Just over a year ago I moved to Summit County, Colorado. After a few more months not working and being on the road than I had initially planned, setting there was a welcome change. In my free time, I’ve been skiing and hiking as often as I can and it is quite nice to be settled after all of my adventures on the road. With the exception of a couple of trips back east to visit family and friends in New York and Maryland, I haven’t really traveled at all since settling back in Colorado.
The 2018/19 ski season in was absolutely amazing. From the time I moved to Summit County in October 2018, it snowed at least a little bit, pretty much at least once a week until May. It even snowed on the first day of summer. Many people were over it by then, I wasn’t. After all, I love skiing as my friend described in this bio he helped write last week: https://engearment.com/writers/michael-clemente/
Years ago when I was still living in Denver I took a day trip up to Breckenridge to ski 4th of July bowl on peak 10. It was a lot of fun and one of the first summer skiing adventures I’d take. Something I didn’t even know was possible when I was living in New York. A couple of years later, I’d ski the Tuning Fork on Torrey’s peak on the first day of summer. When I got back to work the weekend after that little adventure, my friend Ryan suggested, “you should try to ski all year” I kinda laughed at the idea as I thought that for sure August and September would be out. But I always thought it would be an interesting goal and fun to try. Then I moved up to Summit and we had an incredible snow season. If I wanted to ski all year, this would be the year to do it.
The ski season of 2017/18 my project was to go skiing at many resorts across the country using the MAX Pass. I ended up skiing at 22 of them and that trip was also what started this blog. I didn’t set a goal for the 2018/19 season, but skiing year round turned into one. Skiing lift served terrain until July was easy enough, as Arapahoe Basin stayed open until July 4th, but I decided that I wanted to make a goal of “earning turns” (hiking or touring to a ski line) every month of 2019. In fact, I’ve now made it 13 consecutive months and next week I should hit my goal of all 12 months of 2019. My first ski tour of the 2018/19 season was almost a year ago this week at Jones Pass.
While Colorado had an incredible year and there were plenty of places to visit, this past season I stayed in Summit, Grand, Clear Creek, and Eagle counties, and did all of my skiing within an hour of where I live. I made a few tentative plans to ski elsewhere throughout the season, but every time I planned to go, it snowed again. No reason to drive long distances through snowy weather when the skiing in my back yard was awesome. I did plenty of ski tours in the winter and spring, and the months below have links to pictures from each of them, but the writing is about skiing in the summer and early fall, and the challenges that come with skiing all year in one state.
I decided to make a solo trip out to Torrey’s one morning, an extremely popular 14er to hike, but it was early in the hiking season, and very quiet in the middle of the week. Although the line was very familiar for me, I got out there and without seeing a single person for a few miles, I was scared, and I couldn’t get over that fear with it being so quiet. I was standing only on my ski boot tips on a slope that I felt I would easily slide down. Here’s my writing from that day.
Interesting morning today. I got up early with plans to go ski torreys peak again, a line called the “tuning forks” I’ve skied this line twice before around this same time of year, and conditions appeared to be somewhat similar this time. Granted, there’s been a LOT more snow this season.
Skiing this line around this time of year requires a 2+ mile hike (approx) unless you have a truck with enough clearance to drive further up the road. Still, that would only save just over a mile of hiking. Even after that hike, there is a 2000ft ascent of bootpacking, where the assistance of an ice axe and crampons is welcomed. It’s steep. And scary. And this year very very lonely.
I started my hike around 6am, slightly later than I wanted to, but still early. About 1.5 miles up the road, I encountered a huge debris field. The avalanches this season have also been historic, and the downed trees at this point were everywhere. The snow was firm enough at this point in the day that I was able to walk around most of it then transition from my hiking shoes to ski boots. I’ve done this climb a couple of times before, so I felt pretty familiar and comfortable with the route.
I kept ascending, but there was something different this time. With the exception of a couple of hikers that I saw near where I’d parked my car, I didn’t see anyone else. The silence was eerie.
The first time I skied this route I ended climbing up with approx 20 other people. The second time, I met with 2 others, although I was still on my own. This time, no one.
