Colorado Spring Ski Mountaineering May 2019
Panpan and I took advantage of her time off from her surgery residency to head out to Colorado from May 4th to May 11th. While there, we climbed and skied three 13,000’ peaks: Cupid (13,117’), Mt Sniktau (13,219’), and North Star Mtn (13,406’) and one 14,000’ peak: Mt Sherman (14,036’). We got to experience a gamut of spring skiing conditions from difficult punchy crust and bottomless mush to superlative corn. All in all, it was an excellent trip with some great skiing and even greater views.
5/5/2019 - South Ridge, Uneva Peak (12,530’)
After spending our first day acclimating by doing some liftserve skiing at Arapahoe Basin, we decided on a mellow ski tour to lubricate the leg pistons. On Sunday we left the National Forest parking area at Vail Pass and skinned North to a nice open slope off the South Ridge of Uneva Peak. We topped out at 12,000’ under bluebird skies. The sun hadn’t quite warmed up the west facing slope we wanted to ski, but we still made some great turns on the way down.
5/6/2019 - Dave’s Wave, Cupid (13,117’)
Monday brought another beautiful sunny day. We opted to ski the Loveland Pass classic Dave’s Wave, which follows an aesthetic line down a Southwest-facing spur off the summit of Cupid. It’s named for its distinctive cornice which looks like a crashing wave from certain angles. This line is perfect early in the trip because Cupid is a short hike from the parking area at the top of Loveland Pass (12,000’) and its southwest aspect means it heats up a little later in the day than nearby lines, meaning you don’t need to get quite as early a start to ski it.
We left Loveland Pass at a leisurely 9am and hiked east toward the ridge at 13,000’. We opted to traverse around the small sub summit and traverse south toward Cupid — this was a mistake. We saved ourselves about 100’ of elevation gain, but at the cost of traversing steep snow and insecure scree. Nonetheless, we made it to the summit of Cupid just in time for the corn harvest. The skiing down Dave’s Wave was incredible.
5/7/2019 - South Slopes, Mt Sherman (14,036’)
The only real objective we had for this trip was to ski, and to hopefully ski a 14er if we could. With unsettled weather in the forecast for the next few days, we decided our best chance to ski a 14er would be to do it on Tuesday. We were reasonably acclimated, and the snowstorm wasn’t supposed to arrive for another 18 hours. Given how high you can drive on Mt Sherman, we decided it was our best bet. The South Slopes winter route follows a shallow, snow filled gully that winds its way up to the broad saddle between Mt Sherman and White Ridge. With luck, one could conceivably ski from the summit to the car without taking off one’s skis.
We left the house early in the morning and drove to about 11,600’ along the Four Mile Creek road before we hit impassable snow. We parked the Jeep and threw on the skis. The skinning was easy and we made good time all the way to 13,000’, where the terrain steepens for the final climb up Mt Sherman. About 13,500’, we put our skis on our backs and switched to booting. The weather also consolidated around us making for a true ski mountaineering experience. We summited under high cloud cover and began the descent. Unfortunately the snow conditions weren’t quite perfect — the sun had softened the surface just enough to create a slightly grabby crust but not so much that you could make creamy turns. Nonetheless, we were able to ski all the way from the summit of Mt Sherman back to the car at 11,600’.
5/8/2019 - Northeast Bowl, Mt Sniktau (13,219’)
Wednesday morning greeted us with clear, sunny skies. The storm which was supposed to dump large amounts of snow on us over Tuesday night didn’t really materialize, so we met up with our local friend and partner-in-climbing Paul Kaster to do another quick ski descent before the next part of the storm hit that afternoon. We aimed for another Loveland Pass classic, Mt Sniktau. Sniktau is impressive because it rises nearly 3000’ above the I-70 corridor, and motorists heading West toward Eisenhower tunnel often gaze upon its majesty. It’s also great for ski mountaineers because you can easily approach the summit from Loveland Pass, same as Cupid. This allows one to get nearly 3000’ of ski descent for only 1200’ of climbing. A bargain!
Again we started out from Loveland Pass under beautiful blue skies. We didn’t know exactly when the next storm was going to hit, so we didn’t dawdle too much. We reached the summit of Mt Sniktau and looked at our options. It looked like there was enough snow to ski the North Ridge as was our original plan, but the Northeast Bowl also looked great. We decided conditions were plenty stable to ski the Northeast Bowl, and off we went. This resulted in one of the weirdest days of skiing I’ve ever had. The first 1500’ down the bowl was among the best skiing I’ve ever done. Perfect angle, perfect snow. The next 1500’ through the trees down to our car shuttle was among the worst skiing I’ve ever done. Below treeline, things quickly turned to bottomless mushy glop. These awful snow conditions coupled with the dense trees on the North side of Sniktau meant we were in for a hellish descent. We finally made it to the I-70 bike path after 1500’ of slow traversing and side stepping. Once down, the snow had become so warm and sticky that we were able to “skin” back to our car without even putting on our skins!
5/9/2019 - McCullough Gulch Cross-country Ski Tour
The promised snow finally materialized Wednesday afternoon and night. We woke up feeling a bit tired and with unstable avalanche conditions. We also weren’t keen to replicate our deep-snow experience from the day before. So we decided on a mellow cross country ski tour of one of our nearby favorites, McCullough Gulch near Quandary Peak outside Breckenridge CO. The recent snow made things look like a mid winter ski, but the warm temperatures left no doubt that it was spring.
5/11/2019 - Tractor Bowl, North Star Mtn (13,406’)
Following a rest day on Friday (5/10), we decided we wanted to do one last ski tour before flying back to New York on Sunday. After a bit of research, we decided on a descent of the Tractor Bowl on North Star Mountain. Situated among four 14,000’ peaks, North Star is a giant among titans. As such, it offers incredible views and it’s rarely as crowded as it’s higher neighbors, just because it doesn’t break that magic elevation. Nevertheless, North Star is a worthy trip. We left the parking area at Hoosier Pass (11,542’) just after sunrise in the bitter cold. This really felt like a winter start. After an hour or so of beautiful skinning through snow covered forest, we reached the sun. Unfortunately, the surface snow had been scoured by the wind and the prospect of skiing didn’t look too great.
Around 13,000’, we left the main trail going up the ridge and traversed over to the top of the Tractor Bowl. The line we wanted to ski was nice and open with good coverage, but we were concerned about the steep nature of the skiing and the grabby crust that wasn’t melting with the newly arrived sun. We decided that I would test conditions by skiing a bit into the bowl. I skied about 100’ of steeps on a punchy crust. In order to stay afloat, I had to take a much more aggressive stance and ski much faster than I really wanted to. I didn’t think it was a great idea for Dad and Panpan to follow me, so they continued on skins to tag the summit of North Star, while I skied the rest of the bowl. I planned to skin back up to the ridge from the base of the bowl and meet them so we could ski back to the car together. Unfortunately for them, the punchy crust didn’t get any better. They endured a tiring ski descent from the summit of North Star all the way to the saddle where we met up again. Thankfully, the exit back to the car was much better. While the skiing was pretty crappy, the views were amazing and it was much better than hanging around in town on our last day in CO.