Category Archives: Colorado Skiing

Skiing Maroon Bells Bell Cord and North Face

Skiing Maroon Bells, Bell Cord and North Face

03/20/2017

Partners, Jason Kilgore, Chris Baldwin and I were able to seize the great weather and prime snow conditions this Saturday the 18th.   Skiing Maroon Bells, Bell Cord and North Face in winter, in a day from Breckenridge, starting at the T Lazy 7 trail head was, well, AWESOME!  And obviously we named it the ‘Double Bells Day!’

We made complete ski descents of both the Bell Cord Couloir 3937′ from the summit of Maroon Peak 14,156′ and the classic North Face 3858′ of North Maroon Peak 14,014′ to the lake.   We got a little conditions report help from Zach Guy and Chris Miller as they had made a descent of the South West face of Thunder a couple days prior.  It’s always fun to be able to forecast conditions and open a line for the season!

The Bells hold classic ski lines on all three, and they are in the neighborhood of 4000’ long.  So to enchain even more than one is a committing tour and means a minimum of almost 9000’ of skiing. Even if one chooses to take a snowmobile in.

Autumn Photo from FB

 Jason and I have bumbled round the hills long enough, always seeking to learn how to move quickly in the backcountry with out always being in a rush.  So the extra 6.5 mile approach from T Lazy 7 with out a sled isn’t so bad.  I think it’s actually easier and probably takes less time than maintaining, fueling and trailering a snowmobile.  When it’s warm in the spring I guess having to stop to shovel snow on the engine sounds like it takes around an hr to get in to Maroon Lake anyway. It takes us 1:30.  So not a big trade off really.  Now don’t get me wrong!  If I lived in Aspen I would have a sled.  It just makes sense if you live there.  But we don’t.  And sometimes the simpler we make things, the richer the experience.
The road was refrozen and fast so we skated in about 7k from T-Lazy 7 trail head, then skins on for the last couple miles.  We left the trail head at 3:30 am and were on the summit of  Maroon Peak at 8:30am including time to asses conditions, discuss options and take in the views along the way.  Keeping a reasonable pace on the way in and up the first climb was key to making rest of the day enjoyable!
 …yeah pace is the trick… -Interpol
The “Paradise Divide” and Crested Butte beyond.

  On the summit by 8:30 gave us plenty of time for the Bell Cord, though our minds were on the North Face of North Maroon.  We did not want to be in that terrain if the winter snow was going to bake in the sun.  Our saving grace, or so we hoped, was the lower mid March sun and the business of the line being between 12,500′ and 14000′. After waiting an hr on the summit for the temps to be a “slightly- early- just- right” we dropped in on the East Face of Maroon at 9:23. The sun had warmed the cold winter snow just enough to be perfect!  We skied the steep east face for about 500 vert before catching the big wide obvious ramp that gains access to the Bell Cord proper. It was cold settled powder all the way down the right side and warm wet pow on the left.  The ski conditions were all time!

The option to make a high traverse out of the Bell Cord to skip 1000’ of the 4000’ line was suggested.  After some discussion we realized it was not  for us.  Beside the massive exposure and hazard that traverse would entail, we were there to ski the lines in their entirety.  I mean WOWZA! they are really something!  Traversing to chip them short to save on vert or ease the challenge diminished the direct beauty and length of these classic lines!   We are out to SKI big beautiful lines from the summit to the lake!  And style matters!

Go further?

There was also talk of the Trifecta.  This would include Pyramid.  Skiing 3 complete lines on all three Bells would be rad.  The Trifecta would be 12,000′ of positive gain on three major lines.  Many have dreamt and talked about it. There are a few combos that could work. But to ski all three lines true to their length would have to wait for another day, snow conditions and ‘we are not there yet’ if you know what I mean.

