800-vertical-foot, mile-long hike takes most people 30 to 45 minutes and is cathartic in a way that a full day of burning groomers could never be. Last winter, I became so addicted to the high of completing a full lap that the Bowl became the only thing I ever wanted to ski, as many times as I could in a day. 

I was lucky and somewhat surprised my kids put up with my obsessiveness. (My wife, who does not ski, was happy to have no part in the affair.) I of course wanted my kids to experience the Bowl and to like it, to crave it, as I did, so while my eight-year-old daughter, Mekdes, skied with her weekend-program group, I dragged my son, Luke, Bowlward. He was 12 last winter and a good sport. I couldn’t tell at first if he was humoring me or if he genuinely thought he’d have fun, but after a few weekends he realized it wasn’t something I wanted to do only once, and he learned to triumph over the despair he felt during the steepest sections of the hike.

Soon it was clear he was addicted too, and he began challenging us to see how many laps we could get in a day. Once we notched three—small potatoes compared to the daily total Aspen locals like Pete and John Gaston are capable of tallying, but a milestone for us. By season’s end, we had done four with our friends Jen and J.L.D. on a day we dubbed the Bowl-a-Thon, a casual but steady daylong push. 

Luke Bass beams during lap No. 3.Sam Bass

Before we moved to the Valley, I’d scoff at social media shots people posted of their kids hiking the Bowl, thinking they were showing off, but maybe I was just jealous. Then I became one of them, spraying my own pics of my little bootpack toughs across the socialsphere.

Of all the pictures I took of Luke, and occasionally Mek, on the ridge to the Bowl last winter, the Maroon Bells shining so spectacularly they looked like a fake backdrop, one image lingers for me. 

Luke stands to the side of the bootpack on our third lap, skis on his pack, grinning broadly—happy, excited, and exhausted—his cheeks flushed from exertion, wind, and sun. I knew how he felt, because I felt the same way, sort of like a mass of glowing gelatin. And I knew if I asked him to do another lap with me, he’d say yes.

Sam Bass is the former editor of this magazine. Normally he’s not such a sap.