Butler Gulch Powder Stash

Skinning through the heavily-laden forest.

After a strenuous week, it’s time for a differently-strenuous weekend! Scott, similarly in need of some mountain therapy, and I met up at a leisurely 9am for some backcountry skiing. Plan A was to check out the trails on the north side of Mount Evans, in particular the Chicago Creek area. There seemed to be a decent amount of snow, but we couldn’t find anything without Private Property signs that looked terribly interesting for the moderately heavy gear we’d brought. There were some other trails in the area, but it looked like it was entirely mellow XC skiing with no clear destination in mind. We decided we were more interested in decent skiing than exploring something new, so we activated the back-up plan: a reported huge powder dump in Butler Gulch.

The rumors, it turns out, were all true! We geared up and hit the trail at 11, quickly diverging from the main Jones Pass Trail (and all the snowmobiles there-on), and headed into the heavily-laden trees. I’ve been to Butler Gulch a few times, but was really blown away by the amount of snow this time. Despite the heavy winds up high, there was at least a foot of new powder on the trees and considerably more on the ground. Anticipating some epic descents, I was on my heaviest telemark gear this trip and found that skinning in plastic boots and relatively inflexible bindings is a good deal more work than in my leather boots and lighter skis. My next modification will be to install a set of televators.

Scott emerges into the wind above tree line in Butler Gulch.

We made quick work of the rolling approach, then followed the skin track as it switchbacked up the steep headwall. All of a sudden, we rounded a corner and the wind hit. Hot and stripped of many layers, the wind was a shock to our systems. We pushed on to tree line and got a glimpse of the upper bowls of Butler Gulch. Good enough. While there were many nice lines to be had above, the avalanche danger was pretty high and the winds made us less excited about continuing farther up. We shivered in the lee of some trees for a quick bite and to transition into descent mode.

Scott makes it look easy.

Now came the fun part! I grew up in New England skiing on ice (or as it’s called there “packed powder”) and have never really gotten the hang of powder skiing. Plus I’m really not that great a skier just anyway. But I gamely aimed into the fall line on the first admittedly-beautiful-looking powder stash and was quickly gliding down-slope slowly and serenely. Despite the 30-degree slope, the knee-deep powder prevented any huge speeds and I maintained a good degree of control if not outright style. Heavenly!

After a couple steep powder slopes, we transitioned from the steep and deep to the narrow and deep of the creek bed through trees and made like bobsleds down the trench cut by a party of snowshoers.

It almost looks like I know what I'm doing here. I fell immediately after this.

Pausing for breath, grinning from ear to ear, we both agreed that the day was young and we would be remiss not to go back for seconds. This time the weather above treeline was a little nicer, so we skinned all the way up to a small ridge to gain another 50′ of elevation. This run was much like the first, though the slopes were a bit more chopped up and we both fell more often. We shot the creek run again, then worked back out the rolling trail back to the trailhead.

What a fantastic day! I see why people consider powder to be such a big deal now.

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