Oakley Hits Highland Bowls


We woke up on day three of the Oakley Snow Product Shoot in Aspen with a mission to hit up Aspen Highlands gnarly fun early season steeps and deeps. The crew assigned to this morning of powder chasing was top backcountry and big air crusher Pep Fujas, Olympian and Winter X medallist JJ Thomas, destroyer of all snow conditions Zach Leach, Sports Marketing Ski Manager Greg Strokes, and Colorado Sales Guru Eric Warble.

JJ and I woke up with a little of last night’s activities still lingering on our faces and breath. We stumbled to the kitchen made some coffee, double checked with Strokes, Pep, and Leach that everyone was set to go and we rolled out the door. The Oakley house being located at the base of Aspen Highlands made our hike to meet up with our guide pretty convenient. Personally, I had been dying to shred Highlands with my last experience being the 2005 Winter X Games in which I hiked the bowls to ride freshies all day.

Anyway, we met the head guy at Highlands in the patrol room – Mack. Who is the man, and got us hooked up with Chris, a local that Warble had known for years. Stoked to be heading up with a well-versed local, we all rapped about the current conditions, ensuing snow and high winds. Once we reached the top we all agreed to hike the bowls without taking a single run… which in hindsight seemed really funny. On the ridiculously long chairlift ride, JJ and I noticed the insane amounts of untracked powder on the freaking trails, never mind the glades. But there we were agreeing to hike to G5 the farthest dropping point on the Highland Bowls.

So before we made our fun adventure to the top, we stopped into the Patrol Hut and grabbed some homemade cookies – which Leach thoroughly enjoyed and much needed H2O. Leach and I peeped the map to check out our fun lines ahead, while Strokes and Warble asked JJ for the third time if he was stoked for the hike. To which JJ asked me if I was stoked, I thought about this and stated I was not stoked, but was excited to see what our adventure would provide us.

As we set out on foot JJ and I noticed early into the hike that the bowls appeared to be already tracked. Not wanting to be the bearers of bad news we kept quiet as Leach, Strokes, and Chris forged forward with relentless pursuit. As we neared what would be the halfway point I put my camera bag down for a second to watch JJ step up and offer to carry it. JJ and I joked about the hike rivaling that of Everest with the never-ending descent. Honestly, the second half of the hike is nothing but straight up and pretty gnarly with high winds testing your balance along the cliffs edge.

We inched our way to the top, and I must admit I fell behind as the rest charged forward, and Warble took the camera bag for the last leg. Upon reaching the top the wind was truly howling and snow was flying everywhere, I snapped off a few group and individual shots as Chris told stories of past hikers dying or falling out of bounds, basically real up beat stuff.

Finally we gathered up our gear, wait check that, I gathered up my camera equipment and the guys strapped in and took off, disappearing into the white abyss. As I made my first turn, I sank into the powder and smiled, yes this is what I had hiked Everest, excuse me Highlands’ Bowl for!!

Throughout our ride down we found a few good spots to set up and snap a photo or two. The best being Leach’s powder toss on me and all my gear – took about twenty minutes to clean up, but well worth it, then there was Pep’s tight powder turn, and JJ’s tree air
(see photo gallery).

In ending the best part of the run, was when we called the photo shoot a done deal and took off into the run out of G5, which happened to be a perfect gully that road like a pipe back in the mid 90s. Slashing and airing my way down, I realized what is really great about snowboarding after all these years was not the amazing opportunity to ride with the world’s best, but finding that fun part of a run with no cameras or stopping can provide = true freeriding bliss.

Big ups to everyone in making an early season backcountry run into a fun time, but honestly it was much better two days later when Dave Lehl and I charged it after another 20” had fallen into the bowls.We were both proud to state not one photo was snapped (Dave is the senior staff photographer for Future Snowboarding Magazine).