For James, a powerful winter of ski mountaineering has gone down across the western united states, from Colorado all the way to California. The following post, gives a glimpse of the pow turns, icy jump turns, minor fails and epic wins that have transpired. The winter is over in the US, James will be back in Australia for September teaching a Ski Mountaineering course for Main Range Backcountry.
Warmups at Berthoud Pass
I started the winter with a couple of harsh realizations, skinning waist deep pow is hard, and riding it at 13,500 ft can be even harder. Berthoud Pass after a storm is the ultimate powder playground and many a day across the season was spent at Berthoud taking road laps and learning the fine art of the Pow turn. See exhibit A. below.
Jaunt to Jackson – Surprise Lake, Sidecountry and Glory Laps
After a bit more warming up at Vail for Thanksgiving, and by the time Christmas had come and passed (which I was very lucky to spend in California with family) I was keen to ride some bigger lines. So was Alexey, my main riding partner of the last season in Australia. He picked me up in Denver from my flight back from LA and we hit the road headed to Jackson Hole, WY in out rented $15 a day moving van.
We hiked up to the base of the Grand Teton as a ‘warm up’ and rode from surprise lake. This warm up was a little chilly at around -20 all day!
Unfortunately after Jackson, family circumstances brought me back to Australia for the month of January.
Upon returning to the US, I Joined the Colorado University Backcountry Club for a trip to Silverton, in the San Juan Mountains of Southern Colorado. A write up of what we got up to made it onto the Skiing Magazine website, so I won’t bother rehashing it here, check out what Max Ritter had to say about our weekend in the San Juans.
We did end up skiing this awesome gully on sultan.
Shit For Brains Couloir
Back in the Front Range, and several stable snow-less weeks had firmed up the snowpack enough we were able to get on some steeper bigger lines. First on the tick list, “Shit For Brains.” Arguably the plumb line of summit county, it sits just outside of Arapahoe Basin Ski Area (the beloved ‘A- Bae’ ) and has beckoned many a would be colorado skiing hard man onto it’s slopes. I rode it in firm conditions with Luke Worley.
Next on the tick list, ‘The Coinslot’. It went down with Elliot and Max, a solid crew of homies. This line is awesome. A 30 m abseil/rappell dumps you into some seriously tight ad technical terrain. Definately worth learning some climbing skills for.
Sam May Joined us for a few weeks from Australia and together we managed to slay a few choice lines around the front range, and get some pow days in at Berthoud. Notably, we skied the prominent face on Russel Peak as you can see below with Drew Layman.
Corral Couloir – RMNP
Joined by my house mate Gunnar, and with a slow start a beautiful skin took us to the top of Flattop in famed Rocky Mountain National Park. After getting a little scared of wet slabs in Dragontail, we skirted around and rode Corral Couloir to the moraine, down the moraine (with some rock hopping) past a gaggle of sorority girls (who were doing yoga on the frozen lake) and all the way back to the car.
Utah – Y Couloir
Next up we were off to Utah with the backcountry club. Sam wrote a quick trip report you can read here.
Tour to Park City
It started puking, so we skied out the door and all the way t the summit of park city, rode some chairs and then skied back to the house in solitary. A nice little low angle day out.
Tahoe – Jakes Peak
Back behind the wheel and we were headed for California. We slept on the ground somewhere in Nevada, then rode Heavenly for an afternoon. The next day, Jake Peak.
Dragon Tail Couloir, RMNP
A classic easy access line. Good times with great friends, Tom and Elliot.
Attempt on Crestone Needle, Sangre De Cristos
Ahh the Sangres. A mountain range so rowdy they named them after the Blood of Christ. The name of the game in the Sangres is access. Arguably a lack there of.
What a day our attempt on Crestone Needle, one of the hardest 14ers in Colorado, was. We slept 1 hr,spent 7 hours skinning, missed out on our objective due to a storm and then spent 7 more hours digging/dragging the car out of a snow bank. Pitted.
An Attempted First Descent in RMNP
Another classic Drew and James Adventure. Up at 3 am, skin ~2500 ft of vert and 6 miles out of the Longs Peak trail head. Carry two 60 metre ropes, screws, rock rack, tools, crampons and more. Find it’s too sunny this time and the snow is all messed up. No glorious first descent in RMNP for us! Ride the skin track back down and drink a beer exhausted at 10:30 am. Go back to bed.
Silver Couloir on Mount Buffalo
2,500 ft of pow in 3 hours car to car? A reasonable start of 6 am, and my now often partner in crime Drew Layman and I were joined by the very fit Norwegian, Sigmund. Man it felt good to win big with fast times in quality pow after so much suffering!
This line is one of the fifty classic ski descents of North America, and featured in the book Wild Snow for a reason.
Want to ride terrain like this?
James will be back in Australia teaching Ski Mountainering courses of the 2nd, 3rd, 17th and 18th of September 2016.
Photos in the post were taken by, Samuel May, Drew Herder, Drew Laymen, Max Ritter and Alexey Masolov, Alex Miller, Elliot Levey and James Bultitude. Topo photos are credited in their captions.