Originally published in Environmental Thoughts

I am a skier, climber, hiker, and wonderer of the outdoors; public lands are part of my soul.

Land protected by federal designation is being stripped of protection in an unprecedented series of actions by President Trump and the Republican held Senate. The past four days have seen massive degradation for two National Monuments in the Southwest and the nation’s largest National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

The 17th century philosopher John Locke said that a person can come to own land by mixing the land’s potential with their own labor. Recreation in the outdoors can certainly be hard work swimming in the potential of nature, but I think Locke had it backwards: by mixing our labor with the land, we give part of ourselves to it.

I drove north on a sunny day as the temperature outside dropped to 15 below zero. This time of year at 63 degrees north latitude the sun hangs above the horizon for less than 5 hours. Joe and I skinned around an area near the Chulitna River in hopes of finding some ice to climb in the waning afternoon light. The waterfall was still water (not much to climb yet), but the ski broke up our drive from Anchorage. We arrived at our destination in the dark.

This cabin sits on the edge of Denali National Park with a world of mountains outside the door. The energy of snowshoe hare tracks, moose wondering by, the old howl of a distant wolf, and an immense amount of open space feels comforting. A few hours from the bustle of Alaska’s largest city, we feel remote. I climbed up into the rickety old cash and grabbed the sled that I used on Denali in 2015 and re-commissioned it to haul our gear up 200-yards of unplowed driveway.

The contents of the cabin and the cabin itself are from a time when electricity didn’t exist in these parts. Oil lamps and the wood stove provide our light and heat; we ate spruce grouse for dinner and drank whiskey stashed early in the fall-fodder for discussions of the past. How long ago was it when we had plenty of space in the American West? Plenty of bison in the plains? Bears in the golden bear state? The conservation legacy in our country is marred with both good and bad, but has set aside places like Denali as public commons - something many of us care very deeply about. Our weekend was spent climbing and skiing - we were cold, the conditions for skiing were horrible, it was absolutely wonderful.

I returned to Anchorage to find out the President Trump has begun to tighten the noose on protected public lands. Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments have been reduced in size by nearly 2 million acres in an unprecedented unilateral move by Trump. The republican backed tax overhaul up in the senate with Trump support added a provision that will open the coastal plain inside of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling.

The loss of these public lands may bring profits to some, jobs, and resources for our economy (each involves possible oil, gas, and mineral extraction). I could write something here about how many jobs recreation supports, or how the outdoor industry is booming, but I really do not think that is the point. Public lands protect a final vestige of freedom in the natural world.

We skied up to an overlook east of the Park before driving back south, the sun setting on the mountains of the Alaska Range – I wonder what would happen if oil is ever found there?

If you are a skier, hiker, climber, bird watcher, hunter, fisherman, kite enthusiast, berry picker, fan of David Attenborough films, or otherwise someone who enjoys the outdoors, consider this time an opportunity for our community to stand up for the places we love. When we are immersed in the wild, freedom is not just a catch phrase but a reality - skiing on a caribou trail, avoiding a grizzly bear across the river, watching mountains roll as far as the eye can see. This freedom is worth protecting.

Edward Abbey said, "It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it." Abbey's call goes both ways: if you enjoy the outdoors, please do not forget to fight for it.

Public lands support not just our hobbies, but an outlook on life. If those lands are for sale, so too is the liberty, joy, beauty, and balance we find there.




My fall begins much as my summer did…skiing with bear spray.


A reasonable hike up a busy trail took us into the Chugach Mountains. The salmon are gone, berries are sparse, and the bears are soon to be digging their dens, but for now, the summer and winter still collide in the delight of fall. An unmarked turn up to a small glacier led from yellow tundra and scree to snow. A skin track was already in and two skiers already there. The run was short. Only a few inches of new snow covered the age old ice.


