A Year Of Skiing In Pictures

Sept 30 marked twelve consecutive months of skiing for Silo, Diesel, Betsy, and I. And in retrospect much of last year wasn’t great, but more of last year was absolutely tremendous. Here are our last twelve months in pictures.

Rollins Pass October Turns Berthoud Pass - The Meadows - November 12th 2012

Even in October and November we had no shortage of soft snow at Rollins and Berthoud Passes.

George and the Pups About to Drop Into the South Chutes Cameron Pass - Montgomery Bowl

December was slow on the snowfall front … but when it snowed we took advantage.

Ajax Chest Deep for Someone at Least on the East Side Runs

January didn’t fare much better … but Aspen is always fun and Diesel can always find the soft snow.

Aguille Du Midi Brevent

Come February we found ourselves in Chamonix in the middle of one of their best winters ever.

George Enjoying Some Spring Powder in the North Chutes  X Bowl

But March was when real Winter started. Beginning a stretch of three months of all time conditions.

Highlands Bowl Hiking Spring Powder on Little Elvis

April came and as closing day parties approached at the resorts the snow was piling up in the backcountry and the skiing was the best it had been in two years.

Steep Couloirs in Flora Creek May Powder on Byers Peak

May yielded us less closing day parties (because there was no where left to close…) but far more beautiful backcountry powder.

Arapahoe Basin Pond Skimming June in the Indian Peaks

June granted us the seasons final closing day at Arapahoe Basin, and a gradual transition from powder to big lines. But still some powder.

Betsy Above Skyscraper Lake Skyscraper Glacier from Below

In July the powder relented, but the big lines hung around despite record heat.

A 15 Minute Hike Yields Some Midsummer Snow A Turn's a Turn

After record heat through the first month of summer late August turns were more for sport than for skiing’s sake.

The Joys of Night Skiing Without a Headlamp Stoke Factor: 1,000,000

And with 3 hours left in September we got on Loveland’s snowmaking patch to round out the year.

Not bad for a “bad” winter!

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And September Makes Twelve

Monday night (September 30th) we squeaked in a twelfth consecutive month of skiing in Colorado with about three hours to spare. Barring injury (knock on so much wood) the next ten months should be relative gimme’s. At the beginning of the month we decided we didn’t want to do Saint Mary’s two months in a row and we held out until the last possible minute hoping to slide on some man-made goodness. Fortunately for us Loveland and A-Basin began making snow in late September. So to the hills we went, in quest of three-day old refrozen, ungroomed, man-made ice crystals.

There were pictures of snow on the website... Getting Warmer

I swear I saw pictures of snowmaking on the website!

Betsy and Diesel Getting Ready To Do What They Do Best Stoke Factor: 1,000,000

Diesel, Silo, and Betsy back in their element… Man made ice, that is.

Skiing is Skiing We've Gotten Radder...

While we’ve certainly gotten radder on other occasions … we’ve never been more stoked to ski.

We'll Just Wait Here For First Chair

One lap was enough. But we’re definitely first in line for opening day!

For those of you playing along at home, check out the best of the best from each of the last 12 months.

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Snowboard On The Block

I’ll be hanging out at the OZ Snowboards booth at Snowboard on the Block in Denver this Saturday. Come say what’s up, talk all things shredding, and check out OZ’s 2013-14 lineup.

Snowboard on the Block

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Keeping Winter Alive: August

Our monthly quest to “Keep Winter Alive” took us to St. Mary’s Glacier this month. Technically not a “glacier” but definitely the closest easy access turns to be had in the end of August. All in all we took 3 laps, got about 10 “turns” a lap. And had an awesome time, despite getting rained on most of the time. Skiing is skiing as far as I’m concerned.

A 15 Minute Hike Yields Some Midsummer Snow We're doing what? Regardless of the Snow it Feels Good to be on Skiis

A Turn's a Turn Betsy and Silo Get Some Late August St Mary's Action
Not Bad For August
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Guest Post on Kuhl’s Blog: Dog Friendly Backcountry Vacation Destinations

I just posted a guest post on Kuhl’s “Born in the Mountains” blog that is my “Top Three Dog Friendly Backcountry Vacation Destinations“. Check it out!

