Cold Front and Fresh Snow

bliss

A little snow on the Eldora nordic trails makes for some nice classic skiing.

We finally got our Greenland application out just the other day. That’s been a major weight, so it’s nice to have it signed, sealed and delivered. We’ll see what happens. I do worry we don’t have enough requisite polar experience to be accepted for an independent expedition, in which case we’ll have to reevaluate our timeline. We’ll know soon enough. If we get permission, it’ll be time to buckle down and get to work, because there is much preparation to do.

This has been one of the slower starts to winter in many years in the Front Range of Colorado. Of course, there have some memorably bad years, the winter of 2011-12 coming to mind, and before that, the drought years of the 2000s. Beyond the lack of snow, it’s been very warm, most days soaring well over freezing and perhaps one or two days where nighttime temperatures dropped below zero. Certainly global warming plays a role, but a larger factor is the jet stream is sitting just to the north of us. We’re missing the brunt of the action and the cold is having a hard time settling in.

frontrange

Front Range Snotel Graph. We’re sitting at 90%. Not bad.

That’s at 8,800 feet above sea level, right next to the Continental Divide. Just a few miles east and 500 feet lower, in Nederland, there is virtually no snow. Meanwhile, Boulder has been downright balmy. It’s a stark contrast from last year, where December and January were like a scene out of the Shining movie, snow piling up in copious amounts on a daily basis. There was so much snow we had to park our cars a half-mile from home and ski home with groceries.

We’re actually better off than most of the state. Down south, in the San Juans, the picture is grim.

SanJuan

A much worse story down south in the San Juans, where they are at 34% of average. 

It could be an ugly summer down there if this continues. As we learned hiking and skiing thru it this summer, southern Colorado is a tinderbox of dead, beetle killed trees. If I were hiking the CDT this summer, I would definitely go north, at least if things continue this way. Best to get thru the state before things possibly burn up.

We’ve managed our winter decently well thus far given the snow restraints. Thank goodness for Eldora, the nordic center and uphill travel. We’ve spent a lot of time on manmade snow there this winter, only recently getting out more on natural surfaces. That’s been a nice change of pace.

There is a drainage near our home that I’ve been eyeing for a nice backcountry cross country ski “trail” for some time now. It has all the desired factors – generally north-facing, sheltered from the wind and a bit away from the main travel routes. The Little Raven and CMC trails are fantastic nordic touring options, but it would be wonderful to have a bit more. So yesterday we headed out into the forest and did some exploring.

woods

Good woods.

As is always the case on exploratory days, there was a fair bit of futzing around, making wrong turns and getting stuck in deadfall. I carry a small hatchet on days like these to try to break thru and create something decently passable. Bottom line though – the route could be a good one. There were moments during the two hour ski where we thought, this could be really good. Another good sign – there were moose tracks. I find if animals use an area, it’s probably a good human route too. Numerous times on the CDT we lost the trail, followed a game path, and found a better way. Animals are not dumb. It’s an area of mysterious woods, full of creaking old trees, freshly sprouted firs and deep, deep snow. It has a feeling of good forest. I think we’ll explore it some more.

frost

The best days are the ones where you can see your breath and you get home from the woods just as it’s getting dark. 

 

71 Months of Skiing

IMG_0229

Back in October 2010 Elaine and I headed up to Loveland ski resort on Halloween Day. There was a certain excitement as there always is on the first ski day of the season. Truth is, the opening affair always features terrible conditions and soaring excitement. This one was no different. There was a “white strip of death” that offered a typically hazardous opening to the season. And yet being up there at 12,000 feet, feeling the slide of skis on snow, the cold autumn air, and smelling the wood smoke from the top shack on the mountain made up for any lack of pizzaz the skiing offered.

IMG_0184.jpg

Thanks to my newly earned job at Neptune Mountaineering, I was privy to a weekday ski pass at Loveland. And while Elaine didn’t work there yet, I was able to convince our bookkeeper Roland to put her on the Neptune list so she could buy a pass dirt cheap. It was a good move, as Loveland and all of Colorado got hammered with snow that winter. I’ve never skied more inbounds powder than I did that season, and memories of gliding silk-like on six inches of powder EVERY SINGLE TIME OUT still linger with me today. That was a great year, and a start to something kind of cool that we’ve been doing ever since.

IMG_0185

That Halloween Day was the first of a skiing streak that has grown impressive in numbers. We’ve skied at least one day on snow for 71 straight months. It’s nothing unusual from November to April. Those six months of the season are the gimmes…as they should be. We live three miles from a ski area, have skinning and backcountry routes out our door, and more nordic trails than most folks this side of Norway. And honestly, unless you want to become an alcoholic, there isn’t much else to do here in the winter. Skiing in the winter is our health and sanity.

