Poulin: Powder Addiction a unique way to experience backcountry
December 31, 2015
Powder Addiction catskiing offers access to backcountry terrain on Jones Pass under the knowledge of professionals, and access to proper safety equipment. Skiers meet at Jones Pass trailhead at 8:30 for check in and to receive the backcountry gear necessary for the trip including a beacon and a backpack containing a shovel and probe. Powder skis are available for those without a setup made for deep snow. After a quick list of necessary items and enough time to get booted up, the snow cat leaves as soon as possible. The cat ride up Jones Pass is a discussion of basic risks and guests are told to alert the guides if they feel any symptoms of altitude sickness or general discomfort.
Although guests are guided by professionals, every safety precaution is taken to provide the knowledge necessary for the dangers of in the backcountry. Jones Pass may be close to Denver but it is still very much remote and the risks are real. An avalanche briefing takes place before. Here, basic survival knowledge is provided including use of beacons, shovels, and probes. Guests are told how to search for a fellow skier that has been caught in a slide and the techniques and strategies rescuers must use.
Powder Addiction guides explain, from the beginning, that the ultimate goal is to get as many runs as possible. The lunch provided is eaten on the cat on the way back up for the next run. This is the time to hydrate and consume the sustenance you need for a day at 12,000 feet. An explanation of every run is conducted before skiing, and after everyone has their skis on. The plan is made of where to go, where not to go, and where to meet the cat at the end of the run. Guests always stay in between guides with one leading and at least one going last. This allows the lead guide to radio back to the "sweep" guide and share where the best snow was on each run. Here the guests can choose their line within the allotted terrain and get creative.
The terrain guests see is based on skill level, time of year, snow conditions, and avalanche danger. Professional backcountry etiquette and responsibility is practiced during the trip. Skiers go one at a time during any run with even slight avalanche danger, and "buddy up" on runs where it is safe to do so and trees are present.
Nick Barlow has been a backcountry ski guide for six seasons starting with heli-skiing in Alaska, and spending the last three with Powder Addiction. He loves backcountry and studying snow conditions and avalanche danger.
"I moved to Vail to ski bum," Barlow said, "I found myself in the backcountry more and more. I took my first avalanche class and started getting into mountain weather, and kind of set my sights on that goal."
Barlow is a meteorologist and conducts terrain and avalanche studies of Jones Pass for Powder Addiction and his own website, barlowmeter.com. The site offers daily forecasts and unique experiences for "powder-seeking resort skiers and snowboarders, seasoned backcountry travelers, and winter weather enthusiasts of all kinds."
At the end of the day you can typically ski back to your car. After packing up, gear is turned in and guides hang out and discuss the day.
Kevin Quast, one of the other skiers on the trip, was pleased with the conditions especially for this time of year.
"It was deep, soft snow, and the guides did a great job getting us to the best of it. We spent a lot of time in open areas where you could ski fast, turn hard, and get some real deep shots, " he said.
Quast noted the ambition to push for as many runs as possible.
"The operation is very professional. The guides answer all your questions and keep you moving forward. There's not a lot of standing around or second guessing each other."
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