Lost Twin Lakes in the Bighorn Range

Spoiler — The three areas are the Wallowa Range in Oregon, the Bighorn Range in Wyoming, and the Sawtooth Range in Idaho.

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Getting Extreme: Summer Edition

A few weeks ago my buddy James took his first BASE jump ever. Pretty rad footage in my opinion.

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Elephants Perch: Mountaineers Route

Somewhere in the middle of Idaho one of my favorite places is hiding from everyone in plain sight. The Sawtooth mountain range has somehow escaped the sprawling crowds that seem to invade every National Park, Recreation Area, Monument, and almost everywhere else we go in search of an escape from this very mass of humanity.

Is this lack of popularity what attracts me to it? It’s definitely part of it, but the Sawtooth certainly has the merit to stand on it’s own.

When I was a little kid we took a family vacation to Red Fish Lake Lodge. As a 7 year old I stood on the dock and looked at the skyline of jagged mountains in the distance as my father explained to me that was why they are called the Sawtooth. Somehow, I remembered that moment 15 years later and found my way back. Since then, it has become my go-to destination when I want to get away from the crowds.

Almost coincidentally, the Sawtooth Range is home to some great climbing and probably the best big-wall in Idaho, the Elephants Perch. The Perch is situated an easy 4-mile hike from the end of Red Fish Lake where this 1000-foot wall looms over the super picturesque Saddleback Lakes.  This weekend, the classic “Mountaineers Route”, a 7 pitch 5.9, was our objective.

Elephant's Perch South Face Elephant's Perch Southwest Face

The Approach

As we sat in the dining room at the Red Fish Lake Lodge, feasting on their breakfast buffet (worth every penny), our server asked us what we were going to do today. Mouths full and still half asleep we mumbled that we were headed to climb the Perch. Immediately, we got a look of skepticism, not a comforting way to start our trip. Most people make a trip out of it and camp out at the Saddleback Lakes for a night or two before or after attempting climbs on the perch. Here we were, distracted by this glorious breakfast, making zero progress towards the wall, let alone up it. I have been known to be a little overambitious at times…

We hopped on the shuttle boat to the far end of the lake with our bikes around 9:30, about two and a half hours after we planned to catch it. The bikes were our security blanket; if we missed the last shuttle boat back at 7pm we could, in theory, bike the 5-mile trail out which would make the prospect of missing the boat more bearable.

Plan B

Water Shuttle Across Red Fish Lake

North Side of the Elephant's Perch Cfrossing the River the Perch Comes into View

Once at the far end of the lake we quickly biked to the wilderness boundary. We had to stash the bikes here because someone in Washington DC once decided bicycles somehow disturb the wilderness. From the wilderness boundary it was a reasonably quick 3-mile hike to the base of the wall. Since we were just doing a day trip, we could make a direct scramble up the slabs at the bottom of the wall instead of following the “trail” all the way to the Saddleback Lakes and then traversing back across to the base of the route. By 12:30 we had stashed our backpacks, racked up, and were ready to get on the first pitch.

The First Four Pitches of the Mountaineers Route on the Elephants Perch

Pitch 1

The first pitch was an easy and non-exposed climb up a ~5.5 crack system to a large belay ledge. We soloed this first pitch with no issue in an attempt to make up a little time.

Pitch 2

We had read that you could combine many of these pitches if you weren’t afraid of a little rope drag, so we opted to keep soloing partway up the second pitch in hopes we could combine the rest with the third pitch. Partway up this pitch there is an exposed 5.8 mantle move, which we decided was definitely where we wanted to rope up. You go from easy, non-exposed climbing, out around a corner into 200+ feet of exposure, and all of a sudden it hits you, you’re actually climbing. After the mantle you climb up past a tree (read: bush) and follow another crack leftward facing crack. You head up this crack for a few more feet and work your way over some blocks and come out onto a nice belay ledge. There were a few old fixed bolts here, and even though we had plenty of rope remaining I decided I was actually afraid of a “little” rope drag and we reconsidered combining the pitches.

