This Week of Skiing in the San Juans

Backcountry skiing in the San Juans, Colorado

Here’s a few photos from three ski days this last week here in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

Backcountry skiing in the San Juans, Colorado
Skier: Claudia Brauer

The spring skiing has been great lately, with smooth corn snow and some of the higher pass roads getting plowed out enabling easy access into the high country.

Backcountry skiing in the San Juans, Colorado

Matt and I climbed and skied/snowboarded a huge face that I’ve been eyeing for years.

Backcountry skiing in the San Juans, Colorado
Skier: Matt Wade
Backcountry skiing in the San Juans, Colorado
Skier: Matt Wade

Backcountry skiing in the San Juans, Colorado

Then a potent storm rolled into the mountains this weekend, dumping over 16 inches of fluffy powder. Woohoo!

Backcountry skiing in the San Juans, Colorado
Skier: Dan Chehayl

Possibly the deepest snow of the year so far… It felt less like skiing and more like swimming through clouds. Too many face shots to even see where we were going!

Backcountry skiing in the San Juans, Colorado
Dan busts through a powder pillow.

This winter refresh should provide another week or two of excellent skiing and splitboarding… if my legs can keep up!

Friday Corn

Colorado,Red Mountain Pass,San Juan Mountains,skiing
Skier: Claudia Brauer.

On Friday, Claudia and I got back out into the mountains to enjoy some more turns. Monday’s foot of fresh snow had baked down to about 3-4 inches of old powder corn snow (For those who don’t backcountry ski, “corn” snow is snow that goes through multiple melt/freeze cycles, resulting in a firm but smooth snow surface that softens up nicely by around noon on a sunny spring day. In my opinion, it’s the next best thing to fresh powder!)

Colorado,Red Mountain Pass,San Juan Mountains,skiing
Skier: Claudia Brauer.

I took Claudia up to one of the taller peaks around. It was Claudia’s first time skiing corn snow, and she rocked it!

Backcountry spring skiing in the San Juans, Colorado

We skied/snowboarded from the summit down a beautiful long untracked line, then skinned back up to the high ridge and scored a nice long bonus descent down the front side. What a day!

Monday Powder

Colorado,Red Mountain Pass,San Juan Mountains, snowy, trees

As we drove home from our recent desert road trip, the rain we passed through in Utah had turned into snow when we reached the San Juans in Colorado. Despite my desire to rest after our big trip, I knew I couldn’t pass up a beautiful spring powder day!

Colorado,Red Mountain Pass,San Juan Mountains

A fresh foot of powder blanketed the San Juans on Monday. What a great welcome home to the mountains – just like last time we returned from the desert!

Colorado,Red Mountain Pass,San Juan Mountains, skiing
Steven skis a big powder field.

The snowpack was sturdy after the previous warm days melted the various snow layers, followed by cold nights that froze it solid again. The new snow came in wet, bonded well to the surface, and then became blower powder on top. Perfect conditions for riding some bigger, longer lines up in the high peaks!

Colorado,Red Mountain Pass,San Juan Mountains, Dan Chehayl, skiing

Skier: Dan Chehayl.

We skied/snowboarded through this big gully I’ve had my eye on for years, followed by a second lap up high again.

Colorado,Red Mountain Pass,San Juan Mountains, wind, snow

Prospecting for Powder

Skinning in the Wind

Yesterday a brief storm hit the San Juans with several inches of snow along with howling winds. Today we ventured up high to see what kind of powder we could find amongst the wind-scoured terrain. Expecting the sunny warmth of March, we were greeted with chilly 16ºF temps and gusty breezes in the morning. Burrrr!

Skier Trio
Jeff, Stephen, and Don racing for gold. (Actually, this is a composite of three different shots taken from the same spot on the way down; we don’t ski like this in the backcountry!)

Of the three lines we skied on various aspects, the second was the one, with about four inches of fresh snow topping the perfectly smooth southern crust – kind of like riding powder on top of a groomer. Not quite the motherload of all powder lines, but a worthy find nonetheless.

