This weekend I met up with Ann Driggers and Seth Anderson, some new ski buddies I met through SummitPost.org, to ski some lines in the La Sal Mountains in Utah. The La Sals rise 8,700 vertical feet above the city of Moab and all the surrounding canyonlands. I was excited not only to check out a new mountain range, but to snowboard down some of these lofty desert peaks that I’ve gazed up at so many times from the canyonlands far below.
The La Sals were also a good choice for this time of year because the snow there has already settled into a solid springtime snowpack, unlike the snowpack here in the San Juans, which is still transitioning from winter.
DAY ONE: TUKLEAR REACTION
Our first objective was Mount Tukuhnikivatz, or “Tuk” for short. This pyramid-shaped peak is one of the most notable mountains in the La Sals, easily visible for hundreds of miles from the south side of the range.
With crampons on our feet and skis/board strapped on our backs, we hiked on the solidly frozen snow pretty much straight up one of the ridgelines for 3200 vertical feet or so to the summit. It felt so strange to peer down at vast red rock canyonlands while we were hiking on snow. The mountain is so much higher than the surrounding deserts that you almost feel like you’re looking out from an airplane.
Who said it was spring? Winter has come back with a vengeance in April. Just like last season, March and April have switched places… March was dry, April has brought the snow. Today it felt like mid winter, with 16ºF temperatures, deep powder, and mayhem on the pass. Here’s some pictures from our morning line.
Another great line! I’ll call this one “Chimichanga” (*name changed to protect the innocent). The weather turned nasty today as a storm rolled in; nevertheless, the same powder from our last little storm was still well preserved on this long north face. Like yesterday’s line, this route was also a new one for me. It’s so great to keep exploring and riding all these sweet lines that I’ve had my eyes on all season. Click each photo to see it bigger.
Here I am laying out a high speed carve. Photo by Parker McAbery.
This morning some friends and I rode a nice big line which I’ll call “Champignon” (*name changed to protect the innocent). 4-6″ of fresh powder, perhaps more blown in, on top of a soft base provided perfect conditions for hauling some serious ass. Here’s some photos (click each photo to see it bigger).
Skinning up, almost to the top. In the background you can see more of our playground.
Here’s a shot of me dropping in; photo by Jon Neau. Look at all the terrain in front of me!
Here’s a couple photos from snowboarding this afternoon in the rugged peaks about five minutes drive from Ouray. March is here, and spring seems right around the corner, even though everything is still smothered in fresh snow. The sun is really getting higher in the sky these days, and the foot of fresh snow that fell last night had melted to a crusty 5 or 6 inches by the time we got out there for an afternoon run. Oh well… next powder day I’ll head out in the morning if I can.
Here’s Parker splitboarding up in front of a rugged San Juan backdrop.
Today we rode what was perhaps the best snowboarding terrain I’ve ever ridden in my life. This was a long, steep, narrow gully that we had previously scoped out from a neighboring mountain. What I couldn’t see from a distance is that the sides of this gully were loaded with a plethora of fluffy pillows! Many backcountry riders might agree that the only thing better than a nice steep halfpipe gully is a long series of marshmallowy pillow drops. Well, this run was the ultimate 2-in-1 combo!
On Friday morning a group of us headed out to enjoy the foot of fresh snow that had fallen the previous day and night. Our goal was the “Town Couloir”, a steep and narrow couloir that cuts through tall cliffs all the way to the bottom of the Ouray valley. This lower altitude line is rarely in good shape, but heavy snowfalls this season have filled it in nicely.
The bluebird skies and fresh snow had me excited to ride, but as we neared the steeper slopes at the top, we became concerned about the avalanche potential. The foot of fresh snow was sitting on top of an older layer of crusty sunbaked snow. Though the top layer seemed pretty cohesive, the terrain above the entrance to the couloir is like a huge funnel into the narrow choke, so any slide would have disastrous results. After a brief discussion, we decided to do the responsible thing and turn back. We skiied/rode down the flat traversing route that we hiked up… all in all a supremely crappy run.
Even though I always hate turning back, it’s reassuring to know that my partners and I have the ability to do so.