The two other skiers up there were super friendly, though decidedly perplexed by my skies – 75 underfoot, 171 Ski Trab Libero’s. I thought these were the perfect set-up for a few early season wiggles, but Alaskans like things big! While one of them had an old pair of K2 Mount Baker’s, which I think are 88 underfoot, the norm up north seems to be gigantic water skis. I was politely informed my Trabs count as a full on 'nordork' skimo set-up for Alaska. Hiking back down the trail we saw a few more folks were heading up - DPS powder boards in high supply. 

I hope I will see just cause for big skis soon (for me thats 185 BD Helio 105s, I haven't had real pow skis in a while...), but also wonder what comments I might solicit when I hit the skin track with 65s and race boots in the Chugach! It is always fun to ponder gear in October. It is also fun getting to know the AK ski community better. 


This popular spot did not disappoint in epic views, easy access, and genuinely fun turns.

We only had time for one lap before making our retreat back to the city. Plenty of time for more turns soon - the season begins.


There is a magic in the air during October in North America. Nights cool off. Leaves drop. Snow falls. By the time December’s cold dark days show up, whispers of spring begin, but in October, shouts of WINTER abound! As the snow starts to fall, remember this feeling of renewed stoke.


In a few short weeks the bears will be hibernating and the bear spray can stay at home. We might even be able to begin our ski days in ski boots, rather than sneakers.


A Weekend in the Talkeetnas

Summer is slipping away without much blogging...plenty of adventures, but the lack of electricity in my life until a couple weeks ago, made sharing stories tough. Now that I am mostly in the urban metropolis of Anchorage, the blogging shall return!


We left Denali at 5 pm and stopped for pizza a few miles down the road. It was raining. The bartender offered Joe a beer, it was difficult for him to decline. We all thought maybe we could just float for a couple hours near by? …nope, bags were packed and adventure awaited.

An hour from our cabin we dropped Joe’s car off at a bridge down the George Parks Highway and drove back up the road to an ATV trail. The rain had stopped, the blueberries were ripe, and morale was high. Margi, Joe, and I headed up the trail to tree line. An hour or so and minimal bushwhacking got us to the foot of the Talkeetna Mountains.

I had looked at these peaks countless times from the road and it was a real treat to see them up close.


With summer slipping away, we only had about three hours of walking before sunset had us looking for a camp site. In a cozy valley, with a few lights still visible passing on the highway below, we set up camp.

Two game changers for light weight trips: 1) I just invested in a new sleeping bag, the Patagonia Hybrid Bag; this thing rocks! It weighs about a pound and gets rid of the redundancy of carrying a puffy jacket and a sleeping bag. 2) Hilleberg tents are pretty light if you don’t carry the tent! We slept in the fly of my Kaitum 3 GT. We could have probably comfortably slept at least 6 people. The ‘hanger’ as we called it, was comfortable, felt just as secure as a tent, and weight about the same as my 2-person single wall.


The next day we woke up leisurely, had breakfast and pointed ourselves up hill.  Sure we would be walking in the rain, we left camp in Gore-Tex. The rain immediately stopped. We hit a pass and headed up a peak at about 5800ft just as Denali and the Alaska Range came out behind us. Epic views, beautiful clouds, and an endless wild mountain range. We walked the ridge a bit with ear to ear grins. Off the other side felt separated from the highway corridor and got us squarely into the mountains. Caribou and ground squirrels abound.

We scree skied, ate berries, and hiked down to an unnamed tributary in a gorgeous valley with no name. After some water and a peanut butter sandwich we shwacked through a little bit of brush and started towards our second pass of the day. The weather held, the tundra rolled, the mountains sang.


After about two thousand feet, on top of the three thousand feet we had already done that day, we were back up high. The ridges of the Talkeetna mountains are just amazing. Great walking, open endless terrain, and mountains upon mountains. Anywhere else in the country and this would be a National Park (true of many places in AK)…


Finally we got to our destination after a long day: the river. It was 5:30pm and we had 20 miles and two class 3 canyons to go.


