Jordan White: Finding the First Turns of WinterTuesday, November 29, 2016
I’ve always loved snow. My earliest memories of childhood had me staring out the window just waiting for it with that nervous feeling of anticipation in my stomach. Christmas was associated with snow before presents, and I can’t say much has changed in the last couple of decades. The change of seasons is always an exciting time of year, but there is one season that reigns supreme for people like myself and that is winter. No, I’m not talking December 21 until March 20, but snow season rather. Living in Colorado my whole life, I’ve skied full on powder in September all the way until nearly the end of June. Summer will have only been around for a few weeks and I’ll find myself day dreaming about that colorful fall, followed by those first significant snow storms to hit the high country.
Often, we squeeze those in starting in October to early November. This year, however, it has been an abnormally slow start to the season.
The ski resorts look fairly similar to summer, minus the lush green color. It’s been a dry fall. For many, the mountain biking goes on, and will until the snow really falls. Having been out of town for a few weeks as usual in the fall, I always start to get that homesick feeling like it’s time to be skiing, and I can’t help but look at the forecast. As luck would have it, that first big storm was predicted the day after I was to arrive home. My thoughts drifted to my old haunts, and where there might be enough snow to ski.
This time of year is always an adventure. You have no real idea what the access will be like until you are there. Our high country is a tad bit unpredictable compared to what we see in the valley, and who knows how big a part the wind may have played! Nathan Rowland welcomed me back and asked if I wanted to ski. We headed for Montezuma basin. It’s an adventure getting up there, with a fairly treacherous road combined with snow and ice and drifting snow. So when you leave home you might drive to 11,000 feet or you might make it all the way to 12,900 feet.
Jet lag on my part gave us the crack of 10 a.m. alpine start from Aspen and as the miles passed up Castle Creek Road towards Ashcroft, I questioned what we might find.
The storm was a bit of a bust in town, and with little else to do but go look we continued as the pavement turned into dirt, and as we crossed the creek to a more shady aspect, it turned to snow on rock. A few miles of driving, rallying up and over ice bulges and other 4x4 fun brought us to around 12,500 feet below Montezuma Basin. The last climb to the top looked a bit too “drifted in” to try it, so we parked and walked.
The altitude hit me like a brick. After spending two weeks on the beach (wife’s idea, not mine) 13,000 feet woke me up. I wasn’t sick, but breathing was certainly something I was doing loudly. We switched to skins after the initial boulder field and skinned up the headwall for about 600 feet. I don’t care how many times I learn it, the saying of “don’t know ‘til ya go” seems applicable to more days in the mountains than not.
Our skin track varied from edging in to ice up to 8 inches deep as we made our way up. Variable is what you come to expect early season. Today was no different. But I’m still excited. It’s day one of the season. Let’s turn the faucet on!
We continued to the top of the headwall and deemed the upper basin probably not worth it, opting instead to ski a couple of laps on the lower headwall.
Those first turns of the season, no matter the terrain, always feel a bit cautious and foreign. But by the fifth or sixth turn you have that feeling that brings you right back to your happy place. Those turns that remind you of just why you do what you do. By the eight or ninth turn you are enjoying the snow flying off of your skis and when you are lucky (or really good at faking it) it is hitting you in the face.
Six hundred feet goes by far too quickly, and we found ourselves at the bottom wishing we had another 4,000 feet to ski. The only way to accomplish more vertical is to put the skins back on and go right back up again. And so we did … and continue to do at every opportunity that life allows.