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A Western Colorado Cardio Tour

Crested Butte Dave Kozlowski Crested Butte Dave Kozlowski

Get Your Legs and Heart Pumping at Aspen Highlands, Powderhorn, Telluride and Crested Butte

by Kristen Lummis,

Whether you ski for fitness or fun, or a sublime combination of the two, there are benefits to skiing hard and working your heart and legs.

First, you get more endorphins, more quickly. And thats always a good thing. Second, you get warm. On a super cold day, nothing will warm you up (nay, get you sweating) quite like hiking to the top of a mountain, or skiing a non-stop bump run. Third, you build endurance and strength, both of which make skiing more fun.

So with that pep talk, here are my favorite cardio-challenges on the west side of Colorado. Put these resorts and their signature experiences on your list, or take a week and make a tour.

Hike Highland Bowl, Aspen Highlands

Whether it’s a point of honor, or a point of pride, if youre an advanced-to-expert skier, you must hike and ski Highland Bowl. Arguably Colorados most unique hike-to experience, its a 45 minute uphill climb along a ridge to the top of 12,392 foot Highland Peak.

While you can catch a snowcat for about 20% of the hike, come prepared with a backpack to carry your skis, or buy straps from the Highlands ski patrol. Water, snacks and a camera are also essential.

Pitches in the bowl range up to 48, with an average of about 38, but there are few trees and the snow on the north and northeast aspects (from the summit over to the G chutes) is usually forgiving.

Double-Dip at Powderhorn

If you cant decide between Alpine and Nordic, and you love them both, plan a visit to Powderhorn Mountain Resort on the northern edge of Western Colorados Grand Mesa. While known for amazing glade skiing, and oftentimes, abundant powder, Powderhorn has 1,650 vertical feet, making it a popular place for skiers to hike uphill, burning extra calories and building ferocious muscles. Just check in with ski patrol and theyll let you know the days preferred route.

And then there is the free cross-country trail network on top of the Grand Mesa. Maintained by Grand Mesa Nordic Council, cross-country skiers can find 54 km of groomed trail, as well as backcountry routes.

Do as the locals do and skate or classic cross-country in the morning, followed by alpine bliss in the afternoon. Or better yet, take a full day for each type of skiing and spend the weekend at Powderhorn.

Lap Lift Nine at Telluride

When it comes to rough, tough and incredibly beautiful mogul runs, you wont find better than at Telluride. My favorite bump-de-bump-de-bump runs are off of Lift Nine, an oldie-but-goodie fixed grip chairlift. Sure, its a bit slow, but thats all the better to let you rest your legs.

The pitches here are steep and many of the famous runs, like Spiral Stairs, Kant-Mak-M and Mammoth will test both your muscle and your mojo. Need a break? Rip the groomed portions of Plunge or race down Bushwacker. And if youre still not tired, switch your boots from ski to walk and strike out for Palmyra Peak.

Explore the Extremes at Crested Butte

Look at a Crested Butte trail map, and youll notice a collection of linked bowls known as the resorts Extreme Limits. Taken together, Crested Butte Mountain Resort has 542 acres of in-bounds, double-black terrain. I think its some of Colorados most exhilarating skiing with pillow drops, steep lines through the trees and abundantly soft powder when the snow gods are smiling.

And while the pitches arent exceptionally long, neither are the queues to ski them. Surface lifts serve the Headwall and North Face, but if you want to get away from everyone and test yourself on the mountains outer bowls, youll be hiking. Still, youve gotta do it, no matter how sweaty.