I think the river would have been a jazzy up beat adventure fresh, but after 15 miles and 5k of climbing to get there, we were tired. It was hard.

The water was splashy and fun, the canyon was real deal. Margi and I portaged one short section in the second canyon…low water had us worried about obstacle hazards late at night.


The final few miles were winding cold clear water in the fall colors of cottonwood and aspen. The forest took us back out of the mountains and to the road.

We headed straight for pizza, this time we accepted the bartenders offer of a beer.



Where Bears Go Skiing

We saw our first bear about a mile and a half up the Harding Icefield trail in Kenai Fjords National Park. The bear was a ways off, casually wondering across the exit glacier. Shortly after this sighting, two folks coming down the trail told us a grizzly was in the next meadow. By the time we reached the top of the trail, four and half miles from the car, we had heard reports of two more bears.

Bears are a fundamentally part of the Alaskan wilderness experience. They remind you that the freedom in those wild places comes with a cost. I really enjoy seeing them, finding tracks, and knowing I am in an ecosystem with large predators – they are also terrifying, sleep depriving, and often have a larger impact on my behavior in the AK backcountry than other hazards.

We put skis on at the edge of the Harding Icefield—an 1100 square mile expanse on the Kenai Peninsula—feeling we had safely made it through bear country. Sure they might hang out on lower glaciers, but bears have no reason to be up on the icefield, right? I have spend a lot of time on big AK glaciers and never seen a bear up in the accumulation zone….until now.

We woke up after setting up our camp to griz tacks right out side our tent.

We found black bear tracks on day two.

We saw a bear climb through an ice fall and up a mountain we had considered skiing earlier that day.

Every time we left camp I was certain we would return to find all out food eaten and tent destroyed.

Luckily that didn’t happen. Instead we had four days of great weather, awesome skiing, beautiful peaks, and a spectacular adventure.

Kenai Mountains, I’ll be back…this time with bear barrels.

North to the Future: A Road Trip

I haven’t posted for a month because I moved to the 49th State (Alaska). I have lived there...I mean here, in past summers, gone a trips here, and always enjoyed my visits, but I am now thrilled to call the Last Frontier home.

I shot this in....the YUKON!

I shot this in....the YUKON!

Colorado to Alaska via the Al-Can (Alaska-Canada Highway). Here are four pics from the trip north…more stories soon.

Montana: The Swan Mountains are awesome possibly better than Glacier National Park this time of year, because of really good access. Thanks for showing us Cody. 

Montana: The Swan Mountains are awesome possibly better than Glacier National Park this time of year, because of really good access. Thanks for showing us Cody. 

The Canadian Rockies: The Rockies are an incredibly accessible patch of HUGE mountains. We found snow to the road at Parker Ridge, a popular touring destination on the north end of Banff National Park. From the ridge there are epic views of the Saskatchewan Glacier and big mountain of the range. I think Parker Ridge marked 30 consecutive months of ski turns...

The Canadian Rockies: The Rockies are an incredibly accessible patch of HUGE mountains. We found snow to the road at Parker Ridge, a popular touring destination on the north end of Banff National Park. From the ridge there are epic views of the Saskatchewan Glacier and big mountain of the range. I think Parker Ridge marked 30 consecutive months of ski turns...

Denali: Not the mountain, the highway. Awesome mountains and adventures await on the Denali Highway.

Denali: Not the mountain, the highway. Awesome mountains and adventures await on the Denali Highway.

No Ski-Mode, No Problem

So this morning I woke up at 7, had coffee, ate a breakfast sandwich, then went skiing.

Alex B and I (us Alexes stick together) drove down to Mayflower Gulch to head for a line I have wanted to ski for a long time, the Northwest Face of Drift Peak. The line drops steeply off the 13,900ft summit down towards a cliff band drained by a series of exit couloirs.

