Okay, so a deep snowpack, frequent pow, and not much sun is the opposite of how Colorado’s backcountry generally gets described. Fortunately, about a month ago a wormhole opened up along the Continental Divide, and the High Rockies have been graced with a winter snowpack from Japan, or maybe British Columbia, probably both.
Joel Gratz keeps writing on Open Snow about some Pacific moisture flow, blah, blah, blah. He’s full of it; it’s a wormhole.
Think about it:
Clearly, Hokkaido has come to Colorado.
Over the past few weeks it has been really fun exploring the new terrain in Hokkaido, Colorado. Most winters I get psyched about meadow skipping on 22-degree wind crust, but suddenly all of these rad pow lines have just appeared, many of which have been low, accessible, roadside attractions. Here’s three favorites:
I have looked at the SKY chutes for years. They are a series of gullies coming off of Peak 5 in the 10-mile range that vaguely look like an S, K, and Y if you are driving from Vail Pass to Copper. These get a ton of traffic from people hiking over from Breckenridge, but also see a lot of avy activity in the winter. Once spring comes along, the desire to head up the SKY has always ended up on the back burner. Last week the K was phenomenal.
SAFTEY NOTE: While we were on SKY a snow boarder with no backpack and no partner popped over from Breck and bombed down. DO NOT DO THIS. Even in Hokkaido, accidents happen, snow slides, and people get hurt.
THE COIN SLOT
The Coin Slot is a stupid line. It’s also a blast.
My friend Justin and I headed to Frisco at 3 pm with the intention of getting a beer after a day of skiing. We couldn’t help ourselves and instead decided to check out this classic roadside ski mountaineering attraction. 45 minutes of steep skinning got us to the top of Mount Royal. An hour and fifteen minutes later, we finally found the entrance to the Coin Slot. The Slot is aptly named. You rappel into a narrow couloir and wiggle your way down before popping out on steep trees above I-70. The rap in is a couple hundred feet off of the Mount Royal ridge, and without knowing exactly where it was, it took us some time to find.
This shouldn’t be taken as a ‘why wait for spring!’ endorsement of mid-winter skimo lines. We were lucky before this last storm with a locked up north facing snowpack. This is changing quickly. That said, the Coin Slot was 1400ft of prime silliness for the technical-skiing inclined.
Near Leadville there is a line locals call ‘Roadside Attraction,’ for obvious reasons. It’s an eleven-hundred-foot slide path that drops almost onto the road. Its been as good as it gets these days without much approach, or driving required for us Leadvillians.
As the sun comes out this week, I wonder if we’ll have to go back to old Colorado. Domo arigato, Mr. Snowbato! I have saved so much money on plane tickets.
Epilogue: I wrote this piece on January 27, 2017. On the 28th the wormhole closed, at least for now. I headed up Mount Elbert with some friends and skied a super scoured line of chalked up snow into Box Creek, then negotiated a zipper crust well below treeline.
It was blustery, cold, sunny, with plenty of wind slab to worry about — really sounds a lot like Colorado. Hopefully the bridge will reappear this weekend. According to University of Colorado Physics Department Ph.D. candidate Ben Chapman (like for real, I took the time to call a physicist and ask him to comment on the possibility of a wormhole in Colorado) this is entirely possible, “Wormhole calculations are notoriously tricky, so while confirmation of this hypothesis will be difficult, total preclusion would be next to impossible.”
If the portal reopens, you will read about it soon.
Dr. Alex Lee lives in Anchorage, Alaska. Alex is a professor at Alaska Pacific University, teaching philosophy and environmental studies. He also works as a sometimes guide, naturalist, writer, and photographer.