If the people train comes in the mornin’ (“Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” anyone?), then the Florence-Kirkpatrick train leaves even later. A short work week of amazingly long shifts precluded departure from the house before 11 a.m. Half an hour later, we pulled into the surprisingly fluffy parking lot of Vail Pass with our new sled, Snowflake. Overnight, the world reverted to winter again, and I felt excitement bubbling in my stomach like a pot of perfectly warmed smoked and imported Gouda cheese.
Into the frosty morning we embarked, riding chariot (standing on either side of the sled, Tyler on the right, me left) the cold air propelling us up Shrine Pass Road to East Ptarmigan.
Thus began a system I dubbed engine (driving Snowflake, towing the other person) and caboose (being towed behind Snowflake). One of us donned skis and picked a line down East Ptarmigan, covered in a fresh 10-12″ of new powder. The second zipped down on the snowmobile, drooling enviously while the other made exuberant, floating turns down the face.
At the bottom, the skiier (panting with excitement) retrieved the tow strap — 20 feet or so of neon webbing so bright it would intersect my dreams and a rubber inner tube to wrap around the waist to help absorb the jerks and bumps — and prepared for a tow back to the top. Reverse duties, repeat.
The caboose-engine treatment resulted in several fruitful laps each. Occasionally, the sun came out and illuminated the shimmering facets of new snow and the sky brightened to a brilliant blue. Also present were two other stoked dudes on snowboards doing the same exact thing. We all got fresh tracks every time, chatting happily in the turn around at the bottom about how damn “sick” it all was.
At the top, fumbling (again) with my new Scarpa ski boots — which were consistently too tight on one side or too loose on the other — I heard a snowmobiler down in the bottom. He yelled “This is f*cking awesome!” over the angry-hornet roar of his sled and the distance between us. I had to agree.
Then he took a sharp right, high-marking into a clearly signed area that is off-limits to snowmobiles. I shook my head, thinking back to the years I spent at Vail Pass as a volunteer back country ranger yelling at a bazillion other dudes and the occasional chick for doing just that. I smiled; I already knew he was gonna get an earful from a certain former Vail Pass lead ranger named Tyler.
After a few hours, we decided to make our way over to the Resolution area, park Snowflake and tour in the increasingly sunny and warmer (at least compared to an ice bath in Antarctica) afternoon. We started up the groomed route to Fowler-Hilliard hut, passing a large group on their way back out. At the top of the first climb, the sky was blue but the air sparkled glittery-bright, almost like gleeful fairies farted on us from the top of the snow-laden pines.
Passing the hut, I took a moment to say, “Afternoon,” to a couple older guys fiddling with their cameras on the hut porch. One flashed a half-hearted smile. The other looked at me pointedly, then looked back down at his camera.
“Nothing ruins natural beauty like a couple natural assholes,” I said as we started the final stretch, which of course was straight up, wind-blown, slippery but softened by an amazing view. By the top, I’d forgotten all about the unpleasant humans lurking below in their sweaty long johns.
And it was all downhill from there… We snuck through more avalanche-prone terrain in between two roll-overs, skiing one at a time from one safety zone to another, past silent aspens and onto the groomer below. Making turns down the slope, it felt more like floating or flying than skiing. Above us the sky turned from blue to pink and orange.
At the bottom my legs felt like two rotten bananas but my heart was pounding with joy. We glanced back up at our looping tracks in the dimming light, taking off skis and hopping back on Snowflake for a bitterly cold ride back to the Pass.
The hum of I-70 welcomed us back to the parking lot, where a guy in a solid green one piece fartbag loaded his snowmobile straight into the back of his truck from the slope above. Snowmobile exhaust swirled in my nose, I willed feeling to my frozen fingers inside my Kincos, covered in magnesium chloride the road had transferred to Snowflake’s cover and trailer, my mind happy and my stomach already on the thawed apple pie on our counter awaiting the oven.
When I moved here in 2005, with a paltry knowledge of skiing and a desire to be out of the cold in five minutes or less, who knew I’d be converted into a back country skiing, snowmobiling fiend? Once again, it proves that life is mysterious and wonderful and that skiing for damn sure beats this:
And it gives me a reason to grin on the daily commute…
Which reminds me: weekends never last long enough. I should cease writing about skiing and snowmobiling and get ready for another round of snowy shenanigans at Berthoud Pass tomorrow. Twist my wrist…