Skiing in the summertime in the Rocky Mountains is a bit of an odd ball activity. Afterall, isn't this the time to put the skis away and don the mountain bike, or the climbing shoes? Or maybe not. There is something about this time of year that I simply love. I enjoy slinging my pack on, skis attached, and hiking up into the high country. I love the raging rivers, the smell of the melting woods, the sound of birds. I love the solitude -most people consider ski season to be done in March – but if one has the motivation, and is willing, you will find some of the best turns of your life.
Summer skiing is the time of peaks. In that regard, I believe it surpasses other activities I do. There is a thrill in standing atop a mountain of white, surrounded by other mountains, and looking north, south, east and west and seeing nothing at all but gigantic mountains. Very rarely have I experienced that in any other activity I do, that feeling of being up in it and above it all.
I had Monday and Tuesday off this week and we were debating what to do. A ski of Torrey's seemed appealing, as did the Angel of Shavano, but in the end we opted for a classic line down Buffalo Mountain called the Silver Couloir and then a jaunt to the Colorado mecca of summer skiing, Independence Pass. It was a tale of two different mountains, two different days and one ecstatic high.
Buffalo was beautiful and it was warm. Too warm really. The boot pack up was slushy and the run down the Mordor-esque Silver Couloir dowright scary at times. I was in leader mode on this ski, as Elaine is a newcomer in this game of how to manage these conditions, and it was a constant effort to stay focused on the here and now. You had to put a lot of energy into each turn, and watch your sluff from above, lest you get knocked down. At one point I set off a good little slide which was actually good because it knocked off the top layer and made for solid conditions all the way down.
It's an interesting thing skiing with somebody you love. You – how should I put it – analyze things a little more carefully. Goal one is to be safe followed by creating an awesome experience. I think about risk a lot more, and I think this is good because self preservation can ensure a long career in the hills. A far cry from 2008 and 2009 when I would basically not give a damn and take risks. The bottom line is that skiing is awesome, and I want to be doing it with my wife as long as I can.
We got to the bottom and "enjoyed" a rather heinous ski back to the car. I'm not a huge advocate of GPS devices, but in this case it was a godsend. Follow the little cookie crum back to the car through the dark forest. We made it back in due time, dried out our clothes, and headed to Pepino's in Frisco for the best and cheapest pizza in the state – $5 for a huge slice and a coke…not bad for a resort town.
Then we were off, over the Climax area, through Leadville, past the big mountains (Massive is on the very near future list) and up over Independence Pass. So much snow here, deeper than my car, twice, three times the depth. This place is a skiers dream. If I had my druthers, I'd find a patch of tundra up here and camp with my wife and dog the entire month of June, picking off lines and enjoying one of the most beautiful places in the world. We headed down the pass, got the best campsite in the campground (gotta love Mondays off) and went down to Aspen. Elaine has never been here, and it was fun checking out some rather gucci art shops and other such places. Aspen is definitely fancy and rich, but there is a hardcore skiing scene here that is appealing.
Back to the camp, where we feasted on Mac and Cheese and Marshmellows before a night of sleep in the back of the pick-up. I slept like crap, as my tooth started hurting like a MoFo (dentist appointment tomorrow AM at seven…hello root canal) but nevertheless we got up and made our way back up to the pass. We spent some time debating lines – Independence Peak looked sweet but required a stout river crossing – and ended up in the zone of the Geisslers.
What a beautiful place. A massive snow filled valley that slowly rises, ringed by mountains and chutes, all skiable. We quickly spotted the most distant peak, Geissler #3, and enjoyed a chatty and cool skin up. The wind and cold front moved the smoke out, and it felt like spring skiing should feel. We got to the base of the peak, ski cramponed up a ways before finding a nice bootpack to the summit. We had inadvertently stumbled upon the Aspen locals morning ski of choice, and it was veritable traffic jam up there. No worries though. We got the local tour of the horizon – Massive, Elbert, Grizzly, Pyramid, the Maroon Bells and way off in the horizon, the mountain that is starting to occupy more and more of my thoughts, Capitol. I don't know if I'll ever ski Capitol, but when I look at it I can't help but wonder what this place is like. It is the hardest 14er to climb, the hardest to ski. Elaine and I have signed up for a volunteer day with the 14ers Initiative in August where we will help build a trail up the side of Capitol. My motivation, of course, is to get closer to it, to feel how it is, to understand its pulse.
That's another day, another year. On this day, it was a wait up top with locals for things to soften up. Met T-bone and his friend. Locals who did a lot to dispell the image of Aspen as hoity toity. We waited and waited, shared chocolate and then – ski time. The face softened up and it was time to arc turns down. The top was still a little solid, but down low, it had that magic corn feel. I started to feel it, knocking off turn after turn, getting that pop off the ski, and diving into the next one. A feeling of flying, a feeling of absolute and complete freedom. And then, watching my wife, arc turns, impress the locals, and smile the biggest smile possible at the bottom. That is why I love skiing and part of the reason why I love this woman. To do the thing you love most, with the person you love most – what more could we ask for in life?
We glided to the bottom through a massive glacier carved valley – Elaine, Stella and myself – as the ravens circled and the mountains raged. And then, at the bottom, community. As community of skiers who love the June snow and who realize that everyday up here shortens the time till the leaves turn orange and the next ski season hits us. We all laughed and we realized that this crew of misfits, the winter people, were in the perfect place at the perfect time.
Twelve days till the days start getting shorter. 75 days or so till the first leaves change color. A bit more than that till the first snowfall on Bald Mountain. And then, it's game on again. But why wait around? There is skiing to be had, it is beautiful, it is blissful, and it is where we belong.
Smoke from the Arizona fires inundated our skies and brought back haunting memories of last September's fires. But it 5:30 am, it did create a stellar sunrise.
The start up Buffalo Mountain was soft, too soft, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. I kind of like the hike element of these skis…it allows a slow immersion into the world of white.
We navigated our way up through the forest and popped out on a giant slope of snow. Elaine enjoys a snack before the heavy lifting begins.
Stella enjoys mountain biking well enough, but when she gets in snow, her personality changes and she smiles.
Elaine heads up the bootpack as Dillon falls away below. She is getting very strong, and it's fun to see.
Elaine works her way up to the top of Buffalo. Ravens circled overhead as we climbed.
Things were warming quick, but we of course had to soak in the summit a little bit. The Gore Range looms behind.
Nowhere I'd rather be, nobody I'd rather be with.
Time to head down the Silver Couloir. It was too soft really, but manageable. When conditions are stout, it's important to stay focused and slow down.
Elaine drops into the immense couloir. Places like this accentuate the power of nature and make you feel small.
Elaine heads down the choke of Silver. I had fortunately set off a nice little sluff that scraped off the soft layer and provided a path to head down on.
The ski out of the couloir is NOT straightforward, but we're always up for a fun adventure. Elaine redefines tree-skiing in this shot!
I absolutely love Wilderness.
The next morning, and a completely different world. A cold front moved in, drove out the smoldering smoke, and turn the mountains crisp, clear and wonderful. Here is Elaine heading up a large valley to the Geisslers. A world of white.
We enjoyed the summit with the locals, checked out the views, and waited for an hour for the snow to soften up.
This peak is a must-do on our list – Grizzly. It appears from here to be a near perfect line.