 Ready boys!
The opening turns from the summit keep you honest
Cruise control!
On to North Maroon!
After skiing the line right to Crater Lake on valley floor, we skied up the drainage and ascended the North Face of North Maroon.  The snow was “hot wet pow” in the trees  below 11K and our confidence took a hit.   Jason reassured us… “But that high North face under a mid march sun…”  Once up under the tall cold face we were quite confident in the snow conditions at this point and chose to dig a hole and test our assessments again.  After booting up and getting established on the first major ramp we assessed the snowpack and performed a CT and ECT.  This large face is a complicated series of hanging snowfields, unsupported panels and frames of snow that are disconnected and peppered by major cliffs and rock.  With this exposure, consequences, and it being late in the day, we really wanted to be confident in our stability assessment before committing to the massive exposure of this line. We found an unreactive, consolidated winter snowpack that supported the multitude of previous observations we had been making from our avalanche forecast to our ‘nowcast’.  We did note new surface hoar development at 4’100 meters up to “punk pock.  This could be a sliding surface problem after the next snow.
Chris approaches the foreshortened North Face North Maroon.
It looks way worse from this angle though.

The North Face skied sooo well!  Settled winter pow!!  Also had to do three very short 1 meter dry ski steep moves at the crux in the center couloir.  No problem here.

Jason and Chris use flawless ‘dry ski technique’ to pass a tight spots.

We choose to link both lines to their completion at the lake in one day, all human power from the ‘everyman’s’ winter trail head at T Lazy 7 Ranch 8200’.   Jason and I had left Breckenridge around 12:30am and met Chris at the trail head at 3:30am.  We all skied out to the safety of the lower apron below the North face at 2:30 pm. This was a culmination of incredible snow and weather forecasting by the team.  Light, bold and efficient ski touring technique made it a fun tour!

23 miles (37kilometers RT

10,300′ (3140k) vert and all smiles n high fives!

(8941’ from Maroon Lake)

The 2017/18 Alien RS is a game changer. No really you watch.
 Gear and Style

Both Chris Baldwin and I were on Faction Agent 90 Skis, 1350 gram skis and ‘freeridey!  Jason and I were on Scarpa Aliens.  Jason the Alien RS and I on the full carbon Alien 3.0.  We all use a Plume Guide toe, combined with a Plume Race heal, binding combos. One can charge if the skill and touch match.  Perfect set up for remote big mountain missions when you want to really ski!  More to come about equipment, techniques and choices that enable quality skiing, in a much shorter amount of time and effort.

Ski Descent Otter Body Grand Teton National Park

Ski descent Otter Body Grand Teton National Park

4/16/2016

I just left a grip of incredible steep couloirs in Cooke City Montana. It was raining.This is my spring ski trip to explore and shred new mountain ranges in Montana and Idaho, but it was just too warm. While chilling in Bozeman plotting my next move, I checked the weather in all of the major Rocky Mountain ranges. I have them all as icons on my iPhone. Snow nerd? Maybe I just like steep skiing and its all about the weather.

The high Tetons were going to see low 20’s or even teens at night and mid 30’s during the day for the next few days and it was currently snowing. But it certainly wasn’t a “new range” for me. My buddy Mike and I had one line in particular we were waiting and watching for the ideal conditions to shape up. I called Mike from wet and warm Bozeman on Thursday afternoon. He returned my call in 30 minutes and said he and Chris would leave Breckenridge Friday at noon to meet at the Taggart Lake trail head for a 2am start Saturday morning.

A ski descent of the  mythical Otter Body may just come together. 1957 We wanted to ski the Grand Teton in powder. So, of course this means deep trail breaking. It also means the potential of being ‘lanched’ in the Stetener Chevy or Ford Couloirs if there was a party above us. This, and knowing the sun hits the East face at first light, meant a 2am start. We have paired our entire kit down to the lightest, yet solid mountain tested tools. Mike choose his Faction Agent 100’s with Dynafit TLT Carbon boots and of course a Dynafit binding. Expecting a mixed bag of deep pow and glazed east facing spring ice, I grabbed the Agent 90 and Ultra light Scarpa Alien 1.0 carbon boots. I’ve learned to enjoy both the big guns for shorter days and the smaller light equipment when going far and high. I’ve learned speed equals safety in the mountains and the easier the skinning, the more rad lines we ski! Two teams started some hours before us. We were able to catch up, and after thanking Inga and Blake for their hard work we took over the trail breaking duties on the Teepee Glacier. Once in the Stetener it was waist deep wallowing and our speed really slowed. We still had time with the early start and unseasonably low 15 degree temps above 11k. So hateful post-holing ensued.

