Alpine Ventures

Outdoor adventures in Colorado and beyond

Early Season Skiing 2010/2011

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Jones Pass


It’s been in an unbelievable start to the ski season in northern Colorado this year.  After a couple of months of very dry weather, winter came in with a bang in late October, starting out with a few back-to-back moderate snowfalls for the mountains and ending with a huge storm dropping a few feet of snow.  After a little break, the snow train has picked back up, with consistent snow having fallen pretty much every day for the past week in the northern mountains.  It’s a classic La Nina set-up which has been dropping moderate amounts of snowfall every day on a consistent basis, and I would love to see this pattern continue through the winter (07-08 anyone??).

It looks like the rest of the week will be dry and sunny, but I plan to make a few bluebird powder laps up on Berthoud Pass tomorrow morning.  Easily the best website for weather and ski conditions in Colorado is Joel Gratz’s site, Colorado Powder Forecast.  A local meteorologist out of Boulder, Joel forecasts specifically for outdoor related activities (mainly skiing) in Colorado, and does a much better job forecasting the many micro climates in our mountains than or other automated sites do.  We Colorado skiers are indeed lucky to have such a reliable site to help us find the freshies.

I’ve been out five days so far this season, easily the most I’ve ever had for so early in the year.  Granted I didn’t really start getting into the backcountry a lot until late last season, but still, it speaks to how good the conditions have been so far.  Also, the earliest powder day I had ever had prior to this season (keep in mind, this is just my fourth winter living out west) was on December 3 at Loveland two seasons ago.  As of November 11 of this year, I have already skied on three powder days.  Yes, this is shaping up to be an amazing start to the season, and the start of calendar winter is still over a month away!  Lets just hope the snow keeps on falling.

My first day out was on October 26 at Butler Gulch with my friend Angela, right after the huge early season snowstorm I spoke of earlier.  The snow was insanely deep for October, which was great, except the only available ski set-up I had for that day was my spring mountaineering setup – Black Diamond Havocs with Fritschi Freeride Bindings and alpine boots.  Not exactly the best for higher-than-waist-deep snow (not even joking) that was a bit on the heavy side by Colorado standards.  Angela also had a skinnier set of skis, so we both were getting stuck in the fairly low angle terrain a lot.  Regardless it was a fun day and I was able to get a few good shots on the initial steeper section.


Ready for the season’s first turns


Angela making some powder turns




Day number two was about a week later, and with proper gear was a much better day.  Three of my co-workers, Jon, Nick, and Rico, and I went on a dawn patrol before work at Jones Pass.  We hit some north-facing soft-snow and had some awesome turns.  Much better than day #1 as it turned out.  I took out a pair of 184 cm Movement Sluffs with Marker Baron Bindings and Black Diamond Factor boots.

I really enjoyed the Sluffs.  Even though they’re a little longer and stiffer than what I’m used to, I didn’t even notice the difference.  I found the Sluffs to be very responsive, when I needed to whip some quick turns through tight spaces I could easily, but they also floated through the powder very well, even though they aren’t true powder skis (99 mm waist) by today’s standards.

Being in the market for a set of AT boots after touring all last season (including a few 14ers) on alpine boots, I was very pleased with the way the Factors performed.  The flex on the walk mode was nice and comfortable and made skinning much less painful than in stiff alpine boots.  They also skied very well on the downhill.  Overall I felt like it was a very good balance of tourability and downhill performance.  However, they aren’t too good to be true and their downside will probably cause me not to get these boots.  Unfortunately, BD boots sometimes tend to break, and I found this to be true when I tried on a defective pair just prior to this trip.  The flip switch from ski to walk mode did not work, and apparently this has been a quite common problem with BD boots.  The last thing I want is to be in the backcountry and have one of my boots not switch into ski mode when I’m ready for the descent.

I didn’t get any action shots on this dawn patrol, but I did take a picture of the Continental Divide just after sunrise.

Jones Pass scenery


Last Thursday, Greg Floyd, Sean Mattingly, and I headed back to Jones Pass after some fresh snowfall, and had what is seriously one of the best days I’ve ever experienced skiing the backcountry.  It was a day that I will not soon forget, with wonderful early season conditions and a great group of guys to ski with.  I took out the Movement Sluffs again, but this time with Dynafit Titan boots.  The Titans were solid as expected, but to nitpick I found them to be a little too stiff (never thought I would say that to be honest).  I also didn’t think they toured as well as the BD Factors, and they didn’t keep my feet warm at all (as evidenced by the purple toes I had when we got back to the car on a day that wasn’t that cold).  Then again, that could have been more the result of not having an exact fit with the demo boots and not having a custom liner.

Regardless, we had an amazing day.  It was a long tour, with some tough uphill stretches, but we skied three laps and every single turn was phenomenal, especially for November standards.  As it turns out, Greg, who is one of the owners of Bent Gate Mountaineering, is also an incredible photographer.  Here are some of our shots from this beautiful day.

On the way up





This was easily the best “skiing photo shoot” I have ever been a part of.  Greg’s shots are amazing, and I wish the ones I took of him were as good as the ones he took of Sean and I.  Nevertheless we had a blast the entire time.  What a day!

Skier: Greg Floyd  (Photos: Alan Smith)






Skier: Sean Mattingly  (Photos: Greg Floyd)






Skier: Alan Smith  (Photos: Greg Floyd)






Some of our tracks



And it was all powder smiles…



On Sunday, I made a trip up to the Indian Peaks Wilderness with Emily and Lida for some snowshoeing and exploring.  And yes, there was plenty of snow on this day too!  It was snowing steadily, the temps were cold, and the wind was howling, but we had a great time.  We followed a “trail” towards Woodland Lake from the Hessie Trailhead right outside of Eldora, but much of the hike involved a lot of trail-breaking through deep snow, as well as lots of snow plunging and snow diving (sometimes intentional… other times not so much).  Emily tried to take me out at one point even though I was trying to pull her out of a deep pit in the snow, but fortunately my cat-like reflexes allowed me to escape her wrath.

Pictures from the Indian Peaks Wilderness



Written by Alan

November 17, 2010 at 12:05 am

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