Took a drive tour over Loveland Pass coming back home from the front range yesterday. Stopped to hike the dog up the eastside ridge at the summit of Loveland pass. Stomping through freshness layered in among the scree it was great to get smacked in the head with 0 degree, 30 mph winds under a cobalt grey sky.Stood into the wind and took a breath of the cold. The jet stream was whipping clouds overhead, obscuring the tops of the highest peaks off the Divide, blasting eastward. Snow was falling and the wind was transporting it in great swirls on the open faces of the pass, steadily erasing whats left poking through the snow. Off in the distance, A-Basin looked better than it did all of last year, lifts churning on a busy Saturday, snow in the tress .There were even a few intrepid souls braving seriously early season conditions on the West side of the pass, skiing down to the lower switchbacks . Looked to be about 8 inches of fresh on top of a 60 mile deep granite base. Admire the love, a little early for myself. Drove over a mitten in A-Basin”s cross walk. coming down the pass. No hand in it. Ahh winter. It’s back.. At least above 11,000 feet.
Back in our world, EV is covered in its first layer of the white stuff. I drove back over Vail pass looking the notorious layer that is the foundation for our snowpack. Usually for us in Colorado this becomes a loosely faceted layer that sets the stage for an avalanche cycle in mid to late November in EV and can dog us for the entire season, depending. Last season Old Man’s early season was perfect example, sliding to the ground in November.
This first snow set the stage for the crown jewel of a garbage Continental snowpack in 2011/2012. Early October snow with a long long period of clear, warm weather created 2-4 mm very loose facets out of the first snow. Surface hoar also reared its’ ugly head. When we finally did get some snow, it came with wind and the results….well you remember. The snow pack never recovered.
Our best hope is continued snow without a third Indian summer before the larger snow load arrives. As bad as last year was ,two years ago was the textbook for a decent snowpack. fo us. Snow, snow and more snow, consistent temps and little wind. ”Average” year ? I’d take it.
Every year is different and fascinating in our world, , not only because of the endless variables that affect our snow, but the endlessly variable human element as well. You can’t make the stuff up that happens out in EV. Keeps me coming back and I can’t wait to tell the tale this year. See you soon at the bus stop. EVI.
Seems like we skipped past spring and mud season all together as the past few days in Vail have felt like full on summer. 70 degree temps and bright blue skies are chasing the 500+ inches of snow up the hillside, looking harder and harder to get to each day. That is until you make the drive over to A-Basin and revel in the even higher altitude goodness that lasts into early July.
As you can see from our recent posts, we’ve been taking advantage of the 40-minute drive lately and enjoying the unpretentious, attitude-free skiing above treeline. On the way back last week, I got a great glimpse of the East Vail chutes from the road and had to snap a few pictures. To those who know what they’re looking for, it’s a great way to see the terrain from a different angle and get a refreshed view of what we ski. Also, an opportunity to pick out new lines and re-assess avalanche prone terrain. Just check out that cornice above!
The brief snapshots I took while screaming down the 1-70 corridor show a prominent, man-made notch at the top of Old Man’s cornice. For those that read our blog and watched our videos all winter, you’ll recognize this as the drop-in point used again and again to get to the goods. The skier’s left and skier’s right are insanely huge, and have been for the past two months. Skiing it my first time this season, I was told it would only be a 3-4ft drop into endless fresh pow. Upon arrival in late March, it was more like 6ft into hard slough. Building sized walls of folded snow stared down on either side of the notch. The cornice is still massive, casting a shadow viewable from 1-70 and looming large over Old Man’s basin. As we have said throughout the season, this will be epic if it slides. Something to witness from a safe distance.
Also interesting to note was the seldom skied 3rd bowl, skier’s right of the Old Man’s notch. As you can see from the shot above, significant natural avalanching has occurred across the entire bowl. Not a place we regularly venture for this very reason. That said, it seems like this time of year, snow is crashing down across the state. CAIC has been posting almost daily of massive slides and the news is even being picked up by the Denver Post. Never a better time to be careful out there.
Rounding the final corner to Vail, got a good shot of King Arthur’s from the road. The cliffs at the top still look menacing and the long run to the bottom is sprinkled with avy-debris. It’s always good to keep in the front of your mind how these natural chutes are formed and a reminder of the awesome power that moving snow unleashes. Sturdy trees, solid rocks, and squishy humans are never a match.
We’ll be coming with a season wrap-up soon as we put the summer storage wax on the skis and break out the bikes. That is, unless we get another late-season dump.
Hey All –
The EV season may be over, but all of us pow addicts know that the second season is in full swing and has potential to be one of the great spring seasons in recent history. DPS Dave, Brent the Lawyer, and yours truly took a trip over to A-Basin the Tuesday after Vail’s closing on a blustery three inch day and mulled over the endless options of terrain. Although the wind was up in the alpine, we after some discussion, decided that Shit For Brains, the promenent west facing couloir in the arena east of the A-bay was in play. No naturals observed in the area and moderate amount of new snow gave us the window we were looking for.
Dave and Brent had never skied it and I was looking for redemption after a starfish incident last year, too horrible to describe here (I’ll blame the wind jacked snow). We decided to climb the route instead of taking the ridge, allowing us to assess the snow on the way up, staying true to the mantra climb what you ski, especially in big terrian you are unfamiliar with.
The skin from the CDOT barn was smooth sailing, steep but relatively short. We actually were able to skin into the mouth of the chute and proceeded to strap em on the back for the rest of the way, staging under a large rock fin on the right side of the chute.
Shit For Brains is a great funnel for prevailing westerly winds, and with the wind transport of new snow it was literaly snowing uphill around forty miles an hour for the entire couple hour hike, managing to get snow underneath every layer of my clothing.
Conditions were amazingly varied from pockets of windscour to two feet of soft wind whipped snow. We definitley had our work cut out for us as we were kicking steps into the fresh and having to use poles as cross braces to pull ourselves up, exhausting and arduous work.Watching Dave kick steps, scramble up a couple feet only to slide back down was painfully comical, and the formula for ascent was ten steps, rest, ten step rest, whimper.
The chute is pretty damn steep, and in low snow years can be rocky and only a couple ski width wide with in certain sections. With the abundant snow this year, the chokes were filled nicely, but the deep wind load made the snow catchy and thick.
After forever we got to the mouth of the dammed thing and considered our future. There would be no sending, but controlled steep skiing as the conditions changed from turn to turn, having sluff build and letting it run through, watching for movement, rocks and other hazards. We leaped frogged each other for the first 500 vertical feet or so and then after no avi problems one by one skied the rest of it. I was the last one down, and the momnets I had alone in the coulior were the reason I came back.
Wind howling, stuffed between jagged vertical rock walls and the amazing vertical, craggy terrain of the surrounding area made it asthetically one of the most appealing descents of the year. I love the high alpine feel of the area and this particular chute provides it spades. My descent was deliberate and fun, roiling sluff and rolling over, it was a true test of endurance and variable condition skiing. Legs burning, I met up with the crew in the flats by the trees. We all stayed for a moment to look up the run, then were off to the chilling beer at Brent’s car at the A-bay parking lot.