Flying to Aspen


IFR approach and departure into and out of Aspen are just about the most challenging that I've ever experienced. I'd be careful about trying it for the first few times in actual conditions, because the descent and climb rates are so far out of the ordinary. Its one of the few airports where experience with local conditions and customs is quite important.

Right before Christmas 2004 I flew IFR into Aspen; I was at 12,000 feet and about 40 miles from the airport ATC wanted me to climb to 16,000 feet so that they could sequence me with all of the jet traffic into the approach procedure. I didn't want to hook up my passengers to oxygen, nor did I want to spend alot of time climbing since it was VFR already in that area. So I canceled IFR and did the rest of the approach as VFR. In order to squeeze me into the steady stream of jets (everyone needed a reservation at that time of year), ATC had me fly past Snowmass mountain, enter the downwind leg of the pattern at 12,000 feet, and then begin the descent to the field (roughly 7,000 feet agl) upon turning base. Needless to say, it was a very rapid, steep and exciting descent, with a mountain straight ahead before turning final and a jet on IFR approach a few miles behind me. At least on touchdown the tower thanked me for cooperating.

The IFR departure a few days later was equally challenging, because there is a series of turns that must be done at specific altitudes and headings shortly after takeoff, in order to avoid hitting anything. An SR22 cannot climb up to 16,000 feet as quickly as ATC would like, so expect to spend some time getting vectored for the climb (or request a VFR climb, if the conditions permit). But the views are spectacular and defy description.