Looking Down from the Bottom of the 3rd Pitch Looking up the Third Pitch
Looking down and up from the bottom of Pitch 3

Pitch 3

We worked our way up some more slightly tougher climbing up the relatively steep crack system on the face beneath the “Triple Roofs” (pictured above) to another bolted anchor (with much newer, more trustworthy bolts).

Pitch 4

From these anchors it was a leftward traversing pitch on underclings below the triple roofs until you could round the corner above them. The triple roofs themselves protected very well (with #1,2,and 3 cams), the tough part was finding long enough slings to mitigate rope drag as you rounded the corner. Once past the 3rd roof and around the corner, we quickly gained a 3rd class gully up to the base of the Diamond. It was nice to have some solid ground to stand on, even though anchor building in the gully here was kind of a bitch.

Looking Across the Valley on the 3rd Pitch Looking Down at James in the Gully Below the 5th Pitch
Looking across the basin from Pitch 3 and James in the 3rd class gully between Pitches 4 and 5

Pitch 5

In my opinion the 5th pitch is the best pitch on this route. From my comfortable belay station at the base of the diamond I watched James lead up and to the left across a slabby 5.8 face, following the obvious features towards the skyline. You round a small corner to the left here and enjoy fun, exposed, climbing for another 50 feet before setting up a belay at the first obvious spot you find. We made the mistake of running this pitch about 20-30 feet too far which was the beginning of the debacle that was the next two pitches.

Looking up the 5th Pitch Looking Towards the Other Perches From Where The 5th Belay Should Have Been
Looking up the 5th Pitch to the left of the diamond, looking around the corner of the diamond and across the basin towards the other perches (chipmunk perch, eagles perch, and goats perch).

Pitch 6-7

This is where things started to get interesting… With concerns about rope drag outweighing our concerns about timing we had abandoned the notion that we would combine any pitches, and figured we’d just play it safe and run nice short pitches and be careful not to miss belays or get off route.

The problem is … I’m really bad at estimating distance. Up to this point most pitches had been fairly obvious, if for no other reason than the fact that they would often round corners which made it necessary for rope drag or communication purposes for us to pitch it out in short segments which matches the “pitches” of the route. The last two pitches however were one larger face with several crack systems and several possible routes.

Looking up the 6th Pitch Looking 600 Feet Down to the Base of the Slabs
Looking up the 6th pitch from the belay and looking down from the belay…

I started up the sixth pitch where I understood the route to be, the twin cracks in the photo above, on pretty easy 5.7 climbing with our exposure climbing towards 700 feet. In hindsight, we should have followed the crack diagonal to the right to a large comfortable belay station. To top this off, the middle of the 7th pitch is the crux of the entire route, an overhanging 5.9 hand jam in between blocks lodged in a wide crack.

I worked my way up the “6th” pitch, the holds quickly ran out and I ended up about 5 feet left of and just below the crux, having dead ended into a featureless roof. I was 5 feet from where I wanted to be, and about 50 feet above my last legitimately good piece of gear. So close to solid holds, but having no way of bridging this five foot gap safely.

Talking with the guys at “The Elephants Perch”, a climbing shop in Ketchum, I vaguely remembered a traverse to the right on thin hands right below the crux if you ended up in the position I currently found myself in. So, in search of this traverse I down climbed, cleaning a couple of super sketchy nuts as I went. I never found the traverse.

I got back down to my last solid cam placement and started back up following a seam to the right that did in fact lead to the crux. At this point I had been climbing this pitch for probably between 20 and 30 minutes and was not feeling super confident. I got up to the crux and placed a pretty solid #2 cam between a couple of blocks. This was a big relief because I was running low on appropriate gear for this size crack and had run out the 40 or so feet below with only a nut placement that I felt moderately uncomfortable with. The move at the crux isn’t necessarily hard, it’s mostly awkward. Your feet are underneath and in front of you with a couple parallel vertical cracks towards your right that you can hand and fist jam or even grab hold of on the outside. Farther out from the wall on the right there is the top of a dihedral that you can get your feet onto, but this forces your body in a direction that isn’t conducive to the hand jam you are trying to support, but is necessary for you to be able to reach up higher. From here you need to pull yourself up over the overhang. Somewhere between getting my feet onto the dihedral and reaching for the upper handholds one of my feet slipped and I found myself in the air, 600 feet off the ground, praying that the cam I had placed was as solid as it looked. The fall wasn’t far, but with rope stretch it was probably 15-20 feet, and was the first real fall I’ve taken on gear, multiple pitches off the deck. I was VERY shaken. I knew there was no realistic way we were going to descend from here and that I had to just shake it off and make that move. I went back up and with a little more adrenaline made the move with no issue.

