Still, nothing is ever constant in the world of mountains, no matter what the continent, and even as we whoop and holler and bust the powder down some gorgeous cirque, be forewarned that it may last for a few lifetimes, but not forever. "Inevitably in our 10,000-year warming trend, shrinkage has set in," Jerome says. "Once a glacier starts shrinking, the cirque is exposed to ordinary erosive action, which reduces the steepness of its sides, softening the contour...."
But whether a bowl is a perfect cirque or merely a nice wide gully or gap, it may form natural avalanche paths, and can be desperately dangerous under certain conditions. In fact, the better the bowl, the greater the danger. At most areas, ski patrolmen keep a close watch on the bowls, particularly in the morning after an overnight snowfall. They often touch off a series of explosive charges to trigger avalanches that might otherwise bury skiers later in the day. They keep a keen eye on cornices. Only after the patrol has deemed an area skiable are paying customers turned loose—and it is this wait for the seal of approval that causes the excited mob to gather at the ropes of Vail.
The back bowls of Vail have a grand and rambling feel to them, with long and fairly steep sides. In the radiant Colorado sunshine, the bowls give a sense of descent that goes on forever. And that, not coincidentally, is the name of one of the nicest runs at Vail: Forever.
Also among the super bowls in the West are those at Taos, N.M. Once known principally for a kidney-busting straightaway adjoining the lift line called Al's Run, the resort has expanded to offer some 400 acres of lift-served bowls. They range from panoramic but relatively gentle runs down Kachina Bowl to swoops into the gullies of West Basin to the steeps that flow past gigantic boulders on Hunziker Bowl. South Fork is an expanse offering a four-mile run from top to bottom. It is a good place to ski all winter, and it borders on Utopia in the softer snows of spring. South Fork has no lifts; it requires skiing or hiking in. And one must climb back up after the run down. Well, there is one alternative. Those who choose not to climb can hike out through the bottom of the bowl into the valley; it is a beautiful but difficult marathon that, according to Taos Manager Ernie Blake, includes acres of brushy obstacles that lie in wait "like a winter jungle."
All the bowls at Taos have been open at least five years. The oldest—and the toughest—is West Basin, which began operating in 1965. It boasts three stunning chutes, all of them so steep, says Blake, "that you cannot go straight down—even the super-best skiers have a hard time doing anything more than tight wedel turns." The chutes are named Stauffenberg, Fabian and Oster, after three German officers involved in various unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler in the last years of World War II. West Basin is so steep that only the bottom quarter can be groomed. Kachina Bowl, on the other hand, was long ago cleaned and swept treeless by avalanches, and can be machine-smoothed top to bottom.
And then there is Jackson Hole, that he-man's retreat in the Grand Tetons, where the front of the mountain offers superb bowl skiing. In Rendezvous Bowl, you can streak down half a mile, with a vertical drop of 900 feet at a 32.5-degree pitch. The section up near the top, fittingly called The Cirque, ultimately widens out to a massive, concave scoop. These are good runs, often full of powder in the morning and, as the season progresses, corn snow in the afternoon.
But the hairiest bowls at Jackson are off beyond the main area. They are not served by ski lifts or grooming equipment or by any ski-patrol service, including avalanche control. Often there is simply too much snow out there for safe skiing. Still, it is highly praised terrain for powder hounds, even though it is reached only by a method foreign to the average Alpine hotdog, hiking in on skis.
One of the newest clusters of bowls—possibly destined to become the most famous of all—is a 650-acre paradise around Jupiter Peak in the Wasatch Range above Salt Lake City. Jupiter opened in the 1976-77 season after a long and difficult lift installation. The bowls are four miles away from the base lodge at Park City. From atop the main mountain, one skis down the back side, then rides up again on a new 3,600-foot lift. It leads to a high, curving rim of snow surrounded, in the distance, by peaks. Stanchions for the new lift to the Jupiter rim were hoisted into the area by helicopter, and the cost of the installation, including a shorter lift on the "tame" side of the mountain, was $1 million.
Although much of Jupiter Bowl has the required rim top and teacup-curved sides, there also are trees scattered through some of the region. Thus, jitterbugging through the trees has become one of the kicks the hyper-hotdogs enjoy most about Jupiter. There is fresh powder—from a couple of inches to several feet—almost every morning. Craig Badami, whose job as marketing manager is to sell the place, outdoes himself when he talks about the powder on Jupiter. "Sometimes it really flows right over your head. You're in so much powder, you're swallowing snow. You're breathing snow. It's like you're in your own private blizzard. It's like you died and went to heaven."
One Jupiter run is called the Om Zone, after the famous chant. Another is known as the Isle of Giants—named for the size of the trees one must dodge. And there is one hairy, steep side (48 degrees) with a single obstruction in all its expanse: Dead Tree Bowl. But the maddest run of all in the universe of Jupiter is a slash through the trees just off the rim. It is called Portuguese Gap and falls away at an honest 52 degrees—so steep that, in order for the run to stabilize enough to hold its own snow, it must undergo several hours of foot-stomping by brave volunteers after the first couple of blizzards in November.