Photos by Louis Dawson and Boone Caudill
My 49th birthday rolled around this past January of 2001. In truth, I was feeling it — coming off knee surgery and battling desk chair syndrome. My rehab seemed to be going okay, so what better way to celebrate my cake day than a ski descent?
The goal, 12,953-foot Mount Sopris, the icon of the Roaring Fork Valley, bulwark of the lofty Elk Mountains towering above Aspen and Carbondale, Colorado. A peak covered in great detail in my new guidebook.
When you live in the “downvalley” part of the Roaring Fork, Sopris is always in your face, begging to be climbed, skied, or just gazed at while you daydream…
I made about 15 calls, ending up with a great crew: Carl Pelletier, school teacher and strong telemarker. Lynn Sanson, school teacher and solid mountaineer with lots of background. Boone Caudill, strong Aspen native who’s skied since he could walk. Jason Troth and his betrothed Val, both awesome riders who use splitboards to great effect — and own quality snowmobiles. Jason broke his femur a while back doing a snowboard descent. I had the same injury in my avalanche ride of many years ago, so it’s fun to hang out with a fellow survivor of that risky injury.
The route we’re going for is the Northeast Ridge, the only skiable route that’s nearly 100% avalanche safe because of ridge terrain. Problem is, getting to the base of the ridge is a mega slog up a snowmobile track that kills knees and zaps enthusiasm– hence our choice of mechanized approach.
Colorado has been dry this winter. Dozens of sunny days have been perfect for climbing, though the backcountry skiing around here has been less than ideal.
But you never know about Mount Sopris. It gets hammered by wind that packs the snow, and sometimes it’s more skiable than it looks. Funny thing was, after weeks of sunshine, the day we climb a storm moves in. The weather radio says it’ll clear up in the afternoon, so we go anyway. After all, we’re starved for the alpine, and a little wind always adds spice to Sopris.
The trip was incredible. We climbed through a storm, with alternating whiteout, howling wind, and sunshine. We launched from the exact summit, and aside from just a short section of downclimbing, we skied everything from powder to boilerplate, to make an honest glisse descent of the peak — on a day when none of us thought we’d get in many turns.
Above timberline the wind began to bite. About 10 degrees F with a 50 MPH breeze. We loved every minute of it… Check out our photo album.