IMG_0200.jpg

It’s something of a secret, but the best skiing in this neck of the woods – at least in terms of climbing peaks and sliding back down them – is in May, June and early July. The snow consolidates, bringing our normal extreme avalanche danger to safer levels. The Indian Peaks are a great place to go in these months, even better than the rest of the state, a result of our slightly more northern location and distance from snow destroying desert southwest dust. Skiing in May, June and July is something to be relished here, because it’s  a world class experience.

IMG_0231

August and September is when things get interesting. The winter powder is long gone and the corn snow of the spring is a distant memory, having turned to something more resembling ice. That said, we are blessed with many things in this area, and the one in particular that directly impacts the local year-round skier – we have more glaciers in our local mountains than anywhere else in Colorado. These aren’t your Alaska behemoth glaciers. Indeed, most of them no longer count as official glaciers since they don’t really move anymore. They are, for all purposes, permanent snowfields. But they are there and they can be skied year round.

IMG_0246.jpg

The skiing is marginal. In the late summer, the corn snow turns to ice which turns to something called “sun cups.” Sun cups are formed by melting pools of water in the snow that create cavities in the surface – basically, thousands and thousands of cups. These cups are not particularly fun to ski. The worst of the sun cups are nearly unskiable, so you pick your way between little paths of relative smoothness. It’s a far cry from powder skiing…it’s almost a Mad Max-style battle type of skiing. But, it’s turns on snow when most folks are sweating on the flats. It’s good and it’s worth it.

IMG_9669

There have been some interesting adventures over the past near six years to take the streak this far. That first summer was easy…it snowed so much. The next year was one of the driest on record. I remember right before our first CT hike skiing a 30-foot-by-30-foot patch up at the local haunt. September was relegated to some horrible turns at Saint Mary’s Glacier. Come to think of it, September often involves horrible turns at Saint Mary’s.

IMG_9667

The cruxiest time of the streak was back in 2014 when I had knee surgery. My surgery was somewhere around May 25. May was in the skiing books – I was making turns the day before surgery despite the impending surgery – but June was no sure thing. It was way, way, way too early to be making turns safely on my expensive new ACL, so while Elaine and her friend Danielle took a couple laps on Sundance Couloir in RMNP, I skinned around the top for two hours. It wasn’t sexy but it counted as a day of skiing on snow in June. That whole summer was a challenge, and I distinctly remember being downright angry and scared with the horrible sun cups on Saint Mary’s in September. I was like…I’m going to end my season on this junk and the year hasn’t even begun!

IMG_9666

Alas, it all worked out. The next real threat was last year right after our Colorado CDT trip. We were simply out of of days and time to hit the glaciers in September, and were busy driving around the state picking up caches. We tossed our skis in the car in hopes of finding something, and we did – a 20×20 foot patch on the top of Cottonwood Pass. We hiked that patch 10 times each and skied back down so many times we actually made ruts in the snow.

IMG_0248

It’s been a good winter and spring and we managed to keep the streak alive, our last ski being fun little couloir on the 4th of July. Since we’re heading to Norway at the end of this month and have to work the days before departure, yesterday was our designated day to ski in August. We decided to head to Isabelle Glacier. Isabelle is a little pocket mountain glacier tucked between Apache and Isabelle Peaks. It’s a gorgeous cirque and the 4-mile hike in takes the visitor past lakes, pine forests, talus, tundra, moraines and right through some amazing peaks. I’ve seen a lot of mountain ranges, but the western part of the Apache cirque is hard to beat.

IMG_0253

It was a good ski and a great hike. The turns were surprisingly high quality and the snow was actually kind of smooth in places. For August it was a ten! Perhaps the coolest thing about the ski was the large gaggle of crows just hanging out on the glacier. When they crowed, it echoed off the mountain walls with an eerie reverberation.

IMG_0254

On the hike out we were greeted with rain, hail and sleet that was predicted to turn into snow by night’s end. Fall is coming rapidly and I haven’t felt it more all year than I did yesterday afternoon. We hiked just slightly faster than the storm, and when we stopped near the trailhead to relax by a stream and watch a family of ducks feed, it caught up to us.

We got loaded back into the car just before the deluge began. Evening plans included a quick shower at home and then dinner with our good friends Erica and Bob at Crosscut. Stomach full and soul alive, we noticed through the heavy cold rain that the bank thermometer read 39°. While the satisfaction of skiing 71 straight months was significant, it was overwhelmed by the excitement of the snow-filled, skiing months to come!

Past accomplishments, medals and long streaks have their place, but they can’t compare with the giddy anticipation of future adventures. The past has been great, but the future excites me much, much more.