I kept trying to put that out of my head and remind myself, no biggie, I’ve done this before. But I couldn’t shake that fear, what if something happened? Not the feeling I wanted to have when I’m hiking up a fairly steep slope miles away from anyone. Even from the car, it’s a couple miles drive back to the highway before I get cell serivce. And the hike back, over that debris field was going to be interesting to say the least.
I couldn’t get that out of my head. What if I fell? Would I be taking a slide all the way down the route? Would I be able to self arrest? The snow was fairly hard, and I was even having difficulty getting a foothold or a purchase with my ski boot. Even my ice axe wasn’t making a huge difference. If I waited too long, the snow would be too soft and I’d have to worry about wet slides. Already, that was a concern. It was so quiet that when I was climbing near the rocks on each side I could barely hear running water. I found a shelf by a rock and paused for a few minutes. I had another 1000 vertical feet to climb, and maybe 45 min before I had to start skiing.
I reseted on a ledge for a few minutes and then decided to ski from there. While I was shy approx 1000’ feet of my objective of the summit, I felt more comfortable making this decision. At the time felt relatively easy to make this choice. I told myself, I’ve skied this before, no need to put myself at risk to do it again. But I was also bummed, I didn’t accomplish my goal that day.
At the very least, I enjoyed some fantastic corn skiing the rest of the way down and was back in town with plenty of time to enjoy the afternoon.
This year, Arapahoe Basin was able to stay open until July 4th. It was the first time in many years, and it was also the busiest day there on record. I was there and I got one run in. But it was more fun just to people watch and be part of the party. While lift time with friends is fun, the next couple of days away from the lifts was much better skiing.
My dog, Joe, had passed away on July 2nd, and I was so sad, and I was doing whatever I could to stay active. I felt that being outside and active was healthier then sitting inside and being upset about it. Plus, I’d taken him for a short hike near that same peak only a few days earlier so I felt it was a good place to spend some time.
My friend Kent and I got up early and headed up to Breckenridge to ski the same line I’d skied on my first “summer ski adventure” many years prior, July 4th bowl. He suggested that we call it “July 5th bowl” to celebrate the occasion, which felt fitting. It would be my 3rd time skiing it, but never had I seen as much coverage as there was this year. We drive up to the top of the Mercury chair and hiked from there.
In the years past when I’d skied there, I’d hike to the top without even crossing snow, this year was different. There was so much coverage that we were able to ski to within a few hundred feet of the car. We even had to put our skins on for part of the approach.
On our way up I noticed a pretty nice looking potential ski line on the peak to our right, peak 9. Coverage looked pretty good there as well and I was thinking about skiing it sometime in the next couple of weeks. Instead of waiting, I went out the next night. I finished work and headed right back to Breckenridge.
That evening my decision to go ski felt different. I was angry, sad, hurt, and unsure of what the hell I wanted to do in the days weeks and months ahead. But this was my outlet, it was alone on a mountain. I saw a few others camping in the distance near the trailhead, but the following few hours, I was in silence. Looking at the town of Breckenridge a couple miles below in the distance to the east, but once I got near the summit, a spectacular view of the sunset (pictured above) to the west.
I made it to the summit, watched the sunset and had an incredible dusk lit decent skiing down. Hiking out was a bit different. In my rush to get up there I’d forgotten my headlamp and was scrambling in the moonlight to make it back to my car.
After that evening, it was time for me to put a pause on skiing for a bit, but not for too long. For the rest of the summer, I then decided to take up mountain biking again, for the first time in many years and got out hiking whenever I could.
|Peak 10, Breckenridge, August 3rd
So, next up was August, I always thought skiing in August would be too difficult, not worth it. But, living in summit county, I had a view of peak 10 from a distance almost everyday. July 4th bowl was still in. And it looked as good as it had in years prior where I’d skied it at the beginning of July. I asked my friend Justin if he wanted to join me for a morning hike and ski.