We tied in and I lead up through the ice bulge the Chevy Couloir. It’s only a few spots of Ice with one AI 3 bulge to clear. Mike set off breaking trail into the Ford Couloir while I finished belaying Chris.

Booter up the Ford Couloir pictured here. The summit was close now and the views got real.

Shot of Inga and Blake at top of Ford where previous photo was taken from.

A tall summit always feels even better with skis doesn’t it!

We had been forecasting the snow stability from far away for a couple weeks. Checking precip, wind, temps, Avy forecast and other skiing activity. Doing our homework leading up to a big high consequence line is a prerequisite for my partners and I. I don’t go for the send unless I learn most of the deck is stacked in our favor.

Here we make the final assessment of recent snow before committing to the steeper wide open East face. Soft and stable. Check!

The upper east face skied a foot deep of soft with 3-4″ of light and fresh on top. That is, until we were 2000′ lower and it rolled over steeper. Right before the first rappel the new snow had sloughed off to reveal the spring glaze. Thank you JD at Alpine Sports Breck for the 3 degree side bevel! Slow it down and locate the anchors man! Mike and I worked together to find them.

One 30 meter rap brought us to the line’s namesake Otter Body. Despite this snowfield hanging over a 700′ cliff it didn’t seem as heavy or steep as other pitches on the line. Maybe 43 degrees here but the gravity below kept us honest. And the snow was great again. Of course until it steepens right before searching for hidden anchors. I was sensing a devious trend here.

The need to be dialed on steep skiing with the weight of our standard day touring pack, plus mountaineering gear goes without saying. But despite shredding with the heavier pack, the skiing is not the hard part for solid Freeriders. It’s the mountaineering spidey sense, to sniff out the usually buried anchors, and quick efficient rope handling skills. Then there is the ‘ski-to-rap, stash-the-poles, grab-the-ice axe’ type transitions. And no matter how smooth we are, there is always some jerry like antics to factor into the timing. It’s all good if we have built in the ‘unknown time suck’ factor and most importantly, Jerry doesn’t drop the rope. You laugh but it happened to the best. On this mountain, one week prior, twice in one day, by two separate pro Jerrys! I say that with much respect two of them are the real deal with ski mountaineering resumes to rival the greats! Keep it tight-loose!

If you look carefully you can see Chris rappelling through the last major cliff feature. One day on a monster El Niño year some bad ass will ski the 60 degree ice and send this 100 footer to the massive slough pile at the top of the Teepee Glacier. I bet that day is far away. Or is it?

Mike rapped last, tied in and pulled the rope by skiing away. We were mega stoked to be down off the gnar and wanted to get out of the Avy bomb zone as it was really beginning to heat up

Teague Holmes, Chris and Mike are amped to have skis on the Teepee glacier and DAMN….to have skied the Otterbody on the GFT!!!

Teague Holmes, Inga and Blake successfully shredded up the Ford Couloir and figure 8 it up past the Teepee Spire. Thanks for the skinner up to the Spire!

The Otterbody route on East Face of The Grand Teton Grand Teton National Park Wyoming USA

What a way to top off a rad winter of lapping the resort when it’s deep, riding park when it’s not, human powered dawn patrols and weekend backcountry tours. What do we have our eye on this  spring!?

