I know people love skiing — I live in Colorado. People move here just to go skiing. They start salivating when the first reports of snow falling in Summit County, when summer is barely ending for me, and I’m still looking at climbing routes in the lower elevations. I’m less into the stuff I call “reaction sports” — skiing, mountain biking, kayaking, things that often require split-second decisions. Skiing is something to do to pass the winter until it’s time to start seriously climbing again. And I have had powder days before. But nothing like last Saturday.
Butler Gulch and Jones Pass are not secrets to folks in the Front Range, but new to me. It was a good place for Nick and me — low-angle, fairly short approach, close to Denver, avoiding the traffic that chokes Interstate 70 during the mass migration to Summit County ski resorts. By the time we got to the trailhead, snow was coming down like confetti.
We skinned up for a couple hours through thick trees, wondering when the terrain would start to open up. When it did, we were not two tired 32-year-old me. We looked up and saw naturally cut ski runs, completely untouched, piled with cotton candy powder a foot deep. Two feet deep? I punched a ski pole in and half of it disappeared.
At our high point for the day, the wind picked up, knocking our visibility down to 40 feet at best. Snow blew into open backpacks, pockets, helmets, everything. We stomped out a spot to transition, and I peeled my skins off and Nick packed away his snowshoes and strapped on his snowboard. Knowing we were only going down once (and that I was going to ski like crap), I let Nick go first.
It was probably the greatest skiing joy of the past couple years for me to watch Nick ride this mellow slope down, bouncing his board on top of all of it. At times, he looked like a kid wading into waist-deep cold water, in slow motion — arms out to his sides, clouds of white billowing up on his left and right. And he didn’t even have to tell me how excited he was.
Nick spent a couple seasons running ski lifts at Breckenridge, after college, and after he quit his first office job to drive around out west for four months and find himself. When I moved to Colorado almost six years ago, he told me to get a snowboard, because I wanted to be riding on top of that stuff, not slicing through it. I did, and I got it. It was fun. He said probably more than once, “Riding powder is the greatest feeling in the world.” Me, I don’t know. I like climbing. Skiing is okay when the weather is not conducive to climbing, but I’m just not in love with it the way some people are. But it made me happy that Nick was so happy riding that cloud in Butler Gulch.
I sliced through it, probably looking as comfortable as I did my first-ever day of skiing 24 years ago. I skied as a kid, then left it alone until I was 26 and took up snowboarding, then picked up skiing again two years ago when I got an alpine touring setup and mounted it on a pair of old tele skis. In two feet of fresh snow, wait, probably two feet, two inches by now, I had no idea what I was doing. There was just so much to push around, no way to get an edge.
This was my first time really skiing powder. And I sucked. But I didn’t care — it was the best ski day of my life. I’m sure there will be more.
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