Backcountry Skiing News Roundup

Post by blogger | March 11, 2008      

Local news is that we’ve got enough snow in our Western Colorado foothills for some interesting ski touring. We had to get a quick hit yesterday, just a break from doing taxes and EU trip prep. Question is, where do you go in this area for a speedy trip?

Solution: Instead of nearly two hours drivetime (both ways) for the Marble area, we drove 10 minutes up to one of my favorite mellow fitness jaunts, that of Marion Gulch to the top of Sunlight Resort. You get some turns on this tour, though it includes a bit of distance slogging as well.

Just to take the edge off and not be skiing on a sled trail, we use our snowmobile for the first part that follows a designated sled track (about 1 1/4 mile from parking). But slogging this section works fine (wax your skins and stay to the side of the trail). We leave the snowmobile trail and head northerly over a saddle then to the obvious summit of Sunlight Resort. Open aspens form the backcountry ski runs. The route is detailed at Don’t expect anything “extreme,” and only go when Sunlight Resort is reporting 45 or more inches of base.

Also, stay away from the Marion Gulch snowmobile trail on weekends (too many snowmobiles). The sledders groom and maintain Marion Gulch, skiers are guests (know we’re not speaking of the Marion Gulch nordic trails, just the actual Gulch trail). Tip: after a few sunny days in March or April, you can sometimes find excellent corn snow skiing on this route, though you should also be willing to enjoy breakable crust. If the aspens on Sunlight are good, do a few laps. The warming room at the top of the resort is a plus if you’re up there on a storm day.

In more local news, but of national interest: Former Climbing Magazine co-publisher Julie Kennedy (her husband Michael ran the mag for years, before selling it) has given up a bunch of ski days to organize the 5 Point Film Festival here in little ol’ Carbondale, Colorado. To be held from Thursday, May 8 through Sunday, May 11, the shindig includes all sorts of book signings, films and even a panel discussion about “Inspiring Passion and Lifestyle with your Children.” Somehow Julie roped myself and son Louie into that, probably for the swag. See you there?

Okay, enough local stuff. Sad news from farther afield. In Cordova AK, well known community man and avalanche expert Mike O’Leary was killed in a huge slide while backcountry skiing with a group of friends. According to the article, they’d done their descent and were climbing back up to help their dogs when the path let loose in a slide so big it buried O’Leary 18 feet deep . Rescuers needed a chainsaw to remove trees in the debris while digging him out. Cordova has these massive avy chutes that end at the edge of town, apparently the group had skied one of those. Just tragic, and really makes you wonder if your own meager skills are up to the task.

Oh, back to Colorado again: Ever get tired of journalists making an issue out of something that’s been beat to death over the years? Consider backcountry rescue costs. Like most areas of the United States, if you need a rescue in Colorado you don’t have to pay for it unless there are extenuating circumstances (like doing something really really stopid or criminal and needing $100,000 helicopter time to get you out of it.)

Thus, even if you’re a Darwin Award contender, you probably won’t have to pay for rescue. Journalists seem to find this intriguing, even while the same standards apply to rescue from things like automobile and plane crashes. One such article here. Yawn, but newbies might want to read the article so they know how the system works.

What else? Picking between the K2 Baker SLs and Dynafit Manaslu is driving me crazy. But it’s a good kind of bipolar. I’m finding the Manaslu is my go-to ski whenever the cake icing will be anything but hardpack. The Bakers do great in the glop and pow as well, but they’re slightly more attractive on the pack and thus will probably be my spring “unknown conditions” plank. It’s like choosing between a Ferrari and a Porsche. Why me? Why do I have to suffer like this?


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3 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup”

  1. kevin March 11th, 2008 11:00 am

    Ditch them both and get the Kailas.

  2. Barry March 11th, 2008 11:35 am

    I’m feeling for you. I hate to see anyone suffering. So ship me the Dynafit Manaslu’s. I’m willing to make the sacrifice.

  3. Njord March 12th, 2008 9:12 am

    Good news is the average cost of rescue by a EMS aircraft is $10,000 (and is covered by 99% of health insurance, you do have health insurance, right?) and most “voluneer” helicopters will only charge you for the cost of gas (about $500 for the average rescue).


    (If I’ve got to charge $100,000 for every rescue flight, I could affort to move up to Basalt!)

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