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Over the past three days, Tyler and I hiked 6900 feet in 18.5 miles and skied a total of 7800 feet. Sixty nine hundred feet… that’s as if we walked from Denver (elevation 5280) to the top of Loveland Pass (elevation 11,990) which crests the Continental Divide (now with even more snow!). And then we walked another 200 feet just for fun. Because hiking is fun, despite what some people might say about it…
Monday, March 11: 800 feet of climbing, 2000 feet of slashing, 6.3 miles
On Monday, I needed to sleep in more than poor little Justin Bieber needs some positive press attention. So, after a leisurely morning, we fired up the Audi and blazed up to Loveland Pass. New snow had us all jazzed and on the summit, the wind actually wasn’t blowing like America’s healthcare system. We strapped our skis to our packs and boot packed west, across what always looks like the surface of the moon. When I boot pack, I regress back to a time when I did not know how to walk, slipping and sliding like the exact opposite of a mountain goat. Even so, we caught up with some snowboarders in various clashing hues yelling excitedly at each other across short distances through their respective headphones.
At the top, we shed our skins and skied blindly through an area called Shadowlands. The terrain resembled something like a rolling carpet of soft, contrast-less flour. In the trees, we caught our bearings and some surprisingly solid turns.
When the ground leveled out, we slapped our skins back on and climbed to the top of the western side of the drainage. Snow fell vivaciously as we traversed along the ridge, eventually descending through Hippie Trees. New snow blanketed a lot of the rocks and stumps that we reluctantly mingled with on the last go ’round. This time, the snow felt light and fluffy and surprisingly supportive underneath.
At the bottom, we hitched to A Basin with a stoned, bandana-wearing high school kid in a Subaru. Then I climbed in a little Honda with Tim from Arvada up to the summit of Loveland Pass to reclaim the Audi.
A short while later, we had packed up the car, stuffed our faces at Chipotle and were racing the Audi towards our “hut” (understatement of the year) an hour and a half away. With the time change, even though it was 6:30, we were still allowed plenty of daylight to trudge 3.8 miles to Vagabond Ranch and our new home: the Ranchhouse.
Even in the dark, the Ranchhouse was impressive: it slept 16, had two fireplaces, running water, three bathrooms, trash service (no packing it out this time!), a fully stocked kitchen and a hot tub ten feet out the back door. Tyler wasted no time cranking up one of the fireplaces to a degree that would scorch most people, but to me just felt good. Having completely forgotten I ate dinner, I (hungry, spontaneous, unorganized, reckless) dove right into our magnanimous pile of food. Tyler (hungry but also organized, efficient, collected) told me to ration a bit as I was stuffing an entire bag of chips into my mouth at once. I relented and switched to wine with the same enthusiasm.
The rest of the night was consumed by the hot tub, wine, watching the snow fall, wine, beating Tyler at cribbage, more wine, sleep and more wine.
Tuesday, March 12: 3500 feet of climbing, 3500 feet of shredding, 7 miles
Morning broke overcast, wintry and quiet. Cascade Mountain beckoned to us over a hearty breakfast of espresso, pancakes with peanut butter, raspberries, oranges and real maple syrup. Obviously, no one can hike a mountain without a whopper of a breakfast in the pipes.
The crack of noon found us emerging from our backwoods cocoon. Praise be to all deities, we found a snowmobile track that lead us gently up through meadows and widely spaced forest. After the snowmobiles stopped (presumably at the wilderness boundary), an already established skin track miraculously continued further upwards. Far away from I-70 and the throngs of Summit County visitors, the creek, the wind and our sliding skis provided the only soundtrack.
As the trail wound higher, it became steeper (of course). Now and then, a gap in the trees provided a tease of what was to come: on the left, a wide, bowl-like slide path called Nirvana bowl; on the right, a larger unnamed and equally tempting avalanche chute. Eventually, the path burst forth from the trees to a spine in between the two paths. Ravenous and already losing heat in the exposed ground and increasing wind above treeline, we holed up in a snowy stand for lunch.
As I shoved a mini red pepper and sliced cheddar into my half-frozen maw, I felt my auxiliary peppers slipping in slow motion from my paltry grasp. As the pepper came to rest in the blowing snow, it became apparent I now resembled the Abominable Snow woman more than a Sylva — except that Abominable Snowpeople thrive in the colder elements of nature. I, however, was shivering like the house in Red Riding Hood once the Big Bad Wolf really gets going. I was icier than relations between Shia Labeouf and Alec Baldwin, more frozen than Congress has been all year and just as likely to make a move in any direction.
However, since my only hope at not involuntarily becoming part of the landscape was to move, I did so, with varying degrees of success:
1. First, I completed a Tele Tumble: an awkward pirouette, just slow enough to realize when it’s happening, just fast enough to not be able to stop it from happening. The result is always some sort of bomb hole/crater and some snow up one’s sleeves or down one’s pants (see picture to the right for a flawless example).
2. Second, I remembered when I first learned how to ski…
3. Third, I managed to work out the kinks and eek out a few half way decent turns:
Tyler and I busted out three laps, giddy with the untarnished, unfettered experience of actual powder skiing. By the final lap, my legs were quivering like the legs of a new baby unicorn, but I didn’t care.
Our final lap took us 2500 feet down, into the sizeable avalanche path that was originally to our right. Without knowing the snowpack as well as our own in Summit County — and with wind and new snow in the mix — we took conservative lines on the north side of the chute. Even so, the snow was buttery and soft, the turns so glorious we felt anointed by the heavens to complete our trajectory.
At the bottom, I traded my well-worn halo for an astronomical chunk of time in the hot tub, several thousand glasses of water, a truckload of chocolate, an unknown amount of wine and a bowl of sausage and spinach pasta the size of Kanye West’s ego. And then I hit the hay harder than Snooki hit the gym.
The Sylva Lining is signing out for now… but keep your skis/board on for the next lap. Don’t worry, I won’t keep you waiting too long!