I told the story of this hike earlier in this post, but there is definitely something that made me feel giddy about doing this in the middle of the summer. You can see the road to my right in the picture
It was awesome, I was on snow in the middle of the summer and about to slide 1000+ feet down it. And the skiing was actually quite good.
But the night before I’d only slept 4 hours. The personal stress I’d been under in the days prior was high, but again, I was getting out to ski and none of those other things were important at the time.
I had this 12 month “project” that was well underway, but it didn’t feel important anymore. I’d lost my dog, among many other personal challenges, and I was lacking motivation. A few weeks into the month went by, and I mentioned “getting our September ski line in” to my friend Wil. Our days off lined up and he thankfully coordinated this trip along with Kerstin and Aaron. Skyscraper Glacier near Winter Park looked like the best option.
A 5 mile drive from the main road on a road that required high clearance and 4wd. Then a 2 mile hike with skis and gear on a windy trail with a view of Winter Park in the distance. Upon arriving at our ski line, there was a short climb down with a 60º entry point to ski with runnels where we were standing on skis edge tip to tail. After that? 3 mile hike out.
I was excited to be at month 11 of this seemingly crazy goal, but being as unmotivated as I was, I didn’t prepare as I should have. Wind was 40mph+ sustained, I had powder skis that felt like a kite on my backpack. My ski boots broke. I was wearing shorts. There was a steep drop into our line. I was scared for a few minutes. I’d stared down these kinds of steeps before. Intimidating, but doable and nothing I haven’t been able to do before.
My friend Wil lost his ski after his first couple turns. I assumed that he was fine when he was trying to get it, then I watched him slip and take a long fall. I was standing on a steep slope and I watched him slide past me. We spoke about it a great deal afterwards, but there was nothing I could do. I just watched and hoped he didn’t hit a rock, or anything that would injure him. He called back up to me, he was okay. We never found one of his skis despite searching for an hour. We were all just grateful that he was okay. We all hiked out and chalked it up to another adventure in the mountains, but were all very glad to be back at the car.
Early in the month I wasn’t sure if there should be enough snow to accomplish this goal. It was relatively warm. Then about a week later, temps dropped, a storm came through, and the season began. Arapahoe basin opened on October 11th. That next week I was getting some great laps in off of the BML lift. But I had to earn my turns (hiking to ski)
We finally got a somewhat substantial amount of snow, and some very cold temps. Quite a contrast from earlier in the month. I met up with Mike and Aaron to ski the same area where I’d had my first day of backcountry skiing only one year earlier. Jones pass.
I planned to meet with them around 5:30am. My car said it was -8ºF when we got to the trailhead. But there was lots of fresh snow and the skiing would be quite good. We headed up a route I’d skinned up multiple times the season before, pretty much the same line I’d skied 12 months prior, which rounded out my “earned turns all year” project quite nicely.
|Jones Pass, October 30, 2019
We wanted to go for another lap, but I was just too cold. I could barely feel my toes, and I just wanted to be back in the car. I called it a day after that and headed home.
|Mayflower Gulch, November full moon
I’ve already counted 18 days of skiing this season. (who’s counting?) 2 in the backcountry. Not bad considering it’s not even December yet. I even went out a few weeks ago on the night of the full moon and again, was a bit freaked out. It was quiet, almost too quiet. But beautiful to be out there under the stars, skiing back to the car with a headlamp was a different story.
Then I went out a few days ago with a couple of my friends and we got some great powder turns near Loveland.
As the 2019/2020 ski season is ramping up, I’m considering what I want to make my goal this season. For one, I’ll be taking my AIARE 1 course with Colorado Adventure Guides next week. Given that I’ve been adventuring into the backcountry for about 5 years now this is probably long overdue. My friend Wil suggested that after the course I collect snow pit data from different locations and keep a journal of the info and of how it skied.
While all of the skiing has been fun, the best part of all of these backcountry adventures are all of the people I’ve met while doing it. Many of you I’ve mentioned in this post, and this season I am really looking forward to getting out even more and enjoying the mountains with you all. Hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving and that we can all get out there to enjoy some time in the mountains soon.