It was the best of times, and the worst of times. After several slow-to-fill-in seasons here in Western Colorado, we were getting dumped on by a storm system that was causing locals to ask each other when they remembered having this much snow. At the same time, so much snow accumulating so quickly made for sketchy backcountry conditions, and frequent highway closures. Concurrently, my girlfriend & I had embarked on a home renovation project occupying much of our time. As the snow in our backyard began to fill in the garden beds and pile up at the edges of the walkways, I began to wonder what adventures might lie close to home.
Last year, an anomalous October storm blanketed our town with enough snow to open up the possibilities of skiing backyard lines I had never considered before. When this year’s bounty arrived, I was better prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that lay so close at hand.
Poking around the neighborhood on leather boots and climbing scale tele skis doesn’t carry the consequences of backcountry skiing, but delivers on the thrill of recognizing and capitalizing on a minimal window of opportunity.
My first turns on the wild snow of my neighborhood were off a bike path on an old irrigation ditch, ducking through charred Russian olive groves to curtsy a few turns through the gently sloping terrain. Barely enough to get three turns in before flattening out at the bottom of the draw, then a quick shuffle to set a shallow angle skin track, and drop in again, farming what was once a grazing meadow for hippie dip turns.
Driving through town on errands the next day, I noticed a series of nearby alleys transformed into gently sloping couloirs. Doing a quick calculation of the tapering storm and forecast of rising temperatures, I realized today was likely my only chance to ski them. Returning home, I stepped into my Wal-Mart insulated bibs, laced up my leather boots, shouldered my skis, and set out walking down our neighborhood street in search of first descents.
Dropping in from a snow-covered dirt mound on an adjacent vacant lot gave me just enough speed to cruise down the first alley and remember how thin the margin of control is on leather boots and wire bindings. It is only my ego, and not my life, at risk, fumbling around in an alley rather than tomahawking down a remote couloir.
Awkward though my turns may be, there are enough moments of grace to motivate me to hike back up the two blocks for more.
On the way up, I couldn’t help but notice all the bonus “almost filled in” side hits, making me wish for another foot of snow and my powder skis. Such is the nature of the human condition – “Contentment is a fleeting thing, easily slayed by yearning.”
The second lap was a little smoother, not as panicked; a bit better anticipation of what the alley turns demand, and then on to the next alley.
Alley #2 was a bit steeper, complete with wire rope boundary, adding to the illicit “ducking the ropes” feel. Except there is a convenient pedestrian access slot, so I suppose it’s really not that illegal.
The drop is just steep enough to generate some useful speed on my AT setup, borderline terrifying on my old school gear. I take a few moments to visualize the first turn; a drop-knee left-hander in front of the electrical box, certain that if I can hold everything together for that first turn, I can handle the rest. Voila! The slope is just right, my speed is just right, the knee drops just right, and I come sailing through, low as schooner running before the wind, and make my way tacking down the alley, dodging the reefs of fences and black rocks of manhole covers.
I draw up short at port and disembark from my twin wooden ships to hoof my way back up for one more round.
Starting from the other side this time, to close out the loop I started, I’m more confident from the preceding successful round: my imagery stronger, my self-talk more positive, I drop in and “slash” next to the wooden fence, and follow the wave up to the parking lot of the condo, surfing against the fence again, dodging the manhole cover that forces my turn a little tighter to exit early above it, towards the terraced landings of the down alley condo.
One more alley beyond may hold promise, but on the premise of “two more & skip the last,” I decide to leave the last unexplored and shoulder my skis to walk four blocks back home.
Aaron Mattix grew up in Kansas and wrote a report on snowboarding in seventh grade. His first time to attempt snowboarding was in 2012, and soon switched over to skis for backcountry exploration near his home in Rifle, CO. From snow covered alleys to steeps and low angle meadows, he loves it all. In the summer, he owns and operates Gumption Trail Works, building mountain bike singletrack and the occasional sweet jump.