Working the Winter
It’s been a tricky winter for Colorado Front Range powder hounds. Unlike last year, when there was record breaking snow totals close by, this year has required some real effort to find the fresh. Fortunately for me I’ve had the flexibility to chase some storms and good luck when the snow did fall locally.
One part of Colorado that has not lacked for snow has been the Southwest. Silverton Mountain seems to do well no matter where the storms are coming from but does particularly well in southwest flow which has been our main weather pattern this year. Having not been there for several years and desperate for some deep I headed there in late January to see what was new in their world.
As it turns they have added some major additions to their repertoire. The milk truck has been replaced by buses with comfy seats but more notable is the helicopter that now permanently resides there. This allows access to terrain which previously would have been unreachable unless you wanted to hike the entire day.
As you can see from the photo below Silverton has some excellent sustained pitch and plenty of snow. My issue has always been the required group guiding – invariably I end up with some folks who don’t belong on the mountain and this trip was no exception. We started our day with a 1000′ vertical hike (photo above – we hiked to just below the billboard at top) which led to the terrain in the photo below. The hike was challenging and the run fun but by 2:00 I had only gotten in one other run and was a tad frustrated. At that point I switched to the helicopter (they were running a two for one special) which got me to some new terrain but nothing to write home about (or more accurately, not necessarily worth driving 7 hours for).
I was supposed to spend two days at Silverton but couldn’t bear to spend another full day getting just 5 runs and besides there was a storm coming from the north so I decided to head back. I originally intended to check out Powderhorn but when Vail called 12″ and still snowing I changed tracks and drove like a madman to catch the opening of the back bowls. I don’t have any footage or pics from that day because the snow was so sweet and deep that no one wanted to waste time taking footage so you’ll just have to believe when I tell you it was truly epic.
And speaking of epic, while I have flown all over North America sampling powder I have never ridden any better snow than the 24″ in 24 hours that Eldora got on February 3rd. The video above doesn’t do it justice but anyone who was there will surely agree that it was as light as it gets. This was my third great day at Eldora this season as those same storms that pound the southern mountains often deliver big upslope snows to the front range.
One place that had been notably missing from my usual winter rotation was Berthoud Pass. Besides the fact there has been very little snow, what did fall in the early season has become a very shaky and dangerous base in the backcountry. By this time I would normally have quite a few days on the pass but this year my first was in mid February when the avy report finally lowered the danger rating to a tolerable level. As always, like the picture above indicates, there was fun to be had but the terrain options were severely limited. It still was mighty nice to visit one of my favorite spots and the photo below gives you a good idea of why I keep going back there.
But no matter what the year there is always one place that comes through for me and that is Wolf Creek. This year of course every one has heard about the great snow that falls during a southwest storm track and I have never seen so many front rangers on the mountain. Still if you’re willing to hike there are always fresh lines to be had so my friend Kevin and I made a pilgrimage to the shrine to pay our respects.
Just to remind myself that these trips don’t always work out as planned I tried to go to Vail this past Thursday when they called 12″ at 5:00 am. The only catch was that I-70 was closed at various spots but managed to make it to the tunnel before being shut down for 90 minutes. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Vail later downgraded their report to 2″ (never seen that before). Instead I ended up at Loveland where the snow was sweet but was so damn windy and cold that there was no chance I’d be taking off my gloves for any pictures. All in all it’s been quite a month, full of long road trips, a small taste of the backcountry and some amazing (but infrequent) local powder and as always, well worth the effort…