Scratch the Back
Hot take: There’s a right way to ski in Aspen. If you’re having fun, you’re doing it right! That’s it; it’s simple. Skiing is purely about feeling joy while sliding on snow. Joy begets gratitude, and we protect and revere the things that we’re grateful for. If you’re having fun while skiing in Aspen, then you’re doing it properly. However, we think there’s a way to approach Ajax that will maximize your fun.
While the Aspen Mountain trail map doesn’t tout mind-boggling skiable acreage like megaresorts, the Silver Queen—as locals call it—punches way above its weight. There are endless nooks and crannies to explore on Ajax. There are many stashes and aspects to farm out on Aspen Mountain that many lifelong skiers have committed their lives to the steep terrain that jumps off Durant Street in downtown Aspen. Obermeyer is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year! That means we’ve been skiing Ajax for 75 seasons. We’d argue that we’re near the top of the list if anybody is an expert on “how to ski Aspen like a local.”
We’re going to roll out a series of local guides to zones on Ajax. The first installment focuses on one of our all-time favorite spots on Aspen Mountain: The Back of Bell.
Scratch the Back
As you’re climbing in the Silver Queen Gondola out of the plaza, Bell Mountain is the shark-fin peak that bisects Ajax. The Back of Bell sits looker’s left as you're cresting Bell Mountain. You can’t find as much terrain in a small area anywhere in the world as you’ll find on the Back of Bell. Fact!
The runs aren’t incredibly long, but the fall line is reliable, the angle ramps up, the bumps are carved by good skiers (for the most part), the snow holds because of the aspect, and the variety of fun skiing is endless. You could easily spend a few days of your Aspen ski vacation devoted solely to the “Back of Bell” on Aspen. Spinning laps on Bell will make you a better skier and you’ll unearth stashes that will blow your mind.
If you want to ski Ajax like a local, you must scratch the Back!
Top Five Runs on the Back of Bell
Now that you’ve summited Ajax on the gondola, we’ll put “looker’s left” to bed and talk about a new POV. Set your sights on the skier’s right side of Bell Mountain as you're skiing down Ajax. We’re about to set the table for a delicious entre into Aspen’s finest cuisine. The following three runs are ranked—not from best to worst—in order of what you’ll hit first as you’re skiing downhill.
Here are the three best runs to ski while you’re scratching the back:
BONUS: Siebert’s is fun because it’s easy to access and the trail is wide open. However, it gets skied a lot because of those two aforementioned attributes. Ski past Siebert’s—trust us! Go straight for Knowlton’s. Tuck into the gladed trees and look downhill for openings in the glades. You’ll find that the meadows below the entrance are fun and relatively untouched compared to the Siebert’s trail just uphill. Technically, though, Knowlton’s isn’t on the Back of Bell. It’s the threshold to Bell Mountain.
First, Back of Bell #1 is a great early season training ground for local skiers. Usually, this is one of the first rope drops by Ski Patrol of the year. Ski gently if you’re fortunate enough to get Back of Bell #1 on an early season powder day or rope drop. Consider skiing a zipper line on the skier’s right side next to the uphill trees or the skier’s left side hugging the downhill trees.
Second, slide into the trees between Back of Bell #1 and #2. Sliding in and out of the trees is a great way to find soft snow days after a storm. You’re going to find untouched snow lap after lap.
Third, Keith Glenn has a rock outcropping that locals love. Go find it on your first spin through the area. Like a downhill mountain biker: pre-ride, re-ride, freeride. After you’ve found this hidden gem and explored the area to line up with your skillset, think about skiing close to the cliff because no one ventures into the area. Be ready because your skis might leave the snow for a second but they’ll find soft landings eventually.
Do you have a favorite line down the Back of Bell? Let us know. We’ll keep adding to these topics. And, stay tuned for upcoming tips to ski Aspen like a local.