Congrats to 27 year old Colorado native Joe Brannan, 6th person to ski all of Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks! He finished with a descent of Wetterhorn Peak just a few days ago.
Till now I’ve known the fourteener skiers pretty well by the time they’ve finished their projects. It helped that all were ultimately from this general area (including Crested Butte). Joe breaks the mold by hailing from eastern slope Colorado, and I’ve heard a few other skiers from the “east” are on their way to finishing the project as well.
More importantly, Joe is also part of another trend in fourteener skiing, that of using your project as a major learning experience and skills progression in both backcountry skiing and climbing. This is happening more now, as younger less experienced skiers make it their goal to ski all 54, start with some easy ones, then dedicate themselves to acquiring a ski alpinist’s skill set and “graduating” on the hard ones such as Capitol and Pyramid peaks. Brannan pulled off his learning progression in good style, developing himself into what is obviously a competent and dedicated ski alpinist. Again, good job Joe! (More about this below.)
In Joe’s words:
“How I got into ski mountaineering? It all started with just hiking. In the spring of 2004, to occupy my time while not working due to a broken wrist, I started hiking easy 14ers. I didn’t have any mountain knowledge and learned lessons the hard way, as many climbers do.
Soon my goal was to summit them all and did so in September 2005. I also started backcountry skiing around the same time, mostly at Berthoud Pass. The guys I skied with were the type to shy away from getting far from the roads or into bigger terrain. Feeling a bit boxed in, I decided to mix my love of hiking high mountains with my desire to ski further from the beaten path.
So on March 3rd, 2005 an Alps loving German exchange student from my graduate program at CU Boulder and I lugged ridiculous packs loaded with alpine gear, snowshoes, crampons axes, tent for emergency etc to the summit of Mount Elbert and skied down from the powdery summit. The next year (2-25-2006) I went and did Quandary, which was during the first snow season of Chris Davenport’s project.
Through Davenport’s blogging and the Lou Dawson fourteener guidebooks, I realized what a neat project skiing the 14ers was and soon thereafter set the goal to ski them all. I was always a little skeptical though about being able to do it, as Pyramid and Capitol seemed beyond my skiing and climbing abilities. But by getting into traditional rock climbing in the summer of 2008 and logging my first 30 plus ski day year in 2007, I started adding the skills I needed to have confidence in tackling those challenges.
Favorite 14er Ski Outing? Huron NE Couloir or the Pyramid Landry Route.
I am dedicating my project to my Fiancee, Debbie Baker, who was always there to support me through my ski the 14ers project and who is consistently the only person who understands what the mountains mean to me and why I make the tradeoffs I do to get away from it all.”
More about 14er ski style:
I’ve always felt one of the best things about the Colorado 14ers is that they roughly divide into a third moderate, a third tougher, with a remaining group that can be quite difficult depending on snow conditions and weather. Thus, if a would-be ‘teener descender minds his goals and uses his head, he can progress through the 54 as skills build, as Joe did. My advice to anyone choosing that style (as opposed to bringing a complete skill set to the project, as myself and Davenport did), would be to give yourself plenty of time and not rush. Trying to speed up the process could easily result in tragedy.
What is more, we frequently have years in Colorado when the snow simply does not cooperate and finding certain peaks in skiable condition can require incredibly tight timing, or be impossible. Forcing ski descents on dry peaks will waste your time at best, and at worst may result in your claiming “ski descents” you regret later and have to go back and re-do. Considering all this, if you’ve got lots of free time to work on your ski and climbing skills figure five or six years for a safe and responsible ski-the-teeners project, give yourself even more years if you work full time.
One other thing about timing, to answer a question I get frequently asked. Yeah, it took yours truly about 13 years to ski them all. Why so long? Kids, things were entirely different back then. The short story: No guidebook or body of knowledge existed, some peaks had never been skied, no internet existed to help with knowing snow conditions and what people had recently skied, (I was also working full time as a carpenter and outdoor educator, and didn’t have a goal of doing the peaks particularly fast). Doing the 14ers back then was quite the pioneer style adventure I’ll share more about some day, but it had a big downside of time, money and frustration (not to mention skinny little skis that sunk in places we now skim over with grins splitting our faces). So savor what we’ve got now, it is indeed incredible, as Joe now knows!