One of the toughest things about skiing all 54 Colorado fourteeners is getting complete descents of the ten Sangre de Cristo peaks you need to check off your list. By today’s standards extreme skiing on the Sangres is only ho hum, and all can be skied from the exact summit during an average snow year, when you’ll usually find good continuous snow down logical routes. Instead, the challenge is logistical.
During dry winters the Sangres may never come into condition for full ski descents. More, spring comes early down there — by March the snow starts to melt off everything but the northern exposures, by April it is full-on springtime with lines already melting out even during good snow years.
If the routes were mostly northern the sun wouldn’t be that big a deal, but some of the best (sometimes the only) ski routes take everything but northerly lines.
In what may be a major setback for fourteener skiers Sean Crossen and Chris Davenport, it is indeed looking mighty dry down there. I just spoke with someone yesterday who’d been down there, and they described the Sangres as “mostly grey rock.” I did some web research, and at least one newspaper was reporting a snowpack that was the “worst in 25 years.” Out of curiosity, I checked out the South Colony Snowtel site this morning (trailhead for the Crestone Peaks of the Sangres) and sure enough there have already been several thaw days at 10,800 feet, and the snow depth is only around 30 inches. That’s on the ground, sheltered by trees at a Snowtel site at almost 11,000 feet elevation!
The central Colorado storm track has produced skiable fourteeners in the Elk Mountains and Northern Sawatch, but the southern Sawatch may be dry as well.
Both Sean and Chris are no doubt fanatically watching weather predictions, and planning on hitting the Sangres immediately should they get dumped on. Unfortunately, by this time of year it’s going to take more than the usual moderate snowfalls to make the ten Sangre peaks skiable — what’s needed is a series of huge spring storms. While the Sangres sometimes to get coated in March and even April (happened to me once), most drought seasons are predictable — they start out dry and stay that way. I hope this one breaks the mold and the Sangres get dumped on, or that I’m wrong and all the peaks down there are skiable. Some may very well be, but Little Bear, Blanca and Ellingwood are doubtful as they’re the more southern of the Sangres and even on normal years have minimal snow on their westerly ski routes. Mount Lindsey is in the same area, but has a northern route that’s skiable so it’s perhaps possible.
Whatever the case, we wish the best for Sean and Chris. Both men have a way of getting things done, and it won’t surprise me if it starts snowing and things work out.