We quickly skinned up the valley and started booting up the West Ridge. It was hot, the weather in the distance looked ominous, the valley looked spectacular. We hustled ahead of the weather and high-fived on top two hours after leaving the car.

Even though Drift is not a ‘ranked’ peak, it has an impressive summit looking out over the ten-mile, with the Sawatch and Gore ranges in the distance. I pooped near the top, has a swig of water, enjoyed the view for a hot second and locked-in. Alex and I pushed it with the weather to give the face time to soften. It didn’t look perfect, but still looked darn fun.

Off we went. A full 10 feet into our adventure I heard a “snap,” that at first I thought was my boot flipping back into walk-mode. Turns out the switch was permanent….

The bottom of the carbon spine on the back of my right Spitfire broke, leaving my ski boot little stiffer than a sneaker. I pulled out my repair kit and tried to rig up a quick bailing wire fix. It proved uninspiring. Clouds loomed and rain fell in the Front Range to the East, no time for a full fix, it would have to do.

Deciding the committing face wasn’t the best idea, we headed down the West shoulder towards a couloir that looked great from the ascent route. Alex took off, kindly waiting for my awkward part tele-part one ski-part clown turns down the mountain.

We hit tree line just as the first flakes fell and heard thunder in the distance as we skied back to the car.

We were able to skin right from the winter trailhead, likely only possible for the next few days. No one else was up there. The climb was great. The skiing was somehow still fun, despite the obvious setback.

The one boot descent was a bit character building, but a great example of the first rule of mountain adventure…you never know what can happen.

Ski, Rinse, Repeat

Earlier this winter I said that a wormhole had brought Hokkaido to Colorado, for the last three days the wormhole briefly reopened. April has left us on a note of killer pow skiing.

Winter Lives

Winter Lives

The last day of April sounds like the time to corn harvest up high and head for 'big lines', but after a cold snap and a dash of winter in Lake County, I met up with some friends to lap it up on some favorite local tree runs. The last few days have been some of the best turns, most fun, and best vibes of the season. 

Four days ago I parked at Officer’s Gulch and went exploring with my friend Justin. This place is down right spooky most of the winter, but in the spring there are some of the longest roadside runs in state right off an easy-to-get-to I-70 exit. We wandered up and up and up some more until we found ourselves on a ridge 3000 ft above the car. Wouldn’t ya know it, winter waiting for us right there.

For the past three days I have been in a patch of mountains at the intersection of the 10-mile-Mosquito, Sawatch, and Gore ranges. Often overlooked by those driving by and absent from any internet forum or guide book, this has become my favorite place to ski in Lake County (…I know, if anyone asks, there is no good skiing in Lake County…).

Two days ago my friend Rohan and I headed out in a break in this weekend’s storm for a couple hours of just perfect skiing. Rohan moves fast to say the least, but I was psyched to get in two long runs and traverse a through three drainages in about an hour and half car-to-car. It was fast, fun ski-touring.

Rinse, Repeat.

Yesterday, I met three friends in the parking lot at 830. Ben was on his way to Moab and we convinced him it was worth stopping to get a late April pow day; Katie and Savannah were training/ mountain-ing before heading up to AK in a couple weeks. They drove up from Boulder and hadn’t seen the zone before. We spend the next six hours feeling a bit like we were getting away with some sort of robbery. A foot of light cold-smoke sat on top of a carvable spring base.

Rinse, Repeat.

Today I met Katie and Savannah in the parking lot at 11. Sure, we got a late start (in part due to the dog poo i had to clean off my carpet...Ziggy is feeling much better now...), but the sun was out and we knew there was still good snow to be had. As soon as we got to about 11,500ft, the wind began to rip! With east-facing windslabs forming before our eyes, we ducked into a north facing line and found more of that awesomeness that has made this such a rad week. Two laps in, we started working back towards the car. Breakable slabs to south facing spring mush—spring had returned to its normal order, the wormhole gone again.



