Powder farming (somewhere near Berthoud Pass)
December 17, 2008
You too can start your very own powder-skiing farm. It’s easy.
Just find an area of sloping backcountry terrain where no one has yet hung chairlifts or built any T-shirt shops. Let the land sit and collect a ton of snow. Then simply climb up to the top of it and ski down all you want.
Last Sunday, I joined some experienced backcountry farmers (Jeff, Mike and Doug) for a great day at an undisclosed (under penalty of being left behind next time) farm area off Berthoud Pass.
I woke early and eager to attack all that fresh snow hanging up in the mountains after those ongoing dumps last weekend. But I hadn’t made plans with the guys yet.
And I was just getting ready to go to the resort alone and elbow my way for powder turns like an old lady at a bargain-basement sale, when I got the call from “Backcountry guru” (that’s how it comes up on my caller ID) and I knew we were in for a big day off the piste.
Parking in a turnout off the busy Berthoud Pass road, we hooked into our skis and skins while standing on a snowbank as traffic hurled by us on the slippery, serpentine highway ” probably the most dangerous move we made all day. Then we trudged into the snowy quiet.
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Just a few minutes trekking away from the highway and sound was muffled by the snow-loaded trees, something like the deadening effect of a newly insulated house without sheetrock.
The cold air bit at any exposed skin, but the climbing kept us warm and only a short time in we were all shedding layers. One of the best perks to climbing and earning your turns is that there’s no shivering on a chairlift.
It was a long slog up a ridge and the guys took turns breaking track until we reached the pinnacle and the fields we would spend the day meticulously plowing.
A good farmer not only protects his powder fields by not telling anyone where they are, but carefully harvests his crop in rows, laying track next to track to take advantage of every inch of the fluffy goodness.
That first drop was magical: Soft, untouched snow above the knees in places, and the pitch was just right so we could more or less aim straight down and make bouncing tele-turns without gaining too much speed.
It’s still early season and I had to watch for fallen logs and hit plenty of rocks ” the bottoms of my skis look like I’ve run them through a table saw ” but the skiing was as good as it gets.
Then we set our traverse at the bottom to get back to the climb and it was laps all day on steeper and more technical terrain.
We only stopped to remove or put on our climbing skins and power down snacks. I gobbled egg salad sandwiches, gulped water and gnawed on a frozen Power Bar so I could keep up with the guys for run after run ” five altogether. And at an estimated 600 feet per drop, that meant more than 3,000 feet of climbing and skiing.
Bedraggled and cold to the bone, we toasted our day in front of a warm electric heater back in Winter Park. This farming business is hard work, but like my grandmother always told me, nothing worth doing is ever easy.
” You might spot farmer Charles Agar speeding up the pass in his tractor (a Subaru) to go harvest Grand County’s finest. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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