Hokkaido, Colorado

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | January 30, 2017      

Okay, so a deep snowpack, frequent pow, and not much sun is the opposite of how Colorado’s backcountry generally gets described. Fortunately, about a month ago a wormhole opened up along the Continental Divide, and the High Rockies have been graced with a winter snowpack from Japan, or maybe British Columbia, probably both.

Colorado at the end of December - clearly something weird is going on.

Colorado at the end of December — clearly something weird is going on.

Joel Gratz keeps writing on Open Snow about some Pacific moisture flow, blah, blah, blah. He’s full of it; it’s a wormhole.

Yours truly checking out a line near Twin Lakes that I assume must be in Rogers Pass, Colorado.

Yours truly checking out a line near Twin Lakes that I assume must be in Rogers Pass, Colorado.

Think about it:

  • January 27, 2017 marks the fourth day of sun since winter solstice.
  • We are at nearly 200% of average for our January snowpack.
  • Snow blankets our south facing slopes.
  • There are not 18 inches of facets at the bottom of the snow everywhere.
  • Snow has come in wet and is mostly ‘right-side-up’ (I know there is a buried surface hoar layer and a few other problems, but still…).
  • People with 115 underfoot water skis don’t need to defend their life choices.
  • The Leadville Safeway started stocking Nori.
  • Clearly, Hokkaido has come to Colorado.

    Doesn’t look like Colorado sunshine to me.

    Doesn’t look like Colorado sunshine to me.

    Over the past few weeks it has been really fun exploring the new terrain in Hokkaido, Colorado. Most winters I get psyched about meadow skipping on 22-degree wind crust, but suddenly all of these rad pow lines have just appeared, many of which have been low, accessible, roadside attractions. Here’s three favorites:


    I have looked at the SKY chutes for years. They are a series of gullies coming off of Peak 5 in the 10-mile range that vaguely look like an S, K, and Y if you are driving from Vail Pass to Copper. These get a ton of traffic from people hiking over from Breckenridge, but also see a lot of avy activity in the winter. Once spring comes along, the desire to head up the SKY has always ended up on the back burner. Last week the K was phenomenal.

    Heather enjoying 2600 ft of endless powder skiing. First in the steep trees, then in a winding gully.

    Heather enjoying 2600 ft of endless powder skiing. First in the steep trees, then in a winding gully.

    Clearly not CO, way too much snow.

    Clearly not CO, way too much snow.

    SAFTEY NOTE: While we were on SKY a snow boarder with no backpack and no partner popped over from Breck and bombed down. DO NOT DO THIS. Even in Hokkaido, accidents happen, snow slides, and people get hurt.


    The Coin Slot is a stupid line. It’s also a blast.

    Pretty silly.

    Pretty silly.

    Justin and I couldn’t stop laughing and decided to play the ‘how many turns can you make’ game.

    Justin and I couldn’t stop laughing and decided to play the ‘how many turns can you make’ game.

    My friend Justin and I headed to Frisco at 3 pm with the intention of getting a beer after a day of skiing. We couldn’t help ourselves and instead decided to check out this classic roadside ski mountaineering attraction. 45 minutes of steep skinning got us to the top of Mount Royal. An hour and fifteen minutes later, we finally found the entrance to the Coin Slot. The Slot is aptly named. You rappel into a narrow couloir and wiggle your way down before popping out on steep trees above I-70. The rap in is a couple hundred feet off of the Mount Royal ridge, and without knowing exactly where it was, it took us some time to find.

    This shouldn’t be taken as a ‘why wait for spring!’ endorsement of mid-winter skimo lines. We were lucky before this last storm with a locked up north facing snowpack. This is changing quickly. That said, the Coin Slot was 1400ft of prime silliness for the technical-skiing inclined.


    Near Leadville there is a line locals call ‘Roadside Attraction,’ for obvious reasons. It’s an eleven-hundred-foot slide path that drops almost onto the road. Its been as good as it gets these days without much approach, or driving required for us Leadvillians.

    Pow all the way down.

    Pow all the way down.

    Cooper droppin’ a knee to keep his head out of the wormhole above….smart.

    Cooper droppin’ a knee to keep his head out of the wormhole above. . .smart.

    As the sun comes out this week, I wonder if we’ll have to go back to old Colorado. Domo arigato, Mr. Snowbato! I have saved so much money on plane tickets.

    Epilogue: I wrote this piece on January 27, 2017. On the 28th the wormhole closed, at least for now. I headed up Mount Elbert with some friends and skied a super scoured line of chalked up snow into Box Creek, then negotiated a zipper crust well below treeline.

    Scoping a way into the Box Creek Chutes

    Scoping a way into the Box Creek Chutes.

    It was blustery, cold, sunny, with plenty of wind slab to worry about — really sounds a lot like Colorado. Hopefully the bridge will reappear this weekend. According to University of Colorado Physics Department Ph.D. candidate Ben Chapman (like for real, I took the time to call a physicist and ask him to comment on the possibility of a wormhole in Colorado) this is entirely possible, “Wormhole calculations are notoriously tricky, so while confirmation of this hypothesis will be difficult, total preclusion would be next to impossible.”

    Sure looks a lot like Colorado.

    Sure looks a lot like Colorado.

    If the portal reopens, you will read about it soon.


    Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


    6 Responses to “Hokkaido, Colorado”

    1. Luke Bradley January 30th, 2017 1:20 pm

      I am innovating an alpine touring binding for my engineering class at school. Our group is trying to create a better binding for the skier that skis 50% on resort and 50% off. We are currently surveying experts to determine what people want out of a binding. I would appreciate it if you took our short survey.

      If you don’t want to take the survey I would appreciate it if you could answer the following four questions:
      What features would this 50-50 binding have?

      What is the most important feature to include in your ideal 50-50 touring binding?

      What is the least important feature to include in a 50-50 touring binding?

      Thank you,


    2. Lisa Dawson January 30th, 2017 5:27 pm

      Nice report, Dr. Alex. It’s exciting to see all the new lines opening up with our deep snowpack. Time to get after it in Colorado!

    3. RDE January 31st, 2017 7:04 am

      Hailey Idaho: settled snow depth in town 48″. Approximately 400% of normal for this foothills town that properly could be said to be on the northern edge of the Mohave desert—.

    4. Rar0 January 31st, 2017 8:32 am

      And in the meantime in Switzerland : nada : http://www.slf.ch/schneeinfo/schneekarten/hsm/index_EN

    5. Wookie1974 February 6th, 2017 1:56 am

      send that wormhole over. Tyrolia is so far under normal they’ve started biking again.

    6. Cameron February 6th, 2017 1:13 pm

      Keep in mind that the Roadside Attraction is the site of an avalanche fatality and is typically primed for a slide. No judgement on the author’s decision-making but such an obvious terrain trap should be generally avoided. That and other slide paths near Highway 91 have produced large avalanches and near misses over the years.

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