Skiing in The Gore Range is not that far

We get a charge out of putting it all together. Isn’t it the process, the mystery in the journey that engages us? –
The NE face of Bloodshaw and the NW Couloir of Peak O seemed so far from access points.  The Gore mountain Range is so far away right?
I was first inspired to ski these two lines a couple years ago while driving by the Gore Mountains. You know, rubbernecking with an eye for the biggest and best ski lines you can spy. During the pre trip route finding research we found no record of prior descents. Perfect. (surely they’ve been skied, how could the biggest faces in the range be overlooked) When there is no trail or skin track to the summit, no info available on how to navigate the complex face, and no complete photos to show if the line even goes, you know your in for a memorable day. –
The rugged approach comes together and we are standing on the nearly 13,000′ summit, way out there, somewhere in the Gore Mountain Wilderness. I’m now staring down the barrel of the towering North East face of Bloodshaw. It’s powder from the summit, so we asses its stability, again. We trust each other’s judgement. We’d better be right. I look down 3,600′ to the river bed below. This line feels heavy, it feels different than some others. I pause for a moment to take in this place, the gravity, the moment of a mystery being realized. Does it go?

I roll in on cold soft powder, when all I’ve seen lately is corn or a little tired old storm snow. Floaty and smooth, way out there, exposed on this towering face, it was like skiing in suspended disbelief. We found our way through chutes, over ribs, around cliffs and eventually down to the massive run out and last steep pitch to the Slate River. What a ski run. And those conditions! We transition and search for a place to cross. It’s a ways to go to gain Peak O. Plenty of time to wonder of its North West Couloir. What will it ski like? Two more couloirs to get there… Once we gain the ridge can we climb to the summit? It’s a long ways out from west of Black Lake. I really hope it goes. 

Well it all did go.  And it turns out we were able to ski not just one huge line we thought was far away, but two.  And on separate mountains with two possible first descents in-between.  I guess skiing in the Gore Range is not that far. 
With @mikeschilling19 and support from @kates_real_food @gnarlynutrition @factionskis@mtn_outfitters_breck @scarpana #gorerange#noplacetoofar #coloradoskiing #coloradobackcountry#forthefew #exploremore

3 mile aproach
3 mile aproach

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Mike laughs after realizing it would go in 4 hours car to car.  Not bad for "The Gore Range"
Mike laughs after realizing it would go in 4 hours car to car. Not bad for “The Gore Range”

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SE of Peak O May have skied a new line here
SE of Peak O
May have skied a new line here

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Has this been skied?
Has this been skied?
How about this one? Seems unlikely.
How about this one?
Seems unlikely.
Mike Schilling ascending a long SE couloir on Peak O
Mike Schilling ascending a long SE couloir on Peak O
Lines for life in the Gore Range
Lines for life in the Gore Range
Mike Schilling walks the ridge to Peak O's Summit
Mike Schilling walks the ridge to Peak O’s Summit

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Michael Schilling drops into the 3,200' Northwest Couloir of Peak O Gore Range Colorado
Michael Schilling drops into the 3,200′ Northwest Couloir of Peak O Gore Range Colorado
Ha! and it finishes with a tight walls 600' slot!
Ha! and it finishes with a tight walls 600′ slot!
We gad to break through thin ice until we got onto supportive ice.  This was my least favorite part of the adventure.
We gad to break through thin ice until we got onto supportive ice. This was my least favorite part of the adventure.

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Landry Line Pyramid Peak Maroon Bells

Early april 2014

The Landry Line on Pyramid 14,018′ Maroon Bells Wilderness Colorado. We made a rare descent of this iconic North American ski line last April.
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Photo Ted Mahon and Chris Davenport taken from an airplane while we were a couple hundred feet from the summit.
It is 4000′ line that runs continuously steep to the valley bottom and listed in Davenport’s 50 Classic ski descents of North America.  It ranks as one of the heaviest lines I’ve skied anywhere. My best ski partner Michael Schilling and I made the crucial Avy/snow forecast from many miles away with local info and the ever improving accessible weather and snowpack data.  We said “its on!” and he drove to Aspen from Breckenridge and I from SLC meeting at the trail head and skiing the 5 miles in at 10pm. When we arrived we verified it might go!   We bivied for a few hours and cast off at 5AM.
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Photos Michael Schilling
Memorable to say the least.
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