I am leaving Leadville for the Last Frontier in a month, and this might have been my last day of true winter touring in Lake County for some time. I am sure I will get in plenty of spring skiing, but the pure type-one-fun of pow laps just can’t be overstated. I am so lucky to have had such an awesome back door these past few years. I will miss it dearly. Thank you Leadville, and don’t worry, I know I’ll be back to check on things…

Bittersweet...can't really complain when I'm moving here....

Bittersweet...can't really complain when I'm moving here....


Today’s Apres Ski Suggestion:

1.5oz from that leftover red wine in fridge

1.5oz simple syrup

1oz bourbon

2 dashes bitters of choice

Slice of orange


What should we call it? 



A Trip to Nowhere

Time for a springtime trip report….

I took this photo on my phone a year ago of a line some folks call 'Peruvian.' This peak is an unnamed point near Indy Pass. Though not that big or long, I've really wanted to ski it all season. Today Vince and I climbed up in a snowstorm and skied down in the sun. 

I took this photo on my phone a year ago of a line some folks call 'Peruvian.' This peak is an unnamed point near Indy Pass. Though not that big or long, I've really wanted to ski it all season. Today Vince and I climbed up in a snowstorm and skied down in the sun. 

So I left Leadville three days ago with two friends, Vince and Andy, to go skiing. Ostensibly our plan was to go to the Northwest. Obviously the best way to do that from central Colorado is to head south to the San Juans. Obviously the best way to head to the San Juans is after a big day in the Sawatch.

Okay, so we had our plan. First up Vince’s pick: La Plata North Face.

A Sawatch Classic

A Sawatch Classic

La Plata is a 14ner in the heart of the Sawatch between the Collegiate Peaks and Mount Elbert. Most of the big mountains in this area of Colorado are gigantic round lumps, but La Plata has a character a bit more its own. It is not on the eastern edge of the range like it neighbors, but rather tucked into the mountains near Independence Pass. It is not as massive as Mount Massive, its not as lofty as Harvard, Oxford, or Yale...let alone Elbert, but La Plata has an impressive rise and surprisingly steep quality. The North Face holds a number of crisscrossing couloirs that drop off the summit down 2,000 ft.

This entrance is about 20ft from the Summit. 

This entrance is about 20ft from the Summit. 

We opted to boot up a west facing gully rather than ascent the standard trail—I’d like to say this was deliberate, we just got lost and ended up on the Sayres trail…. From the car to the summit is roughly 4,500 ft. We shared the trail with only one other group ('you gotta La Plata") and got on top for lunch.

Our modo for the day was, “I-screen, you-screen, we all screen for sun screen…”

Our modo for the day was, “I-screen, you-screen, we all screen for sun screen…”

The descent down the North Face offers a choose-your-own-adventure in couloir skiing. We dropped skiers right off the summit into a steep chute (Lou Dawson says this drop is 48 degrees) that dog-legged back left into the main North Face which was much more mellow. We had scoured hard pack, powder, crust, and even a bit of corn on the way down.

Back at the car we headed to BV for some food and fuel before making the 4 hour drive down to Ophir.

Our plan was to ski Wilson Peak, the so-called Coors face (named after the Coors Beer cans on which it is prominently featured). A very lazy drive got us to San Juans well after dark to find out that the plow berm on the road to Wilson has not yet melted out. Whoops.

Too late for a new plan, we camped on the road and figured we’d find something fun to do in the morning.

A short drive to Ophir (which is awesome by the way) left us skinning up the 3,500 ft Spring Gulch right from the road. This was a blast.

Vince heading into Ophirica.

Vince heading into Ophirica.

We thought we might head over and check out the San Joaquin Couloir (no relation to Joaquin Phoenix that we know of), but instead  found out we are fragile slow dough bodies after a week of skiing that ended with La Plata, then driving south and not really sleeping....we found ear-to-ear gins on perfect corn above Ophir.

