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That surge of joy in a ski bum’s heart that comes when your kid is able to ski or ride with you most anywhere on the mountain—it’s a milestone for many a ski family. But each mountain is different—what may be a black run at one ski area could be a blue at another—so play it smart and come up with a game plan. Read on for our suggestions of where to head to first with your advanced to expert young skier and—if he or she is skiing or riding that terrain well and having fun—where to go next.
Start: Has your child mastered steep blues like the first part of Creekside, under the Two Creeks lift, or the upper part of Green Cabin, off the High Alpine lift? It’s time to head for the black runs that fan out from the top of Sam’s Knob, which provide some challenging descents with a couple of advantages for those new to Snowmass’s expert terrain: most of them are wide open and they’re relatively short. From the top of the Village Express or Sam’s Knob lifts, head down Banzai Ridge and hit Fast Draw, the shortest of the runs. If all goes well (e.g., your daughter or son makes strong parallel turns with no defensive wedging on steeper pitches), then try Promenade, Zugspitze, and Slot, which are all progressively longer.
Then: Camp 3 is a short but precipitous black run near the bottom of the Sheer Bliss lift that will test your kid’s mettle while letting you see how he handles sticking near the fall line on really steep terrain. Next up try KT Gully, higher up off Sheer Bliss; it’s a fun chute that’s not as intimidating as AMF or Gowdy’s farther up the mountain.
Ready for: Snowmass’s signature expert terrain encompasses the runs in Hanging Valley (also known collectively as the Wall). The most efficient way to get there requires a five- to ten-minute traverse and skis-over-the-shoulder hike from the top of the High Alpine lift; if your child really balks at hiking, ski High Pass over from the top of the Cirque poma. For an intro to the Wall’s runs, start on the wide-open Headwall, then stay slightly right to catch Wall One or Wall Two, which are also open slopes that funnel into trees in the last section. Alternatively, when there’s ample snow, the Cirque Headwall and East Wall provide plummeting, above-treeline runs.
Start: Jack of Hearts, a short, moguled blue run near the bottom of Sneaky’s on the Big Burn, is a great place to ease back into skiing bumps and for your child to increase her speed and direct line through them. From there, step it up to longer blue runs like Timberline or Wineskin, also on the Burn.
Then: Steeper bumps, and many more of them, await on Showcase and Reidar’s; access both from the High Alpine chair. Lap these a few times and you’ll soon see what sort of stamina your kid—and you—have in your legs. Need a break? High Alpine restaurant is conveniently located at the bottom of these runs.
Ready for: The ultimate test of continuous mogul skiing at Snowmass? Powderhorn or Bearclaw, which descend some 2,400 feet from the top of Sam’s Knob to the bottom of Campground. Get ready for twists and turns, and double fall lines. If it hasn’t snowed in a few days, the bumps here get especially big and challenging. Bonus: this part of the mountain typically sees less skier traffic. As you and your young ace rest your quads on the lift ride up, you may understand why.
Start: Widely spaced trees (relatively speaking) and a pitch that’s not too steep make Powerline Glades on the Big Burn a perfect proving ground for skilled young skiers or riders; just remember to regroup frequently so nobody gets left behind. Nearby, Sneaky’s Glades, to skiers’ left of Sneaky’s run, are also low angle enough for littler rippers to get more comfortable among trees.
Then: Burnt Mountain Glades, along the ski area boundary, up the ante with steeper, longer descents. The catch: reaching them requires 10 to 15 minutes of uphill hiking from the top of Elk Camp. If your kid doesn’t embrace that extra effort, head to the Dikes off of upper Green Cabin; in this playground of varying pitches, trees, and open spots, it’s easy to pick a different line through every time.
Ready for: From the High Alpine chair, ski down the Edge to the gate accessing the steep and deep Hanging Valley Glades—ongoing clusters of trees that can hold powder for days.
As you ski or ride through with your child, take a moment to acknowledge a milestone met—your young ripper can now hang with you pretty much anywhere on the mountain.