Max Ritter | Adventure Journalism


Max is an adventure journalist and this is a collection of writings and musings

about exploring the great outdoors.

Skiing Sucks: An Ode to the Off-Season


Sometimes it just doesn't go the way you want it to. We get too eager too early, overestimate ourselves, and then our objectives move just beyond our reach. Early season skiing is often like this. In Colorado, we are lucky to have very easy access to our mountains, but sometimes this still means mega approaches because snow closes access roads.

We get excited as soon as the weatherman calls for snow, and dig through our closets to pull out all the gear that has been resting, stowed away for months now. We remember what everything was like last year, the hike in, that feeling of first snow hitting our face as we arc a clean turn through it, spraying off the tails of our skis. The feeling is addictive, is this what a serious drug problem feels like? We want more, and will go way out of our way to get it. Maybe its good we don't have to creep down a dark alley in the middle of the night to get our fix. Although, sometimes it feels like it.

Those same feelings ran through my mind this as I dug through my closet to pull out the full accouterment. I caught myself playing with my gear again. It’s been awhile. What do I need to bring? That. Do I really need that? No. But what if it gets cold? Put it in the bag and move on.

Early season skiing often requires special methods for success. There is no base, so even if the first storm dumps a foot and a half, it doesn't mean we can ski. We look for those spots that already have snow, glaciers, high alpine snowfields, and deep north facing couloirs. Colorado has a few of those. The only problem is their remoteness, and the fact that our local governments are extremely eager to close seasonal access roads really early just to save some dime.

Whatever. We can walk. It’s just a few miles right?

I show up to the Brainard Lake trailhead late Friday afternoon with the usual suspects. Andrey, Luke, and Peter are all as psyched as me to find some pow. There is half a foot of snow on the ground in the parking lot. That's half a foot more than at any point last season.

The plan was to hike in that night and camp somewhere along the way. The 13-mile approach seems daunting as a single-push adventure. But then again, who wants to carry camping gear in the dark just to shave a few miles off the approach? We thought about it for a while and decided we were too lazy and just set up camp in the parking lot instead. After pigging out on some gourmet freeze-dried dinners, and talking about astronaut farts and the novel concept of moonsauce over some whiskey, we crash.

On a side note, we convinced ourselves that astronaut farts: a. smell terrible because of freeze dried food, and b. form a bubble and float around the cabin aimlessly like everything else in space. Just some food for thought.

I lay in my sleeping bag, surprisingly not freezing, and tried not to think about the ungodly amount of ground we had to cover in the morning.

Soon enough it was 4 a.m. Time to go. We crank the car’s heater and blast some obnoxious music to wake us up. Car camping is legit.

Putting ski boots on is a rude awakening. I could have sworn I got them to be comfortable last season. Goddamn, I even worked as a bootfitter, and made sure these things fit. I guess my feet grew or something, who knows.

Skins on, I clip into my skis for the first time in months. Man, that's a sound for sore ears. Click. Click. Lock out the toes. I’m ready.

DSC_0278It's a little over 6 miles to get to where we want. Queen’s Way. Andrey and I skied it this time last year, and it held some of the best turns we had all season. 1,000 feet of sustained steep skiing down a narrow couloir that spits you out onto Isabelle Glacier. Dreamy turns down steep powder. That’s where whatever the proverbial “it” is, is at. Some may even call it a “church” line. As in, “that line was fuckin’ church!”

Wow, us skiers have some weird vernacular. I don’t even know what I’m saying half the time. Weird words for weird shit.

As we glide over the frozen road up towards the glacier, the sun starts peeking through the trees behind us. We head directly west, moving swiftly, as if the sun’s rays push us onwards.

DSC_0293Somehow, we have stepped out of October directly into February. The only reminder of reality is the fact that none of the lakes we pass are frozen. The sun reflects off the choppy water, adding an ethereal aura to the already incredible scenery.

Luke brings up an important topic. Where are we getting cheeseburgers after?

DSC_0282Queen’s Way comes into view just as we reach treeline. It looks perfect. Prime snow, completely untracked, but still so far away. We stop and evaluate our options. We’re tired and out of shape. A summer of partying, school and occasional bike rides has left our legs and lungs wishing for better days. Andrey and I know what lies ahead is still the crux. A foot of snow on top of scree for over a mile. Bullshit on top of bullshit with a side of bullshit.

What a great way to start the season. Six miles in, and were already facing a brick wall.

So we shamelessly turn around. Who cares if we don't get those turns? I know I don't. They’ll still be there. Besides, the cheeseburgers have taken over my brain. I really want to eat.

DSC_0290The skin out sucks just as much as the way in. My feet hurt, my legs hurt, I need to re-do my footbeds, I need to rethink this whole skiing thing. We pass some people booting out the skin track, and even thanking us for breaking trail. How kind of them!

It's the little things that we forget about during the off-season. These are the annoying things that are all part of the greater equation. Like getting whacked in the face by a low-hanging branch weighted down by snow. Or eating shit by crossing our skis while skinning because we were busy looking out at the view. Or constantly adjusting the buckles on our boots to make our toes hurt less.

In the end though it's the dumb shit we say to each other, the incredible scenery we pass through, and the elation that comes at the end of a good type-2 fun session that makes it worth it.

Oh, and those pow turns that we’ll get next time.