Andy had fun. 

Andy had fun. 

Back in Telluride over a beer we read a somewhat discouraging weather forecast. Snow for the next week and half in the Cascades. Finding it hard to ‘leave fish to find fish’, we decided to put the Northwest on hold, and harvest a bit more Colorado spring fun. We drove back to Leadville.

Waking up at 7 to cloudy skies, we knew today might be a rest day, but thought it was worth heading towards Independence Pass in hopes of a break in the weather. Vince and I headed for a couloir locals have taken to calling the Peruvian Line. It was awesome. The couloir is North Facing and tops out just below 13,000ft.

Cloudy weather made this a mystical place to spend the morning. Just as we exited the main chute, the sun came out.  

Cloudy weather made this a mystical place to spend the morning. Just as we exited the main chute, the sun came out.  

We had checked this thing out from a few different angles and it just looks rad; it did not disappoint.

The couloir proper is not very long, but has a consistent pitch over 40 degrees and the top out is narrow and well over 50 degrees….and under 3 hours car-to-car.

Back in Leadville, we just ate egg sandwiches for lunch.

I am reminded how awesome Colorado is in the spring.  

Reflections on Freedom from a Classic Rocky Mountain National Park Ski Mountaineering Line

In an effort to start posting a bit more, here is an old trip report. I wrote this after a day out with Nodin and Vaughn in November 2015.....

I think backcountry skiers must be libertarians at heart. I do not mean to use the term ‘libertarian’ in the colloquial modern political sense. Philosophically, libertarianism is a political ethic that holds freedom as its principle end.

Might have to take skis off soon. 

Might have to take skis off soon. 

Thomas Jefferson would have been a good backcountry skier. Living in 18th century Charlottesville, Virginia—which averages 44cm of snow a year—he likely thought little of winter recreation, but non-the-less I think he would have had a smile on his face stepping into a tech binding.

He once said that happiness depends on “good conscience, good health…and freedom in all just pursuits.” Clearly Jefferson was talking about making turns in the backcountry—a just pursuit. Make good decisions, get fit, and enjoy the freedom of the mountains.

The Flying Dutchman Couloir winds behind the so-called ‘Ships Prow’, a rock buttress prominently connecting 13,911ft Mount Meeker to 14,259ft Longs Peak. The couloir is tough to spot until you are in the Chasm Lake basin, a little slice of Patagonia that has found its way to Colorado.

It gets steep.

It gets steep.

Its a bit of a haul to get to, but the couloir itself is awesome; 1600 feet long, topping out at over 13000 ft high, narrow and inset 50 + degree snow leads to a single pitch of mixed climbing and an incredible view of Colorado’s eastern plains.

Take the personal choice, responsibility, and determination so paramount to skiing and add pointless subjection to cold, winter weather, and the inherent risks of snow sports and you have a recipe that Thomas Jefferson himself would be proud of. After all, mountain sports are not usually governed by rules, only consequences. 



Nodin and Vaughn picked me up at 4:45 am. Driving to the Long’s Peak trailhead, NPR relayed a series of depressing events...

Below the great East Face of Longs a few hours later, we were in our playground.

Couloir skiing is just a blast. 

Couloir skiing is just a blast. 

Wind had left the basin below Longs bare and the peaks looked dry, but wrapping around Chasm Lake the Dutchman had filled. Up we went. Perfect snow climbing quickly turned into horrible post-holing in the steeps of the couloir—good news for our descent, exhausting news for the climb.

Up up up. 

Ive climbed this bulge in super chill WI2 conditions before, this was scrappy M4...though im sure aluminum crampons and one ice tool being a light skimo axe didn't help. Nodin lead it like a champ.

Ive climbed this bulge in super chill WI2 conditions before, this was scrappy M4...though im sure aluminum crampons and one ice tool being a light skimo axe didn't help. Nodin lead it like a champ.

