There is snow on the ground, snow in the air, snow covering the chicken-headed spiky rocks that compose the slag heaps of Colorado’s San Juan mountains and thankfully in spots, there have been fleeting moments where that snow was waist deep and billowing over my smiling face.
Patience can be rewarded in the early season for those who are willing to ascend for their descents and explore terrain. Of course, not all feel this way as I learned last Saturday, when a person asked to tag along and was disappointed on our less than “super-sick-gnar” outing that had us more satisfied than any other early season day we had ever had.
Two-hundred feet from the top of the lift at Silverton mountain, an alpine ridgeline constantly prospering from heaps of snow abnormal in most regions of the Rockies, my two friends (on their first ski day of the year) and I stopped short of the herd, started putting on our skis and were suddenly joined by a 25-year-old straggler who thought that maybe we “knew” what we were doing on this unguided foray into early season turns on one of North America’s most intimidating ski hills. He asked to join us, and we obliged, the more the merrier and we dispatched our first run, a leg burner through knee deep sugar into a winding and abysmal tube.
The terrain of Silverton mountain can be very unforgiving and equally sublime, the key is to know where the winds grant both conditions. Having local knowledge helps as it is touted as a “backcountry” skiing experience. On our second run, an hour-long hike to the mountain’s highest point, combined with a no fall zone approach to the goods, our 25-year-old former ski patroller buddy was shredding gnar, hooting like a cowboy and impatient that we weren’t charging through the aforementioned mine fields of rocks that lay beneath early winter’s thin blanket.
Now, I’m no naysayer to having a good time, and good times sometimes means being stuck in an avalanche, 5,000-feet above help and pummeled in the square of my back by 10 pound blocks of ice falling freely from above. It does not however include broken bones, specifically femurs — the curse of early season San Juan powder slayers.
As we continued downward, skiing through amazing chutes and traversing as far right as the wind and ski area boundary could carry virgin powder, our young friend began to question our methodology for “scoping” out the conditions rather than laying down the railroad tracks right into the sunbaked oblivion that comprised most of the lower aprons of the mountain — where others crossed a multitude of tracks, bypassing amazing turns in deep snow.
We headed far right, where the sun had not been shining and where the snow was undisturbed. As I watched him swerve fearlessly to and fro, dodging cavernous walls and driving from the backseat, I thought back to myself when I was just a year older than he, back when I was discovering Silverton for my first time behind a cigarette puffing snowboarder who was adept at carving through the slopes and patiently pointing out the safest path to the best snow — not always clear from above. At that time, I slapped furious Tennessee-style hockey turns in oversized Volkl Gotamas I scored for $200. I am thankful for the delays that snowboarder often brought to my hedonistic attitude, for it saved my life from being overrun by adrenaline and snuffed by poor snow at high speed on skis I could barely handle.
After we all arrived at the bottom around noon, we did what we do as “aged” skiers must — we had lunch, we spent a few moments admiring the mountain, it’s lines and the fortunate lifestyle that allowed us to be here again and again. As you can imagine, our 25-year-old skier left us about 45 seconds into the diatribe that only “old skiers” would have and we remained smiling and plotting our next line, it would take us further on another long hike and yeild more deep snow.
At 32, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that what we were after was worth waiting for, it wasn’t about owning the mountain or getting more runs in, it was about three dudes moving at our own pace, exploring the mountain and finding the best snow. I had charged there before and planned to charge there again, but not on my friends’ first real skiing day of the season. There are things other than skiing that make it so much fun. Fast is fine, just as slow is necessary at times.
In this episode of Ski The Himalayas, our expedition is packing it up and excercising the same type of patience for the right conditions at the right time. Skiing in the Himalayas doesn’t really happen much below 17,000-feet and on this expedition, we cover the vast majority of what skiing in the Himalayas entails — hiking and traveling. If that sort of quality over quantity is what you want, keep viewing and we will serve up a memorable trip!
PHOTOS via Ski the Himalayas