Above here the slope flattened out a good amount and opened up into a big wide crack with third and fourth class climbing above me to a large ledge that marked the top of the route. I setup a sturdy belay station using every last piece of appropriate gear I had and James began to follow. As soon as James started following up this pitch a small squall moved in and it started at first raining, and then snowing on us.

Topped Out on the Perch and Looking Down Nothing Like a Nice June Snow Squall
The view from the final belay and a nice freak snowstorm in June.

Back in Ketchum, the day before, the guys at “The Elephants Perch” had also mentioned a large loose looking/feeling block in the final pitch, and told us that while it looked sketchy, they had pulled on it as hard as they could and it didn’t budge and that we probably didn’t need to worry about it. The block in question was probably 1 foot wide at the top, 2-3 feet wide at the bottom, about 4 feet tall, and between 1 and 3 feet deep. I thought about it as I lead up and tried to be a little extra careful in putting my weight on it, not totally trusting it’s sturdiness.

James was about ½ way up the pitch when I heard that same block let loose and felt a sharp tug on the rope. Now, from my belay I couldn’t see anything, I just heard the block crashing down 700 feet into the forest below, praying that no one else was down there. At this point all I knew was that James was still on the rope, but had no idea what had just transpired below. Panicked, I let out a couple shouts and didn’t hear any answer. Finally, what seemed like a minute later, (although, I’m sure it was closer to 5 seconds) I heard him respond. He was fine, in a rush to make it up because of the inbound snowstorm he had put all of his weight on that rock and ripped the several hundred pound behemoth lose from the wall. Somehow, miraculously, it had pulled out between him and the wall barely even brushing him on its way down.

James followed up the rest of the route and over the crux with no problem and joined me in my slopey belay crack. We knew we were within striking distance of the top and were thoroughly ready to get off this route. He threw me back on belay for the remaining scramble and we topped out a moment later.

The view from the top of the route was breathtaking, as was the exposure.

James at the 7th Belay James Topped Out on The Elephants Perch
James at the last belay station above the crux, and finally on top of the route.


From the top of the route it was a pretty easy traverse across some wet slabs to the opposite side of the formation. From here we down climbed into a gully that we followed back down 700 vertical feet towards the Saddleback Lakes. The potential routes on this side looked like some of the best rock we’d seen anywhere on the formation with hundreds of vertical feet of perfect granite. At the bottom of this gully we made one final rappel. From here, it was a five-minute hike back to where we had stashed our bags.

Traversing Over to The Descent Gully

Saddleback Lakes from the South Side of the Perch     Downclimbing around a Cornice into the Descent Gully     Looking Into The Descent Gully     The Lower Portion of the Descent Gully

Death March

At this point we knew that we had no hope of making the last shuttle boat of the night at 7pm. Mostly because … it was already after 7 pm. We rapped back down the slabs that we had scrambled up on the approach and as quickly as we could we headed back down the trail towards the lake. We arrived at the Redfish Inlet Transfer Camp just before 10 pm as the last of the daylight faded. We sat on the dock, eating the last of our food, thoroughly not looking forward to our five-mile “bike” back to the car in the dark. As soon as we started biking back towards the other end of the lake it became immediately apparent that we would be unable to negotiate the narrow hillside trail, let alone the switchbacks, on bike in the dark. Defeated, we walked our bikes the next three miles up the hill. Once we gained the crest we were able to begin the ride downhill, slowly and carefully navigating by headlamp. By the time we arrived back at the car it was almost 1 am, we were toast, and in no mood to make the three hour drive back to Twin Falls. But despite our fatigue, we were stoked, the perch was ours.

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Summer Shredding

This weekend we had the opportunity to sample summer shredding in its two finest forms.