We rappelled off of the ice pitch (a scrappy mostly rock pitch in the conditions we found) and skied back to Chasm Lake. Ski mountaineering at its finest.

Oscar Wilde wrote that, “we can forgive a man for making a useful thing only so long as he does not admire it. The only excuse, however, for making a useless thing it that one admires it intensely.”  -- Skiing is useless. Admire it intensely. It is a sign that our society values self-determination, independent thought, creativity, and freedom.

Hello Chasm!

Hello Chasm!

Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold and Snowy over 40 miles from Crested Butte to Aspen

Sometimes you do things that you know are going to hurt….

The Elk Mountain Grand Traverse sends skiers racing roughly 40 miles through the rugged Elk Mountains from Crested Butte to Aspen.

The race, originally founded as a backcountry Nordic event, has been adopted by the skimo community. 20 years ago there were a handful of teams on AT gear and few more on tele; today; speed-weenie skin-suits are a common occurrence and ultralight skimo race set-ups are the norm.

The race starts at Midnight, heading from Mount Crested Butte to the Friends Hut, over Star Pass then Taylor Pass, and finally down Richmond Ridge into Pitkin County. Quick turns down Aspen Mountain to the finish. The race has the distance of an ultra-marathon, plenty of long flat nordic sections, but also a couple of true heads up down-hills.

A war of attrition, only the patient and persistent survive.

Last week was my third finish, but up to now my luck with the GT was abysmal.

A good friend from Aspen convinced me to race with him a few years back now. I thought “sure, that sounds like a ton of fun, I love skiing in the Elks!”

“Good thing my four-buckle boots are ultralight!”

“K2 Coombacks aren’t too heavy!”

“Its long, so we should bring plenty of extra heavy things!”

I had never done a skimo race before….

On top of my lack of understanding, the route was deemed unsafe and we were told the night before the race that we would be doing the ‘Grand Reverse.’ The ‘Reverse’ is an out-and-back from CB that avoids the avalanche terrain on the north side of Star Pass. It is just as hard without the satisfaction of going somewhere.

…I learned a lot that year. I had a total blast with my partner, but took 16 hours to finish–it hurt.

The next year, having learned my lesson, I wanted a shot at the true traverse….

‘Let’s take light skis!’ we thought. ‘Let’s use skimo gear!’ we thought. ‘Let’s train!’ I thought. What ideas! I had moved to Leadville from the Front Range and had a 200+ day season. I felt strong and ready to go fast

….I tried eating my first snack about half an hour into the race and felt a gurgle in my stomach. At first I assumed this was just a bit of exercise induced indigestion. Nope. Full. Blown. Stomach. Flu.

By the time we got to Friends, it was coming out both ends (I know, gross). Frequently dashing into the woods to drop off any internal fluids that my body deemed unnecessary slowed us down considerably. I couldn’t eat or drink at all. It was miserable. My partner Ben’s enthusiasm and my stubbornness got us to the finish.  

14:28. We got to Aspen, but I did not get the GT revenge I had hoped for. Instead, the Traverse taught me another dark lesson in the pain cave.

Despite the heuristic experience, I still somehow caught a bit of a skimo bug. It is really fun to take skis that look like Twizzlers and see how far you can go in the mountains.

I took a couple years off from the GT and built up some type-one-fun skimo experience….I found the fun in going fast and light in the mountains (fodder for another post perhaps). 

….A couple weeks ago my friend Vince asked me to race with him.

We signed up, the next day Vince bailed….

I called Leadville crusher Andy Mention. Andy had nearly the same GT experience as me – one reverse and one trip to Aspen battling sickness—He was in; revenge was in sight.

With only two weeks notice, we didn’t have time to train. We both ski a lot and occasionally dabble in the race world, but a 40-miler through the Elks is not your normal Wednesday morning pow lap. Too late to do anything about it, we knew it was going to hurt and needed a strategy.

