Once you learn the Hidden Passage to Yule Creek from the Marble Quarry Road in western Colorado, it’s like you’ve learned the secret handshake of the West Elk Mountains . You break through the scraggy trees of the “Passage,” and stacked before you is a “Lineup” that strings a half dozen perfectly skiable peaks just like a set of waves tempting a surfer — only there’s no gang of locals ready to jump you for taking their turf.
|BJ Sbarra near the Ant Peak summit. Weather reports had indicated we’d have a nearly perfect bluebird day. Instead, fairly dense clouds were pumping in from the east, making for interesting photography. Check out BJ’s Euro style tiny backpack. He’s using the same ancient Lafuma Active Light I’m still carrying for my springtime superlight pack. They don’t make these things anymore, and they’re really the ticket. Just a top loader made with lightweight fabric, big enough for a 2 liter water bladder, shovel, small repair/first-aid kit, and not much else. I’ve still never found a pack as lightweight and functional, though I’d imagine there is something out there somewhere — probably in Europe.|
Hardcores have strung most of these peaks together in one big day. Being mere mortals we opted for Ant Peak, thinking we could at least nail the obvious northeasterly line that drops steep from the summit. We were denied that prize by clouds that kept an ice glaze from softening enough to be safe, but our consolation prize was a southerly line that was equally stunning and even included a few steep turns near the summit.
|The Lineup, AKA Little Alaska, AKA Yule Creek, Colorado. Crested Butte is just over the hill.|
|Heading up the northly reaches of Ant.|
|Crew for the day. Me in the middle, BJ Sbarra to right, David Rasmussen to left. I’m still trying to figure out why rock climbing activist BJ is doing so much backcountry skiing. How could he leave his warm and sunny sport climbs for 4:00 AM alarms? Is this a trend? Perhaps backcountry skiing is the new sport climbing, after all, it does involve power tools — at least when you’re mounting bindings.|
|On the lower reaches of our line, the snow was a semi-corn that was silky smooth to ski. Some of the best spring snow we’ve had yet.|
|The snowpack up here is massive. Check out this beautiful formation down lower on our line, below where cornices usually form.|