Backcountry skiing on Berthoud Pass harder than it looks
Grand County, Colorado
After hearing about how much fun backcountry skiing is on powder days, I had an opportunity to see for myself in late November.
I moved from the flatlands in Michigan about eight months ago, and raced on my high school’s ski team, but would only consider myself an intermediate skier. Last season was my first time skiing on the mountain.
After getting invited to try it, my friend Greg scooped me up. We parked at the top of Berthoud Pass, at the parking area. And we had about a 25-30 minute lead over some friends we were meeting. I was told to bring an old pair of skis for whatever reason; however, I wore my new boots because when I tried them on this summer they seemed really comfortable, and I thought I’d be able to hike better in them.
Once we were all geared up, Greg and I crossed the street. On the other side their were a couple people already skiing and it looked kind of like a green hill ” not too intimidating. There was a trail in the snow where we began hiking up, I kept losing momentum and Greg got a huge lead on me and waited for me at the top. By that time, only about 10 minutes, I was breathing hard and wishing for a towrope to appear.
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When I finally made it to the top, I saw that the trail continued and that we were only half way up. I kept alternating the shoulder I supported my skis on, and did my best to continue, but at least the steepest part was over. We went up about another mile and Greg went to the top and snowboarded down a little. Instead of going to the top I thought I’d cheat and put my skis on where he was ” not a good idea. The snow was about a foot-and-a-half deep, and there was no way I could sit down to tighten my boots there, so I backtracked to the trail and managed to make it to the top where the snow was less deep. I felt like I just got done running a marathon and requested a break, besides it was gorgeous on top.
It felt like it was about 50 degrees when we left Fraser, and it was below 25 degrees when we parked on top of Berthoud Pass, and probably colder where I was sitting. Nonetheless, I felt like I would have been fine sitting in a T-shirt because I was burning up and really wanted some water ” instead I settled for some snow.
There was a bunch of snow in my boots by that time, so after shaking it out I tightened them and stood up. My boots felt so tight around my ankles and calves that I didn’t know if my feet were even touching the bottom of the sole. By time I was ready, I was amazed to see that the rest of the group, who we had the big lead on, had up with us at the top of the mountain.
On the whole way up I was thinking this run better be worth it after all the work hiking up the mountain. Well, Greg took off, and the other snowboarders went up higher, so I also went in my own direction. I tried to follow Greg’s path, but I kept getting buried in the snow and I couldn’t figure out how to stay on top of it ” it seemed as challenging as walking on water.
Some of the other guys were still hiking up the trail, and their advice was to follow other people’s trails. So, I followed one, and it was heading straight down, so I positioned one ski in line with the trail, and my right ski snowplowed next to it under about 15 inches of snow. I fell once when I picked up some speed and a ski came off and my kneecap cracked. Once I got going again I noticed I was at a different place than where we hiked, and headed straight for the trees. I heard a lot of laughter from the left, and figured that’s where I was supposed to be, and heard someone calling for me. Instead of hiking back up, Greg suggested cutting through the trees. So, I did.
However, when I came out of the trees I was at the bottom of the hill, and missed the one area that looked skiable. I then got asked to try the jump they made that was as tall as me, but decided to pass. I was then promoted to videotaping the snowboarders doing the jumps. They said it’s the best time to learn in the powder because it doesn’t hurt to fall, but after one of them biffed attempting a back flip, I knew otherwise.
I guess backcountry skiing isn’t for everyone, especially out-of-shape beginners. Maybe once I become a better skier I’ll try it again. But, it’s definitely a good workout!
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