After years of tempting these guys with tales of Colorado cold smoke and American hamburgers, we finally got a visit from Fritz Barthel (inventor of the tech binding) and his friend Riki Leitner. They flew in from Austria and stayed for about ten days. We got in eight full days of backcountry skiing, capped by a beautiful climb and descent of Mount Sopris, our signature mountain out of WildSnow HQ in Colorado (12,953 feet, 3,948 meters). Here is the Sopris report (photos by Fritz and Lou).
Riki lays down an Austrian arc. Backcountry skiing Mount Sopris, Colorado. Click image to enlarge.
Best winter route for Sopris follows a skiable ridge line that climbs the farther east and lower false summit. You can simply return from there, or continue along the ridge to the eastern main summit. Connecting the two involves a small amount of walking, but almost always results in a satisfying ski descent that includes making turns from the summit down a long corniced ridge, then skiing down from the far east lower summit. The idea is to avoid avy danger in the big bowls. Problem with this route is a huge amount of walking to access the east ridge base. It's legal to snowmobile to a good starting point. I tried, but the sled tipped over near the beginning so we walked most of the route anyway, rather than spending an hour and a zillion calories getting the snowmobile up the trail.
Starting out with snowmobile to Mount Sopris. Nice to knock of a few miles of slogging, but we were soon on foot.
Alas, the petroleum powered component of the trip was short and sweet. Mr Tippy (otherwise known as our !!&&****$$$Yamaha Nytro, dug a ski into some depth hoar, rolled me off, and had to be rescued with rope pulley. My personal rule is after one or two of those little events I leave the thing and walk. So we did. Result was quite a long slog to where we normally sled to, which I of course described to Fritz and Riki as a 'nice walk.' After a few hours they knew I'd lied and Fritz explained to me that next time I visit them in Austria, he too would take me on a 'nice walk.' Ouch.
Nearing completion of the 'nice walk,' we're finally at the base of the climb.
Fully Dynafitted Austrians on American soil, Sopris East Ridge. Elk Mountains and Capitol Peak in background. Click image to enlarge.
Myself and Riki at summit, looking north. A windy day, but the skiing was still quite good and this is the ideal place to take guests new to the area as they can see how everything is laid out. With lightweight gear and skins with good glide, the walk to east Sopris is really not that bad. I'm surprised it's not done more frequently. Nonetheless, snowmobile access makes the trip much more pleasant in my opinion. Click image to enlarge.
The classic image of skiing off Sopris summit. Looking east at Capitol Peak. Click image to enlarge.
Lower reaches of the East Ridge yield nice pitches for backcountry skiing. The snow here was wind blown and a bit crusty, but modern skis could still carve pleasantly. Fluffy pow is of course the best, but I've come to enjoy this winded stuff when I can get my skis close together and make classic arcs. Austrian inspiration helps.
We of course had to take our Euro guests to the Woody Creek Tavern downvalley from Aspen, where the late Hunter Thompson held his Gonzo reign. This photo hangs on the wall of the Tavern, and seemed somehow apropos to Fritz and Riki's visit.
Fritz and Riki are now safely back in Austria, and I’m editing the photos of our other seven days of powder. More of those soon. Meanwhile, nice to honor Mount Sopris!