When I grew up in suburban Detroit, watching Leave it to Beaver, going to public school, taking piano lessons on Tuesday's and bowling on Saturday's I never thought I'd be skiiing in June. Skiing in June never even crossed my mind. When I was sitting on the trading floor at Morgan Stanley in NYC... Summer skiing wasn't even on my radar. Things have changed.
Shredding in June: Click 4 pix. Photos by Mike Jahn.
Never in my wildest imagination did I think I'd be "earning my turns" by hiking up to peaks above the tree line...in June?? So as life evolves...so too does one's bucket list. Skiing in June on Independence Pass on the Continental Divide was not even on my list...but I'm thrilled to have experienced it first hand on a picture perfect, cloudless day in the Colorado Rockies.
It all turned out to be fairly mellow...but when one embarks into the back country you never know what can happen. "Know before you go" is a good rule of thumb so I wanted a scouting report from a knowledgeable source. I consulted my pal Chris Davenport, perhaps the foremost expert on ski mountaineering in the World today. Chris, along with Aspen Locals Ted and Christy Mahon are completing their Centennial mission of hiking and skiing the 100 highest peaks in Colorado. Dav assured me that "it's a great year to ski in June". He encouraged me by saying the current avalanche danger up on Independence Pass was "low". He suggested a route called Mountain Boy as a good "starter trail".
After getting the thumbs up from Dav. I proceeded directly to The Red Onion for happy hour. The crew at Red Onion... Jordan White, Colter J. Hinchcliffe and "baller" Brad Unglert are all sponsored ski pros with BIG mountain credentials. They could share good intel about Independence Pass. When I asked Jordan, the most even-keeled of the three, if he'd been up on Mountain Boy...he answered "yeah, we did it this morning". How was it?, I asked. "Awesome...fresh POW". Really? I was sold. The boys reinforced my desire to hike and ski the pass by describing the route and drawing me a little map on a napkin. Then they told me to "go get some".
To find a suitable partner, I turned to Match.com...ummmm... I mean twitter. My first first tweet was to Aspen Local Mike Jahn who had previously led me up Colorado's highest peak, Mt. Elbert last Fall. That experience was a great one. Perfect day, looooooooooong hike, summitting before 1 followed by tacos in Leadville.
Good news. Mike was up for skiing the pass on Saturday. I rented a peeps (avalanche beacon) at Ute Mountaineer and bought a fresh battery at Carl's. I was planning to hike in my regular alpine ski boots and carry my skis on my back, forgoing AT gear and skins. "Get up there early" Damon the guy at Ute said. "you don't wanna start post hole-ing". For those who have never post-holed...its when your ski boot breaks through the soft snow while walking...some times up to your hip...its never a positive.
Heading out for a new adventure always makes me tingle with excitement. I sleep with one eye open in anticipation of the day. Even though I set my alarm, I didn't need it. I was especially obsessed with time on this trip because of the way the sun can affect the snow conditions. Ideally we wanted to hike on the hard-packed snow, still frozen from the night before and time the decent to coincide with smooth, creamy, sun drenched corn-POW. It's a fine line and the timing is relevant to safety and enjoyment. While Mountain Boy is hardly Mt. Everest, I had a recollection from Into Thin Air...how a late start had cost everybody dearly.
We were set to take off at 7 am. I was packed with the dog walked and my FB status updated...and it was only 6.15. Anticipation, annticippaaaayytion is making me wait. Mike...(I'm gonna go out on a limb & say)...is not a morning person. Especially after a BIG Friday night with his lady...so he was running a wee bit late. Me, I had everything totally together as I waited at our pre-arranged meeting spot. Totally ready....except for one small detail...I forgot my camera battery. Whaaaaaaat?
It was a strikingly beautiful, absolutely clear, bluebird Aspen morning. 33 degrees in town when we set off. A short switch-backing drive got us to the parking lot at the summit of Independence Pass around 8. We were not alone. There were about 20 other skiers milling about, buckling their boots and getting ready. The small crowd dispersed in several different directions. Mountain Boy was the most popular route. It's East-facing and gets the morning sun...so you want to hit that one first. For the record. I was clearly the least granola person up there.
Let's do this!!!
Mike boot-packed it with me, and we kept up a decent pace. We summited Mountain Boy (12,800 ft) after hiking about an hour. As a frame of reference the Mountain Boy hike is longer than Aspen Highland Bowl but not as steep. The run set out before us looked sweeeet. It had snowed about 4 inches two nights previously. Laid out in front of us was a HUGE untracked (mostly) powder field. The run had not yet been baked...it was absolutely perfect "cream of corn" conditions.
A quick little jump turn off the cornice at the top was required...that's where I usually yard sale. Not this time, I stomped the entry...and it was on. The best thrill ride of the Summer. Conditions on Mountain Boy were absolutely stellar. It was like spreading cream cheese on a warm toasted bagel. One turn after another. The only sound was that of my own slough. I stopped and waited in a safe zone as Mike flawlessly ripped his run. Postal Jim...you know the guy from the post office and his buddy Cortland skied next. We watched.
At the bottom, we were all getting ready to hitch hike a ride back to the summit where our cars were parked. That's when a fellow shredder, Tom pulled up in his truck and said "u guys can jump in the back". So we rode back up to the top in style in the bed of his pick-up. Postal Jim had toted one can of beer with him the whole way. He popped the top and we all took a celebratory swig. Best beer ever.
Next on the agenda 4th of July Bowl on 4th of July. See ya there.
Shredding in June: Click for pix by Mike Jahn