First we agreed on, “fast-casual,” before eventually moving to, “ski fast to Aspen (see what happens.)” Strategy settled!

We drove down to Crested Butte Friday morning, got checked in and hung out for the afternoon with Rohan Roy and Travis Colbert. Earlier in the week, Rohan and Travis had skied from Leadville to CB, and after the race Rohan skied back to Leadville to complete a human powered Grandest of Traverses (I might write a blog post about Rohan sometime soon).

Hard to wine when you’re with hard-guys like that.

The GT involves quite a bit of ‘hurry up and wait.’ After a morning gear check and mid day racers meeting, you have to be back up at the mountain for a beacon check and med tag pick up at 10:30. By the time its getting close to midnight, most folks have been GT-ing in Crested Butte for longer than the race will actually take them. When its finally time to take-off, everyone is decidedly itchy.


The restless mob takes off up Mount Crested Butte. We are underway.

Our first real break came at the Friends hut around 4am. We got a bit of water from the check station, threw on an extra layer and were off. At this point the first couple teams were already more than an hour out – pretty amazing.

Skiing down Star Pass in the dark is a total trip and a super fun respite from the slog up to that point. Once past Star, the route is broken down into much more manageable chunks. The climb to Opas Hut is mellow and quick compared to the climb to Friends. You can see Taylor Pass pretty much as soon as you leave Opas; a stretch mostly above tree line and totally beautiful. From Taylor Pass there are three discrete climbs and descents to get to the Barnard Hut. The sun came out for us along this stretch, and sunrise over the Elks is nothing short of amazing.

I have mixed feelings about Barnard. We got there around 7:50 am and had to stop for a mandatory 10-minute break. They give you Ramen and water and it is a very nice rest, but it is also extremely hard to get moving again.

We stretched our break to 11.5 minutes. I felt stiff. My left hip flexor was killing me after a night of rock hard side-hilling below Friends. We were pretty low energy. After leaving Barnard it was increasingly hard to keep up with the cohort of teams we had been traveling in. Fortunately, after 30 miles, we also couldn’t care less.

We tried skating on the undulating terrain of Richmond ridge, but quickly ran out of gas. We went through three transitions as three teams passed us – this was as inefficient as it gets. Eventually we decided it was worth a quick stop to put on kick wax – magic. From there on we were cruising pretty well again.

At the pre-race meeting the GT crew says that Richmond Ridge to the top of Aspen Mountain is the longest 7 miles of your life, and they aren’t lying. It hurts, bad, but you also finally ‘smell-the-barn.’

Somewhere above McFarlen’s Bowl, Andy turned to me and said, “Hey, if we put in three fast miles, we can come in sub 10.”

We hadn’t had any goals other than to get to Aspen without ruining a pair of underwear or vomiting on the course, but 10 hours sounded like a proud time.

We moved faster for about 5 minutes before our fragility took hold. “What about sub 10:15?” I said. We chuckled as two more teams motored by.

All of a sudden Aspen was in sight.

We stopped to put on leashes (required by the mountain) at the ski area boundary. I asked the check station volunteers what time it was, “9:50.”

Andy and I looked at each other, nodded, and took off.

Rando race skis at speed on icy packed trails are silly. Super fun, surprisingly stiff, terrifying, and awesome. Arcing the biggest turns our Twizzelers would muster down Little Annie’s towards the gondola, we came through the finish all smiles.

Rohan was there with another Leadville friend. He came in 6th with an impressive 8:32 time. “Nice work,” he said, “You guys beat 10 hours.”

9:56 wasn’t breaking any records, but was a time we were certainly happy with. More importantly, we had fun. We had both finally had a healthy and happy traverse to Aspen.

Maybe next year I’ll get around to training and it won’t hurt so bad…

Lee - Mention and support crew

Lee - Mention and support crew

a blog!

I am slowly going to start sharing a few thoughts and stories here. Stay Tuned!