ADVENTURE JOURNAL

February into the Alpine

No Powder, No Care. 

February into the Alpine


Patrick Westfeldt skis down the middle section of a fabulous couloir on February 27th, 2016.

Patrick Westfeldt skis down the middle section of a fabulous couloir on February 27th, 2016.


As the powder starved took to stalking instagram users and obsessively following those fortunate enough to be enjoying bottomless powder in parts of the world other than Aspen this February, the rest of us mortals sat at home wondering what the hell happened to winter. For many skiers, a dry spell like we are currently going through brings on boredom, powder withdrawals and a nasty case of faceshot envy thanks to our Canadian brethren who simply can’t get up for air in all the powder they’ve had this winter. This perpetual cycle of longing for our beloved snow, left only to be exacerbated by the daily compulsive scroll through our facebook feeds for signs of winter. Grasping. Our minds stricken with a hunger that mother nature simply won’t fulfill.


Gone are the powder days. At least for now...Photo by Matt Power

Gone are the powder days. At least for now…Photo by Matt Power


The aggravated, tense mentalities of resort die-hards still holding on to the last breath of winter, hoping the puddles outside their apartments will refreeze and snow will again fall from grey skies, blanketing bare patches of grass and once again rejuvenating their spirits with another chance to enjoy winter. Meanwhile, others have all but given up, grabbed their mountain bikes and high-tailed it to Fruita, or some other place where mountain bikers go. But, somewhere out there, on a distant peak and in a place you’d never notice from your couch or the gondola, is a handful of skiers from Aspen that are eating up the green-lighted backcountry and abundant blue skies in a rare moment of alpine bliss. This February I was lucky enough to be one of the few.


Up Up Up. Adam Moszynski on an early season skin in the Elk Mountains. Photo TJ David

The onset of high pressure this February came with a new opportunity to tip-toe out into the alpine during a month that isn’t historically known for great backcountry skiing conditions. When you can do it, you do it. Photo by TJ David


Adam Moszynski drops into February. Photo TJ David

Adam Moszynski drops into February. Photo TJ David


Another day in the Elks. Photo by Adam Moszynski

Up Up Up, another day in the Elks. Photo by Adam Moszynski


Turns for days, albeit low angle ones. But the snow was edgeable. Photo by Adam Moszynski

Turns for days, albeit low angle ones. But the snow was edgeable. Photo by Adam Moszynski


Refrozen snow, wind crust, wintery surfaces, powder, and my personal favorite, chalk, where conditions that we were becoming all too familiar with. Sometimes the snow was simply unskiable and other times we found pleasant surprises where we least expected them. Everyday was a bit different than the next, and that variety served to entertain us, to keep us coming back for more. And so we did.


Sometimes it's all about the up. Adam Moszynski shows us the perfect terrain for ski crampons.

Sometimes it’s all about the up. Adam Moszynski shows us the perfect terrain for ski crampons.


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Adam Moszynski eyes up his next morning adventure. Photo TJ David


A human powered ski adventure awaits you, if you’re just willing to put in the time and the work to get there. Fortunately the effort pays off in dividends, and a day out in the mountains is worth every step, every time.


That backdrop. Photo by Adam Moszynski

Oh, That backdrop though. Photo by Adam Moszynski


Adam Moszynski drops into a NW facing chalk run in the Elk Mountains.

Adam Moszynski drops into a NW facing chalk run in the Elk Mountains. Take er to the valley floor! Photo TJ David


Chalk for days. Photo by Adam Moszynski

Chalk for days. Photo by Adam Moszynski


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Some days are just slower than others and long tours have an element of suffrage, but for people who spend a lot of time in the mountains, this suffering isn’t considered “suffering” in the traditional sense. It’s all part of the adventure. Suunto Ambit.


Snow, ice, harsh winds. Another day in the backcountry.

Snow, ice, harsh winds. Another day in the backcountry. Photo by Joe King


With the variable conditions came stable weather, stabilizing avalanche danger and even the peaceful feeling of the freedom of tours in the alpine. Things were taking shape and February was turning out to be something I hadn’t expected. Amazing.

 


Pre-Dawn start.

Pre-Dawn start, in February. Unusual, but certainly welcomed.


Incredible early morning light in the Elk Mountains. Packy Westfeldt leading the way.

Incredible early morning light in the Elk Mountains. Packy Westfeldt leading the way with a near full moon above him.


Our gradual progress into the mountains this February naturally led to an area I often frequent each spring. The familiar terrain, knowledge of the approach and exit as well as a little recon from friends pointed to the possibility of getting the axes out and actually climbing something.


One of my favorite zones to ski in the Elk Mountains.

One of my favorite zones to ski in the Elk Mountains.


Above tree line, expansive views of 360 degrees. Packy in the skin track.

Above tree line, expansive views of 360 degrees. Packy in the skin track.

Our objective within view. Photo by: Patrick Westfeldt.
Our objective within view. Photo by: Patrick Westfeldt.


Nearing our transition point. Photo by: Patrick Westfeldt

Nearing our transition point. Photo by: Patrick Westfeldt


This time of year when you leave your truck to head out on a 7 or 8 hour day in the mountains, even when things are apparently “green lighted,” you know there is a very strong chance you’re just going out for a long walk in the mountains. It doesn’t hurt to choose a really beautiful location for your long walk for this very reason. And because skiing a steep line is always secondary to getting home safe, this mentality was held from the moment we left our truck to the moment we got back.


Our out and back. Suunto Ambit.

Our out and back. Suunto Ambit.


Beginning our climb.

Beginning our climb.


Packy and I were both fortunate to find some great consolidated winter snow in the “BS” and things were more or less how we had envisioned they would be before setting out. The cramponing was easy and the climb was straight forward. A series of aggressive ski cuts solidified our belief that conditions were safe and we enjoyed mostly good, wintery snow top to bottom. This will certainly be a February line that I’ll look back on, happy I capitalized during a period of high-pressure, but even more so grateful for the beautiful day, good snow, safe climb, fun ski and awesome shared experience with a good friend.


Packy took over the lead while I caught my breath a bit further down the boot pack. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt

Packy took over the lead while I caught my breath a bit further down the boot pack. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt


Near the crux. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt

Near the crux. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt


Finishing the first ski cut. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt

Finishing the first ski cut. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt


Skiing through the middle section of the couloir. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt

Skiing through the middle section of the couloir. Steep Skiing in the Elks in February. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt


Packy dropping into the longest section.

Packy dropping into the longest section. Controlled turns, please!


Packy through the steep middle section of the couloir.

Packy through the steep middle section of the couloir.


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Dropping into the bottom third in a few inches of perfect winter powder. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt


There are few couloirs in Colorado that take you away, transplanting you to another location somewhere far from where you’re used to skiing. This is one of them. Maybe we were really somewhere in Italy and not actually in Colorado at all. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt


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Packy descending from the heart of darkness back into the light and into the apron.


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Winter snow and less committing turns. Open it up…if you still have the legs.


Enjoying the fruits of our labor.

Enjoying the fruits of our labor. Worth every step, every time.


If the current weather trend continues, I look forward to getting back into the alpine a few times each week, and I’ll certainly have my eye on a few more couloirs and places with consistent fall line skiing without convexities or complicated route finding. If trends continue I imagine so will the gradual progression to bigger lines and taller peaks. If not, we’ll ski some powder!


 

See you again soon. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt

See you again soon. Photo by Patrick Westfeldt


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