Deep instability. Wind Slab. Depth Hoar. I avoid these elements like brussels sprouts at a Keanu Reeves flick. This weekend was no exception – though I still had a run in with a bad movie. As we roll into 2009 and the first storm of the New Year, we’re all to aware that both backcountry and in-bounds areas have witnessed deadly avalanches. All the while, our Siren Song continues to call with significant snow fall in the forecast. My goal? Get out there, have fun…but play nice.
Saturday looked to be the perfect day to sleep in, grab some new gear and ski the long awaited pow. After missing out on the Christmas week storms in the Aspen area, and distrusting the current snowpack, I was anxious to hike the Bowl with some new snow. Given the unfortunate events of the season – including inbounds avalanches at Vail, Jackson Hole and Snowbird to name a few – I definitely had a heightened sense of the general risk that comes with skiing in any terrain. So our crew decided we’d practice safe resort skiing with beacons, probes and shovels. To carry my avy gear, I was psyched to finally ski with my new Mystery Ranch Broomstick that I gave an initial overview of last November.
After a Carbondale alpine start we rolled into the parking lot at Highlands around eleven thirty. A few warmup runs later we headed for the Bowl, caught the snowcat-ride, and loaded our packs for the hike. We enjoyed one of the warmest snow-day hikes I’ve experienced at Highlands (read: no frostbite) and casually arrived at the top to see more patrollers than day skiers. The fluff-on-crust in Steeplechase must have scared the crowds off.
After a meet-and-greet around the prayer flags we dropped into the trees to be welcomed by knee-deep and deeper. Super fluff. Face shots all around. Hero snow. Exhausted at the bottom, we headed in for fries and cocoa — Bowl was now closed for the day after all.
As for the Broomstick backpack, I’m convinced that this is one of the best options if you want to hike, carry skis on your back, potentially exit the area, and overall keep your avy gear on you in-bounds. I have never liked riding lifts or skiing the resort with a pack if I don’t need to. I prefer to stash my stuff in some location with questionable security and grab it when needed. (Ideally, at the end of the day I don’t find myself at the car sans pack and keys!) The Broomstick was plenty slim on the lifts so no need to remove, and it carried my skis well. Plus the option to keep my beacon in the zippered pocket contoured into the shovel blade when not needed (bump runs?) was a blessing. I was glad to have a helmet on with my longer handled shovel, as I think there may have been some head-to-handle contact, but my shorter shovel would have eliminated that issue as well.
After a day of riding the lifts, I headed out to Williams Peak for a little low-risk BC. We had a blue bird day without the typical wind that forms the always breakable cornices on the skin up. Being only the second hike of the season for most of us, we took it slow and enjoyed the calm, cold weather.
From the summit we watched as the next storm seemed to boil and roll around Mount Sopris across the Crystal River Valley. Back up for another lap and we set off in search of foot-deep surface hoar. A classic skip through the main meadow and we called it a day. Despite being super tracked out, Willy’s still provided plenty of untracked on the margins, and was a great safe day.
Dave “Snowman” Downing lives in Whitefish, Montana where Dave is a freelance designer and owner of Ovid Nine Graphics Lab Dave’s ski career began due to a lack of quality skiing video games for NES.