Tag Archives: Colorado

A waking dream new ski line in the Gore Range Colorado

What if we had an incredible snow season and it fills in the blanks just enough… Nahhh, keep dreaming. That’s too far out there…”

We often ski around our home range in wonder, “Could you imagine if that mountainside could ever hold enough snow? What would it take for that face to fill in enough to ski? The spring skin track ramble often rattles of how snow and ice sticks to more formidable faces in some of our favorite backcountry ski destinations like British Colombia or Chamonix. What would it take for some local dream lines to hold snow in this continental snowpack?

April 9th, 2019

Epine D’ Argent Ski descent- Baldwin/Holmes

1540’/470m in .34mi/1800’ *50+ with one or two *60+ degree 1m-5m segments of dry-ski, or air.

North Face East Ridge of East Thorn 13,333

Mount Silverthorne Willow Peak Gore Range Summit County Colorado

Six or seven years ago as I rolled out from skiing on Willow Peak and it’s col with its East Thorn, The East Thorn shoots into the sky and is the most prominent peak viewed from the north end of Silverthorne and is the towns namesake. To shred a line on it’s unskied north face would be incredible. I looked up at its hectic and formidable North Face, and I asked these questions. It was more of a fantasy daydream rather than considering a real ski line with some shred of probability. “If this range could ever see a maritime snowpack, the line might go!” “What if we had an incredible snow season and it fills in the blanks just enough… Nahhh, keep dreaming. That’s too far out there…”

Colorado,s Gore range alone has over 100 prominent summits, 1400 square miles, and thousands of couloirs, faces and ski lines. But we are always dreaming. It’s the creativity and mystery of snow and weather that keeps us searching for a fun new combo enchainment or that new way to ski another summit. 

A waking dream…

March 31st Jason Killgore, Chris Baldwin and I Skied what we thought should be called the Precipitation Traverse from Willow Brook in Silverthorne. We started out with two lines on Rain Peak, Hail, Sleet and snow Peak and out to the Gore Creek Trail Head in East Vail. While ascending the east ridge of Rain I noticed the north face of the Thorn for the first time in many years since that daydreaming exit out that valley below. I asked the guys to have a look and snapped some photos. My eye was immediately drawn to the straight line slot, bookended below with a geometrically leaning cliff that formed a semi hanging panel of an escape. I thought it too narrow to fit skis through. Jason eyed it up and had hope. Otherwise, there was a skiable option around the lower portion of the keyhole slot. Options. I fell off the pace to the summit of Rain as the face and possibilities captivated my eyes.

Snow conditions had become very stable. We had been skiing the range all season and more specifically in this zone for the last few weeks. After getting on the significant lines of the Precip Peaks we had a very good sense of the snowpack in the zone. A week later with moderate temps, mostly high pressure and a couple of light refreshes, it was time to have a look at The East Thorn. 

Baldwin and I left the trail head at 7 am and mate our way into the Eagles Nest Wilderness along North Willow Creek to Salmon Lake. After about five miles of peaceful forest, we got a good look. It was so interesting and improbable. So many moves in unknown terrain. The first major feature of the line was to bypass a few hundred-foot gash and cliff above the apron. We started up the apron and then trended right up the hanging snow panel, over the cliff and into into the gash. This would be the second to last move on the descent. From here we were established in the lower couloir. The entire face and lines above are fully exposed above this cliff and the additional series of cliff bands of the North Face to the West. We continued booting the line and found consolidated settled cold powder without any wind skin. We were gaining even more confidence with each step. As we ascended we took note of slight ski variations for the descent, and safe’ ish zones to hide from slough on the way down. Getting caught in any amount of moving snow was not an option as the exposure anywhere on this face is inescapable.  

Once we made it to the East ridge, we enjoyed an elegant knife edge scramble on reasonably sound stone. 6 miles, and 4500’ and 4 hrs after leaving Silverthorne we were on the summit. 

The East thorn is one of the more aesthetic and prominent looking summits of the Southern Gore. It pokes out in the sky behind, and in contrast to the East Summit of Red Mountain when viewed from the Town of Dillon. It surely is the namesake of the Town of Silverthorne.

We found a reasonable place to clip in and took care to clean the tech divots and get the clean crisp heal snap and locked out the toes for certain.  I skied along the exposed ridge to a 1.5-meter ledge that I was able to pass with dry ski and some hand-foot match down mantel moves. This way I could drop in on the line a bit more direct without the exposed wild card traverse below. Chris dropped in direct on a wildly exposed panel, trusting that he could find a way through to pass under this cliff band and he did without incident. Our turns off the ridge onto the North Face were memorable as the terrain viewed down through our skis here on the Thorn is a cross-hatched pattern of mostly stone and meager snow panels tilted significantly further on the inclinometer. My visual experience and feelings at that moment were new to me in my home range.  We were originally drawn to the Couloir from the ridge that narrows to a keyhole slot, dropping straight to the lower choke and cliff band. We were able to open it up here as the angle backed off to about 45+ and the snow was incredible. I charged in staying ahead of my slough until ii could pulling out to dive left under a rock to watch it rip by and funnel into the second and very narrow stage of the keyhole slot. Chris ripped down to me all smiles. From here, Chris chose to bypass the slot for a more skiable and fluid experience. I was drawn to the directness and tight challenge of the slot. It rolled over and narrowed. I used the axe for security in the slough zone and dry-ski chimney technique to lower into the vertical walls of the slot. I moved as decisively as a could and was hit by a small but unnerving slough. The snow was generally still dry but it was warming up and I was in the barrel of the gun. It opened just enough that I was able to make a few precise peddle hop turns grazing the wall with tip and tail until it narrowed again and it was back and hand against the wall with ski bases pasted against the opposing wall. The slot finally let me go and I emerged to some more open skiing down to Chris who was perched above that major lower choke. Chris, once again, more reasonable than I, simply down booted the final choke while I chose some tight turns to my third spot of dry-ski before finally skis off to down boot the last 5 meters as to not keep Chris waiting with my dry-ski antics. From here I took direct creamy warm turns to a 5-meter hover-move air, over the thin cover and small cliff to exit the lower hanging apron back into the lower main couloir. As we ripped hero turns together out to the moraine below it felt like the gravity of the line lifted and the unbridled joy of completing the process poured over. “Well Chris, we made it to Chamonix for one day this season!” We laughed involuntarily as we looked back up at a new adventure in a near-vertical world, discovered right in our own back yard. 

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.

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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