I am happy to say that the hip new outdoor sport in Colorado this season is Ski-Biking! Even at 5am, Eric, Brian and I were not the first nor even the second group to strap backcountry skis to our packs, hop on the bikes, and ride the 2.5 miles of plowed road to Brainard Lake. I added my own individual take on the sport by loading pack, boots, and skis (mine and my partners’) into my Burly bike trailer (which normally holds my progeny, not my gear). What’s more, it was cold enough that my shifters wouldn’t, so I was ski-biking on a single-speed. Even more hip!
It’s been a weird snow year in Colorado. Snow levels were less than normal for most of the winter, but the mountains got hammered with storm after storm in the spring. So here it is mid-June and the skiing is just hitting it’s prime. The trail up toward Mitchell and Blue Lakes, normally melting out and teeming with wildflowers at this time of year is still under spectacular drifts probably 20′ thick in places. It’s also been a really arduous spring from a personal standpoint, so I’ll take mountain therapy in whatever form I can get it.
The skiing was, in a word, sublime. We skinned from the far side of the Brainard Lake loop up the road to the summer TH, over icy dunes through the trees to Mitchell Lake, then wide, snowy meadows to Blue Lake. The skies were bluebird, the breezes gentle, the temperatures hovered in the 50s and the scenery fantastic. In short, it made up for every day this season of sub-zero temperatures, high winds, and other character-building conditions that so often grip Colorado during backcountry ski season.
Eric joined the half dozen other skiers visible with loftier goals in mind–he headed up the Crooked Couloir on the south face of Mt. Audubon while other parties climbed Mt. Toll or Paiute. Brian and I were feeling more mellow, so we skinned up to a bench at 11,900′ near Little Blue Lake and paused to marinade in the glorious day.
After an early lunch, we decided the snow had reached the proper level of corniness and started the descent. Pure heaven! I’m not a great skier under the best of conditions and backcountry tends to be more about survival than making it look pretty, but this corn snow was glorious: slow enough to be graceful, and consistent enough not to require much brute strength. We reached the shore of Blue Lake and waited while Eric took all of five minutes to descend the 1500′ of the Couloir. I’m not a strong enough skier to consider something like this, but I’ll admit, with snow conditions the way they were, it looked almost doable.
Reunited, we met up with Judd, a fellow Boulder ultrarunner we’d met on the way in and formed a foursome for the trip out. Nothing was quite as fun as those steeper blissful slopes above Blue Lake, but it was still lovely to glide down the gentle glades toward Mitchell Lake and beyond. The icy humps in the trees turned out to be nice and soft now and just exciting enough to be interesting. Back to the TH, back across the pavement patches (carefully hiking in skis, this is why I don’t buy new gear), and back to the bikes. The trip back down the road was as effortless as the ride in had been a slog. What a glorious day!
It’s been quite a season of backcountry skiing for me. I learned both the immense joy of powder skiing and the smug glory of shorts-and-T-shirt spring corn. While it would be nice to get started on the summer season of hiking, wildflowers, and easy trails, it’s nice to get the best of both summer and winter rather than the worst as sometimes happens.