Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A last minute trip to the 'Boat

When you live out west inevitably all your friends from back east are going to want to come visit. They see your status updates all season long about how good the snow has been, and how regularly the Pacific has been tossing moisture your way, and they arrive with high hopes for waist deep snow. Unfortunately, often times as Murphy's law would have it, your friends manage to pick the only week of consistent high pressure of past month and a half; and of course, since you are the local it is up to you to deliver them the goods.

Such was the case when my friend Joe arrived this week from Michigan. It had been 7 days since the last significant snowfall, and pickings were indeed slim. We did get lucky however when the tail end of the big system passing through the Northwest dropped 5-7" on the Continental Divide. While I was busy teaching first-time kids how to snowboard, Joe and Tom ripped their way around Loveland Ski area. I got the last laugh though when I took them up to Loveland Pass on Sunday after work and got them into thigh deep snow.

We decided to take Monday off, and let our bodies rest a bit since there were talks of a storm coming later in the week. Looking at the satellite image that afternoon it looked like it might be worth our while to head up north to Steamboat to poke around a bit. After moving my first car-load of stuff up to Georgetown, we loaded our snow gear into Tom's Audi and were off over the divide and north-bound to Steamboat. Not too long after leaving the madness of Summit County during spring break, the Gore Range loomed over our heads to the west. Composed of massive, jagged, alpine peaks sliced-through with numerous couloirs, the Gore is definitely on my hit-list for the spring and summer touring season.

We pressed on through the rolling high-desert valleys ringed by hills covered with sagebrush until climbing up through the more familiar pines of Rabbit Ears pass. I had heard Rabbit Ears pass come up several times in conversation regarding backcountry zones, but was admittedly a bit disappointed by the lack of what I considered to be good terrain. I'm sure that Rabbit Ears pass is one of those areas that hides its best secrets from the casual gaze from the daily passer-by, and I am sure that I will have to spend some time in that area as well to see what all the fuss is about. Eventually we crested the long and winding pass, and began our decent into the Yampa Valley. Low clouds and drizzle greeted us in Steamboat Springs, and doubt began to set in about what condition the mountain would be in the following day. Eventually though the rain turned over to snow and a more optimistic take on things began to take shape.

Tom loves his Audi...

Going for a pass around the bend...yes, we had the dotted line...

Like a

With decent barbeque and some good beer in our bellies we called it a night.

All the hops in the Ranger's had me thinking I'm some kind of an artist.

Checking the snow report the next morning, we found a measly 3.5" had fallen the night before; checking out the window we found a fog as thick as pea soup had swallowed the valley. Once again hopes for deep turns teetered in the balance. Arriving at the top of the Gondola by 915am we found 2" of dust on a nice firm crust. Sweet. 3hrs of driving for shit conditions. Awesome.

Dropping into our first glade of aspens confirmed our fears....bumpy, shit-pow on top of a crust that made this midwesterner cringe. I reassured my associates that we would find good snow on any north facing aspects on the upper portion of the mountain, so we set off for the hikes off of storm peak. Sure enough runs like North St. Pats, and No Names delivered the goods. 6-10" of creamy pow on top of a nicely consolidated base of wind slab made for bottomless turns on the upper flanks of Steamboat. Here's a shot of Tom VanHeule gettin' after it in 'No Names' on our second lap. (photo cred: Joe Fodrocy)


Not too long after this photo, I managed to tweak my lower back on what seemed like a routine tumble after landing a little flatter than I had wanted to launching off of a lip in the woods. With temperatures rising well into the 40s and the sun affecting more and more snow, we decided we'd head back to the car for some lunch. The afternoon was spent tearing around the groomers, using gapers like moving gates, and looking for little hips and kickers on the sides of the runs. This style of riding is quickly becoming one of my favorite things to do. It reminds me a little of street skating, and its just fun to see what kind of features you can find around the mountain that aren't the result of hours of cat work. You can call me a hater if you want, but I'm so over the park scene. Get out of the park and see what you might just be surprised.

We got off the mountain around 315 and had planned on soaking our bones in the Strawberry Park Hot Springs about 10miles north of town. Unfortunately, our local friend failed to mention that the hot springs were $10/person before 930pm. Had we been staying another night, I'm sure we would've come back; but we had to get back to Denver that night, so we enjoyed the scenery on the drive in and promptly back out of Strawberry Park and turned the Audi back toward Summit County and eventually I-70. I had just nodded off (literally) when I snapped my head up and awake, I was greeted by amazing light on the Gore Range. I had Tom stop the car and managed to pop off a couple of shots.

The Gore Range looms to the south on CO hwy 9.

Another Gore-y shot.

We got back to Denver around 8pm, stoked on a pretty good day of riding at the 'Boat. We'll definitely be back. There is definitely some potential up there when the conditions allow.

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