Skiing Butler Gulch
I’ve spent a lot of time this year pretending I know something about telemark skiing. Christmas brought a half-day lesson on the subject at Loveland where I learned a lot, and I teled in my light skis and soft leather boots at the resorts for a couple of days as well. When all was said and done, I could do a reasonable tele turn on green and blue groomers at a resort and on about one turn in five, I kind of got it. Let’s see if this translates to the “real world” of backcountry skiing.
Butler Gulch starts rather inauspiciously at a large mine, never the standard of mountain beauty. But it improves fast. The day was glorious, sunny, and warm and I happily skinned up the hard-frozen packed trail, turning left at the junction for Jones Pass preferring to stay on the path less traveled by snowmobiles. It’s an easy climb for a mile and a half to the head of the valley where it gets steep. Even this ascent was easy enough, but the one thing I learned last year was that climbing skins will get me up terrain I can’t necessarily ski down. At this point, there are wide-open glades of very steep (for me at least) leading up to the higher bowls above tree line.
OK, show time! I deskinned on a minor hill at 12,000′ and started the descent. The snow was warming up nicely and turning into fine corn and I managed some rather shaky turns on the low-angle terrain up high. Getting down into the trees again was a whole ‘nuther matter. Steep, narrow, and chopped up… I got down, but it wasn’t by any skills I’d mastered this year. Finally I had a glorious bit of runout on the narrow trails through the trees and back to the trailhead.
Even if my skiing antics were not exactly Warren Miller material, it was great to get some five-digit elevations under my (free) heels after spending so much time at and slightly below sea level and see a world covered in white.