As an intro to this TR, I think it might be worth a little history on how we came to some of our present philosophies and yopro ideology. This is our fifth year making at least one western pilgrimage in search of the elusive white gold. Our beginnings were pretty humble: UConn-sponsored trips to Crested Butte and Breckenridge in 2008 and 2009. It was fortunate that 72″ and 25″ of fresh snow fell each the weeks we were there, ensuring that these trips were here to stay – probably forever. It seemed to us at the time that a trip to the west, powder turns and face shots were all part of one nice guaranteed package deal. The “Dark Years” changed all that. Utah 2010 and Tahoe 2011 gave us a cumulative 1 inch of snow, and as many days with highs above 40 as days below freezing. There had to be a better way. But how?
2012 led to a shift in thinking – what if we didn’t plan for a week at all, but just flew into general location, high traffic (inexpensive) airports, and use these as a springboard to drive wherever the most snow was? A willingness to drive 8 hours overnight could give us a 1200 mile diameter access area – talk about improving odds. Such an 8 hour drive from Denver in 2012 gave us 3 days of deep at Jackson Hole, and a winning strategy was found.
It’s not foolproof – this years plan led to great days in Utah and heartbreak in British Columbia, but our final installment, a 1000-mile, 4 location trek through Colorado yielded the best days of skiing of our lives.
In the days leading up to our flight into Denver, there were still plenty of questions. Jackson Hole, as is typical, was our most likely subject – but we were really looking at anywhere between New Mexico and Montana. However, as days drew closer, it looked more and more like southwest Colorado was going to be our best bet. An 8pm arrival in Denver got us to Leadville a bit before midnight, where my uncle let us stay for a few nights and ended up skiing hard with us at both Monarch and Wolf Creek.
While Monarch had gotten snow earlier in the week, our forecasted storm had yet to arrive and warm temperatures had baked south facing slopes, which led us to quickly go out of bounds (Monarch has plenty to choose from), where we found soft, untracked snow and low-angle trees. Later in the afternoon, great conditions and challenging tree skiing were still found in the north-facing glades in Mirkwood bowl – a pleasant surprise 3 days after a storm. While Monarch was fun, it was hard not to notice the steadily increasing cloud cover and not think of the storm days yet to come.
Most projections we had seen were showing a snowfall bullseye on Wolf Creek, with somewhere between 18-24 inches. We set our sights on spending a night in Pagosa Springs, which would leave us with a four hour drive, including what became a hairy ride over Wolf Creek pass. When we got there the following day, there was no disappointment – 16 inches overnight and what became another 8 inches during the day. The mountain was not crowded, and WC provided one of the few experiences in my life when you could ski with the knowledge of knowing that you’ll be skiing 2’+ of untracked for the entire day. It’s a good feeling.
It was tough to leave, but at 4:00 we were back on the road – another 4 hours to an adventure of a different variety – Silverton Mountain. Silverton is only a little over a decade old, and provides a unique experience in that there is not a single groomed trail on the mountain. Guided skiing is a requirement off of an old double chair that takes you to a pinch over 12,000′ and let’s you climb as high as 13,000 before you drop into your line in a beautful backcountry environment.
Our guide Mark wasted no time in getting us to the good stuff, a tight chute followed by a silky smooth open bowl.
As the day went on, we kept going to better and better terrain, with Mark still careful to make sure that we would never have to have the unpleasant misfortune of skiing over someone else’s tracks.
All runs terminate on a single cat track, and following it leads to a bus pickup, which returns skiers to the lift and more fresh pow pow. After hustling to make the last lift of the day, we squeezed one last run in through some trees and got some decent huckage in before we headed back to the base. One of the best things about Silverton is that there were only 80 people on the mountain total, and almost everyone goes back to the bar (tent) for a few beers afterward.
After a late drive back to Leadville, we spent our last morning skiing backcountry and building a kicker in Mayflower Gulch before heading back to Denver and our Monday evening redeye flight. The weekend was a whirlwind, and on our way to a bleary-eyed Tuesday workday, there was only one thing we couldn’t seem to agree on – whether it was Silverton or Wolf Creek that had been the best day of skiing of our lives.