Mount Shavano Ski Descent

Post by blogger | April 2, 2005      
Backcountry skiing Mount Shavano, Colorado.
Louie backcountry skiing from the summit of Mount Shavano.

Did an epic climb and ski descent of Mount Shavano yesterday with my son Louie. I guess the mountain knew it was April Fools Day, as it threw every curve at us it could.

We’re staying in Buena Vista, Colorado, at the excellent Super 8 Motel on the main drag in town, having a deluxe guidebook research trip. Tried to hit the weather window and we did, the day was bluebird — not one cloud from sunrise to sunset.

And see the sunset we did — from the top of the peak! Shavano from the winter trailhead is a LONG climb. About 5,000 vertical feet and lots of miles. Skis help, but with new snow a few days before, we were slogging through transitional powder almost all day, with ice building on our skis and slowing us down. We stopped and dried climbing skins in the sun four times, and waxed everything, but the ice kept building up.

Backcountry skiing near Mount Shavano summit, just before dark. Two tired boys making the best of it.

So there we were at the summit, "enjoying" the sunset… In typical fourteener fashion, we’d baked on the way up, but a frigid wind was blowing strong for the last 1,000 vertical — it felt like a storm in mid January.

Skiing off the summit was fine (with a bit of billy goating through the rocks), but we couldn’t ski the big "Angel of Shavano" snowfield because of avalanche danger, so had to make a series of difficult traverses and such to skirt the dangerous slope. All added time. Before long is was dark and we were still on the mountain side, descending steep timber with headlamps.

After a bit of downhill stumbling we reached the series of roads we’d used for the long ski-climb up. Thankfully, the low altitude snow had tightened up and frozen, and we were able to make a high speed glide back to the Angel of Shavano campground; exhausted of course, but glad to not be sitting by a fire waiting ’till morn.

Motel   for   fourteener   backcountry   skiing.
Super 8 in Buena Vista — deluxe, and perfect for fourteener climbing (Mount Princeton on horizon. They’ll bring out their excellent comp breakfast around 4:00 AM if you ask for it, so you can get an early start climbing for spring corn snow, or to avoid summer lightning.

Sometimes the ‘teeners throw it all at you when you try to backcountry ski. And yesterday was particularly hard for Louie, as the long hours and elevation manifested a touch of altitude sickness — I was proud of the way he kept pushing even though he didn’t feel 100 percent. Yes, In this case Shavano wasn’t easy, but then, if it was always a cake walk we probably wouldn’t be ski alpinists.

We’d hoped the south and east snow on Shavano would have been more compacted, but recent storms had come in heavy and cold, so it just wasn’t our day for good snow conditions. Today would be better — blue sky again and yesterday’s sun to bake the snow. Our plan was to do another fourteener today, but after being beat up for 16 hours by Shavano, we’re taking it easy! In fact, I’m headed to the Super 8 lobby for another danish. See ya!

Fingers sore from too much blogging? Try Whippet self arrest grips for your keyboard!


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  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

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