First, Friday afternoon at Standley Lake, Adam from OZ Snowboards was kind enough to take us out on his boat and let us rip around the lake for a few hours. First time on a wakeboard in four years, good times were had for sure.

Wakeboarding on Standley Lake

Wakeboarding on Standley Lake Wakeboarding on Standley Lake

Second, Sunday afternoon we headed up to Rollins Pass to get on Skyscraper “Glacier” and make some summer snow turns. Skyscraper is a pretty easy 2.5 miles from the car at Rollins Pass and was still holding about 600 vert of worthwhile skiing.

Hiking for Summer Skiing in the Indian Peaks Looking Across Skyscraper Glacier Skiing Upper Skyscraper Glacier

George on Skyscraper Glacier Diesel at Bob Lake Skyscraper Glacier from Below

Indian Peaks and Skyscraper Glacier


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Season Passes for the Backcountry Skier

You read the title right, as counterintuitive as it may seem I want to talk about a couple season pass options that may make sense even if you’re going to dedicate yourself to the backcountry this season.

First, a few arguments against ditching the season pass completely:

  • Resorts offer good skiing before the backcountry does, usually by a month or two
  • Our snowpack is notoriously sketchy and when it’s at its worst, the resorts are at their best
  • Some resorts offer solid “sidecountry” or backcountry access, meaning your resort days aren’t “resort” days

There are two passes that I am going to recommend, which one would make sense for you depends on your dedication to the pursuit of the backcountry goods.

  1. Silverton Unguided Season Pass — Now before you say “Why would I buy a pass for a mountain that’s 6 hours away that is only valid for 13 days a year” let me remind you that you get 5 days at A-Basin, 5 days at Loveland, 5 days at Monarch, and half price heli drops at Silverton. Not to mention $2 draft beers at Silverton and a healthy discount on guided skiing during the regular season…

    Now on top of that this pass is only $199.

    If you never make it to Silverton this pass could be a steal, if you make it out to Silverton for a weekend or two of unguided skiing this pass is the deal of the decade. A-Basin and Loveland both offer very reliable early season skiing and both have great hike to, sidecountry, and backcountry access. Monarch, is one of my favorite Colorado resorts, reliably uncrowded, reliably deep, and a really nice laid back vibe. If you get out to Silverton for two weekends, use your days at A-Basin and Loveland early in the season before the backcountry is worthwhile, and go to Monarch when the backcountry is sketchy midwinter, you’re looking at skiing for under $11 per day. Let that soak in for a little bit, then head over to the Silverton website to buy one.

  2. Keystone / A-Basin Pass — This pass is probably better for people who aren’t 100% sold on getting after it in the backcountry or have more reliable resort skiing friends than BC partners. The A-Basin pass guarantees you almost 8 full months of skiing, the Keystone pass is effectively a $10 add on to the price of the stand alone A-Basin pass and is nice for people who haven’t convinced their friends to ditch the Epic Pass yet. At $279 this is still a really solid deal and with the length of A-Basins season you could ski for under $10 a day and still spend most of your time in the backcountry. By the time the backcountry is skiing well, you can have put in enough resort days to feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth from the pass and not feel like you’re throwing money away by not skiing resorts.

You really can’t go wrong with either of these options, but to me the Silverton pass is the most interesting and enticing offer I’ve seen in a long time.

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Welcome to Summer

Just because the calendar says summer doesn’t mean the skiing needs to end. This is one of the things I love the most about living in Grand County. At any moment, any day of the year, I can be on snow in under an hour. This afternoon, after work, I headed up the pass. Not having been up in two weeks I had no idea what to expect, I was hoping that either the North Chutes or the Postage Stamp would still be in. But sort of surprisingly to me, everything within easy access from the pass was pretty toast. Hard to believe that only a month ago we had almost midwinter coverage up high, were skiing fresh snow, and still had to worry about windslabs.

Regardless … I took off down the other side towards Jones Pass.

Jones Pass was snow free until around 12,000 ft. And when we did encounter snow, it was 800 feet of continuous snow all the way to the top of Bobtail Peak. So we did what any sane person would do in the summer … we went skiing.

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