Return to Winter

Colorado backcountry skiing

Driving back home from our trip to the Canyonlands last Friday, we entered the world of winter again – the clouds and rain that passed over us in the canyons had blanketed the San Juans in a fresh dump of powder. My friend Dan called me that night to see if I wanted to go ride in the morning. I was fairly exhausted from our backpack trip and said no… then I thought “who am I kidding?!” of course I’ll go!

Colorado backcountry skiing
Skier: Anonymous. Location: Undisclosed.

Although I had been a bit reluctant to leave the desert, I quickly forgot about all that once I was making powder turns and pillow drops!

Colorado backcountry skiing
Skier: Dan Chehayl

Winter is not over yet…

A Winter Night above Ouray

Bridge of Heaven,Colorado,San Juan Mountains,camping,tent, Ouray, February

Eager to test drive a newly purchased camera, I headed out yesterday for a night of winter camping up on the “lower” Bridge of Heaven overlooking the town of Ouray, Colorado. I found a ridiculous spot to pitch my tent, right on the point of a precipitous rock outcropping! This airy perch provided a spectacular scene for tent photos, as well as an island of dry rock amongst the snow to cook and relax in ease.

Bridge of Heaven, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, Ouray, February, night, stars, tent, camping

The evening was calm and quiet at first, but once I got into my sleeping bag the wind whipped up and shook the tent all night long. Though I knew the tent was solidly anchored down with rocks, the unnerving ruckus kept me awake most of night anyways.

Bridge of Heaven,Colorado,San Juan Mountains,camping,tent, Ouray, February, sunrise

The morning brought a colorful sunrise along with a quick morning snowstorm before I packed up and headed back down. Thanks to Steven from Texas whose infectious enthusiasm to get out for some winter hiking ended up inspiring me to get out and make the trip!

February Powder Days

Colorado, Red Mountain Pass, San Juan Mountains, skiing, February, powder
Skier: Dan Chehayl

Are you sick of all the powder shots I keep posting here? I hope not, because here’s a dozen more! With a low workload recently – along with loads of fresh powder in the mountains – I’ve managed to get out on the splitboard/snowboard for 6 of the last 7 days, scoring some of the best turns of the winter so far! LOTS more pow shots below… Continue reading “February Powder Days”

Snow and Stars in Ouray

Ouray, Colorado, San Juan Mountains, stars, panorama, winter
Ouray Starry Night : Prints Available

The lights of Ouray, Colorado illuminate the snow-smothered mountains of the Uncompahgre Gorge, as the stars and Milky Way shine overhead after a heavy winter snowstorm – February.

After nearly two weeks of dry sunny weather, a hefty storm rolled through Colorado on Thursday dumping over two feet of snow in the mountains! I enjoyed a stormy powder day snowboarding at Telluride on Friday, and look forward to getting out for some more powder turns soon. It seems as if the typical January dry spell is over, with several more storms are forecasted for next week!

Last night the storm broke and skies cleared, so at 10:30 I bundled up and drove a little ways up the road above Ouray to shoot some photos of the stars over the snow-smothered town. It was quite a magical scene, with perfectly calm, silent weather and everything sparkling with frosty crystals under the brilliant stars.

Powderfest at the Fowler/Hilliard Hut

Colorado, Fowler Hilliard Hut, Gore Range, January, moonlight, hut. 10th Mountain Division
Fowler Hilliard Moonlight : Prints Available

A full moon shines through breaking snowstorm clouds at the Fowler/Hilliard Hut in the southern Gore Range, Colorado – January.

It had been snowing for nearly three weeks straight in the northern mountains of Colorado. With the northwest storm flow forecasted to dump a few more heavy punches before finally clearing out, last week I checked the 10th Mtn. Division Huts schedule and to my delight I was able to make last minute reservations for three nights at the Fowler/Hilliard Hut, located on a snowy ridge in the mountains north of Leadville, south of Vail. Claudia and I spent a few nights there last spring and had a great time skiing the endless ski terrain around the hut. This trip was shaping up to be even snowier! Continue reading “Powderfest at the Fowler/Hilliard Hut”