A Colorado Road Trip
Aspen – Vail – Breck – Wolf Creek – Coal Bank Pass – Molas Pass – Red Mountain Pass – Breck – Aspen
w/ Andrew Benaquista, John Bukac, Jeff Cricco, Liam Doran & Sven Brunso
To say we had a late start in Aspen this year would be an understatement. November, traditionally the season kick-off month was dry. Really dry. Weeks passed without snow. Temperatures were warm. Too warm. The snow just wasn’t falling. Training runs up to 11,000 feet brought signs of snow at higher elevations, a glimmer of hope that things would eventually turn around but as the weeks progressed there were still no signs of anything significant to come.
But just like that, Thanksgiving came with a much-needed storm. Aspen Mountain opened and things started to seem right again. Then December hit. And the dry, cold snows and smiling happy faces returned to the powder starved. The days that were once filled by murderous uphill training sessions were replaced with long, leisurely skins and soft, powdery descents. The resorts slowly awakened from their fall slumbers and we were finally immersed in a cold, snowy dream world.
A sequence of great days on Aspen Mountain as the resorts slowly came to life drifted back into cold, high-pressure, and I continued to dream of a snowier world. A week of good conditions wasn’t enough and a need was left unsatiated as the holidays slowly started creeping up on the horizon. Word on the street was that an area adjacent to the Vail Ski Area had been receiving double the accumulations of anywhere else in Colorado. I had to see for myself.
What started out as a plan for just a day and a half over in Vail to hunt old powder and shoot with local photographer Jeff Cricco began to pan out into a last minute storm chasing mission. An approaching storm promised to produce. We had to go.
My plan was to leave Aspen Wednesday evening after work, return Friday before work, and sneak in two solid days of shooting over in Vail with Jeff, Andrew Benaquista, and John Bukac. A nice little getaway before the holiday work pandemonium. But, as fate would have it, and with bags fully packed, a missed call and voicemail popped up on my phone just hours before work. It was photographer Liam Doran asking if I could join him and Sven Brunso on another powder chasing mission down to Southern Colorado. Liam and Sven had already lined up all our accommodations, set up our schedule and logistics. Meet in Breckenridge Friday afternoon. Drive through the storm down south to Wolf Creek, ski the area Saturday, stay in Durango Saturday night, shoot all day Sunday on Coal Bank, Molas, and Red Mountain Passes, an overnight in Ouray and back up Red Mountain for another full-day on Monday before hightailing it back home. Liam’s energy was high and the storm looked like it would produce for us from Vail all the way to Ouray. Go time.
Knowing that a window of opportunity to get some fine work done before Christmas as well as have a damn good time was opening up, I set out to rearranged my schedule and set off for five days on the road. Through a bit of luck and a lot of hustling I covered all my pre-holiday shifts at work and was out the door and on the way to Vail with John by 8pm that same night. The start of a full-fledged Colorado road trip. Aspen – Vail – Breckenridge – Wolf Creek – Durango – Coal Bank Pass – Molas Pass – Ouray – Red Mountain Pass – Breckenridge and home to Aspen in just five days. In typical fashion, John and I drove nearly all the way to Vail in rain. We arrived just as the precipitation was turning to snow, and word was spreading that it was dumping up high. Day one would be a good day.
Day one went off without a hitch. Several new inches reported at the resort easily accumulated as double that. Vail was living up to its street cred. Pillow lines were coming into form, the trees were caked. The guys were amped. We were back in the snowglobe I’d been missing. And just when we couldn’t have had enough, the snow continued to fall as we drifted off into deep slumbers that evening.
Waking up with my face glued to the side of a leather couch the next morning didn’t seem so bad after seeing we’d received a full reset of dry powder overnight. Here we go again. After several hours on the mountain, we finished up a classic powder lap and I was back in my truck around 12:30pm, ready to make the drive over to Breck. The pass was in pretty good shape and by 2:00pm Liam and I were on our way south. Sven, who was already in Wolf Creek scoping out some areas for us to shoot the next morning, called in to say it was coming down hard on the hill and tomorrow would be a great day!
Day three on the road brought Liam, Sven and me to the Wolf Creek Ski area. They’d received something like 30 inches of snow in 24 hours. Typical conditions for the southern mom-and-pop ski area. We were destined to enjoy all of those 30 inches amongst intense winds and heavy snows. Keep it coming mother nature!
Six to eight fresh inches of dry, blower powder fell during the day Saturday. We survived the cold temps and blustery winds by retreating to some of the old growth forests around the ski area. These sanctuaries provided another successful day of shooting and around 3pm we were back in the truck and on the way to Durango, ready for an early morning and big day on three different passes between Durango and Ouray for day four of our roadtrip.
By 10am the next morning we had already finished up shooting our first zone for the day on Coal Bank Pass. We were back behind the wheel and off to Molas Pass for our second stop of the day after a quick burrito and coffee break. The morning was crisp, classicly beautiful Colorado, and we were looking forward to our next stop. Time for some late morning light and a little airtime.
One too many airs on Molas Pass left me with incredible huck neck and a late start toward Red Mountain Pass, which was just reopening from avalanche debris removal. The road was buried the night before by two huge avalanches and we weren’t even sure if we’d be able to head over to Ouray. However, after a second coffee and burrito break, we were back on the road as the last bits of light painted the incredible landscape. Red Mountain Pass is one of my favorite areas to explore, and I’m sure you can see why.
After another solid nights sleep, we were up and waiting for the local coffee shop to open at 6am. Sights were set on heading back up to Red Mountain Pass for our final full day of roadside attractions. Sven had our zones dialed, and with a bit of scoping the previous evening, we were up the pass and in position for first light well before the first light hit. Better to be early than late. Day five was on.
The fun, and the work, never stops on Red Mountain Pass. There’s always another zone, another aspect. Road cuts, deep snow, even got in a few thousand feet of excellent tree skiing. No complaints. Life is good on the road!
We raced the sun all day on the Red Mountain, shooting until the last signs of pink light were erased from the landscape. As we finally retreated back to our trucks, I was exhausted. Transitioning between skins and skis for nearly 8 hours. Up and down, up and down. Even though I knew we’d gotten some great work in, man I was beat. But it wasn’t that bad kind of beat, that kind of beat you get during a rough week at your day job. It was satisfaction, the understanding that we’d accomplished something great, we’d set out with a goal in mind for the trip and we’d hit all the spots. I love it when a plan comes together! As Liam and I gassed up and crushed burritos in Montrose, preparing for the long drive back, I was ecstatic. When’s the next trip? Sign me up.
The hardest part of any trip is the way home. I arrived back in Aspen that evening around 1:30am. Slept 10 hours the next day, went back to work and the following was right back in the mix. Man, it’s always great to be home.