It’s pure play time in Grand County |

It’s pure play time in Grand County

Charles Agar / Grandstanding
Grand County, Colorado

When I ride a chairlift and look out over the vast infrastructure at any ski resort I sometimes think of the utter pointlessness of the sport.

We drive for miles, invest in expensive gear, suit up like moon men and go out into the cold to slide down a hill on sticks or a board.

And what started a few centuries ago when some Norseman strapped his feet onto a pair of barrel staves probably on a bet ” and I imagine a few drinks were involved ” has become a cultural force and a multibillion-dollar industry that supports communities like ours.

High fashion, technological innovation and the almighty dollar might complicate things a bit, but at core snowsports are pure play, and lately I’ve been getting back to the fundamentals.

Last Saturday, I followed a group of experienced backcountry skiers on a day’s worth of climbing and skiing on an untouched stash near Berthoud Pass. In a driving snow that fell heavier as the day wore on, we trudged up two steep climbs, first for a downhill of tight trees loaded with fresh snow and then for a second hour’s climb that led to a wide field of steep powder.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been scared while skiing, but the avalanche danger on that second pitch was high and our leader got a little spooked.

We all got into safety mode and skied it one at a time to stay safe. The first skier ripped straight down the middle of the chute, but I didn’t like how so much of the mountain came down with him, so I headed to the edge of the field and just hop-turned along the steep parts.

If I tiptoed down the steeps, though, the more gradual runout at the bottom was pure powder bliss ” the first fresh tracks I’d seen in a while ” and I just let ’em rip through the soft stuff.

The snow dropped all day Saturday, and after a quick dinner and rest from the day in the backcountry, I headed out that night for a new and unique way to enjoy it: Snow biking.

Probably pioneered something like that drunken bet between Norsemen, snowbiking is a real hoot. You ride a low-slung bike frame resting on two short skis and steer by turning the handlebars, but mostly by leaning the bike and sliding your rear end around.

Winter Park Resort now hosts night tours on weekends and I joined a group to take on the mountain by the light of our headlamps. We rode special gondolas on the Zephyr Express chair to the top of the mountain where our guide gave us a short lesson on snow-biking basics before we slid into the dark.

The four of us took to snow biking quickly, and by our third run we were ripping through tight trees and going high speed down the steeps of Cranmer, sounding more like kids at recess than 30-something professionals.

Then came this week’s powder days. Sunday was sunny with just enough fresh stuff from Saturday’s snowfall to give the bumps on Mary Jane just the right cushion.

Then Tuesday was one of those memorable howl-while-you ski romps in 6 inches of fresh. The best part about it was that those of us who found ourselves on the resort-side of Berthoud Pass had the resort to ourselves after CDOT staffers dropped the gates because of the weather. I was still finding plenty of untracked snow at 1 p.m. ” nothing better.

Pure play in the mountains is what it’s all about for me, and there are chances to get good and giddy around every corner in this valley.

” Contact Charlie at

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