May Pow in Colorado, Drinking the Champagne

Spring in Colorado has to be my favorite season, its hard to beat.  This spring the storms have all been Ragers.  Not quiet and gentle and short-lived, but loud and long-lasting, bringing the deep pow.  The constraints of the real world have confined my riding to the weekends for early May and if I wanted to ride, it was going to be in a blizzard.  With the season quickly slipping away, I wasn’t going to squander my opportunities to ride some of the finest Colorado White Gold.  Spring storms are spotty and you must consider elevation when selecting your destination.  So the toughest question I had to answer was “Where are we riding?”.

This ride, Jas and I were going to be joined by a few new people, that adds to the anxiety.  While I understood all that would be riding were well equipped riders, still the talent and expectations were somewhat of a question mark.  Jas has been marathon riding, and on Friday found the snow at Corona mediocre, but rode the Snowies and found stellar deep conditions, but with a hefty dose of blizzard all day.  The Snowies are a long haul, 3 hours away, and the Wyoming blizzards have shut down riding in the past, and that has only happened in the Snowies.

With my new friends waiting for an answer and Jas deferring the decision-making to me, I decided we would ride Jones.  I considered other riding spots but they all were eliminated for various reasons – not enough snow, stomped out, if there’s no visibility we wouldn’t be able to ride.  So, Jones won because its terrain I knew and felt comfortable keeping my new friends knowledgeable about the area, because I had been encouraged to consider it as an option for the snowboarders, because its close to home, because Jones always has an adventure in store – it may be good, bad, ugly, and lots of time destructive, but indeed always an adventure.  And most importantly, my gut told me that the blizzard had kept most away from this high-avy risk terrain.  I texted the crew around 10:30pm on Saturday with my decision – Jones at 10am, be there.

The problems turned plentiful early on into the adventure.  With the snow still falling at our house, it was pretty clear we were headed into a blizzard.  The day before, Jas had a flat on the 2-place trailer and there was no spare.  We needed to tote 3 sleds up and so we decided to switch the sleds over to the behemoth 4 place monster, never a joy in the winter conditions.  So, this put us on a course to be late to the trailhead.

The parking at most snowmobile/mixed use trailheads are a heap of disorganized chaos.  Folks just dropping their trailers wherever, with pow fever, not giving much care to the repercussions on others.  The non-motorized traffic was heavy this day and lots of cars were sprinkled among the trailers.  With no turn-around and a thick ice sheet, the trailers turned into skating land bombs.  We were stopped by a passing car on a slope at the top of the trailhead.  When we tried to move forward, the brakes locked up and we began our descent in an uncontrolled slide – sliding, sliding, sliding.  It’s a scary feeling to be locked up, looking around, wondering what the damage will be when you come to a stop, felt like an eternity.  I could see fellas scrambling to move sleds.  The rear tire slid into a ditch and we came to a stop, a titanic of a ship blocking the entire road in and out of Jones.  Shit.  Jas and I didn’t need to talk much, we know the drill.  I sprung into action, uncovering and unloading sleds and moving them a good distance in front of the rig.  The ice turned into a blessing as Jas and I wrangled the 4-place into a good position for Jas to back up to it.  Jas pulled into position, connecting the trailer once again and had the rig pointed downhill.  We were not the only ones struggling, little SUVs were sliding around us and a trailer above us that did not end up as lucky as us and slid into a few cars.  Jas found his window and moved our rig to a lower lot and I followed him down on my sled.  There are many things about sledding that are a lot of work and trailers is one of those things.

The hits kept on coming.  Jas and I scrambled to get geared up and head up to our awaiting friends.  I expected folks sitting on sleds, waiting for us to finally join the crew.  But as I turned the last bend, I could see Jarred and Jamey standing on top of their trailer, sled still loaded in the back, panels off… not a good sign.  They couldn’t get the sled to start after 15 minutes and it was decision time.  Were Jarred and Jamey going to do some canadian riding or load up and go home, they made the right decision.  Wrench later, ride now.

 

“If it wasn’t hard, everybody would do it.

It’s the hard that makes it great.”

~Tom Hanks

 

Jas was silently reluctant about the adventure I had planned.  I know as the season grows shorter, his pow fever grows more ferocious.  I believe he came to peace with a day that was going to be mediocre snow and perhaps doing a lot of coaching, digging, group work.  But he was OK with it all as he had done a ton of riding lately and felt pity for me, wanting me to have a day of my own design.  We gathered our troops and what was left of our fleet.  Ann was joining us for the day, she was on a solo adventure, driving out from Nebraska, making her own snow adventures across Colorado, chasing the pow, a brave woman.  She was a sport in dealing with all the trials and tribulations that the morning had rained down on us.    We were also joined by Jamey and Jarred, both OG snowboarders with a taste for the sled life, fellas Jas has ridden with this season.

Me, Jas, and Ann take to the trail, Jamey and Jarred were regrouping and would be in radio communication not far behind.  The snowcat operations have been given up, leaving a couple miles on the trail of complete moto hell.  We break free of the trail and dump into the open, where you can finally gaze at Jones in all her glorious steep.  I knew where we would head first but Jas and I have a quick conversation about our hopes of finding our bowl untouched so we decide on the safest route and speed off.  We travel on another trail that hugs the side of the mountain, moving quickly, anxious about what and who we will encounter when we arrive to where my gut has been guiding us.

The mother load.  We were on the Pow.  Pure, untouched, white powder, FEEEEET DEEEEEEEP.  The snow was coming down like mad.  There was zero visibility.  It was a maximum of 20 degrees out.  It was perfect.  The adrenaline overwhelmed me, completely afflicted.

Video: Crushin the Pow

 

Me, Jas, and Ann ripped that bowl.  I was whooping and hollering with every pull.  I stopped long enough to get Jarred and Jamey on the radio and direct them to the action.  My worries, all of them, melted away.  I was in the moment, with my new friends, on the best Pow in the state on May 1, making memories for a lifetime.  Those moments when you realize the special and want to stay present and preserve all the details of the day, drinking it up.

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After just a few hours, we were all pretty exhausted, the bowl was hit hard, and Jamey and Jarred, who were sharing the one sled, had to call it, it was freezing and the snow was blowing hard.  We had gathered up and discussed the plans for going back to the trailhead together.  But we were missing Ann.  Of course I got worried, she had ridden safe and smart all day, and I know the worry that sets in when you are stuck and no one knows where you are, I got anxious.  We talked about who had seen her last and where to start looking.  Then, there was a very brief break in the whiteout and I yelled to everyone to start looking around for her.  I spotted her, on a flat part of a two-stage large hillclimb.  I shot off like a cannon and Jas was quick to follow.  She was definitely relieved to be discovered and we made quick work of righting her sled, and headed off the steeps.

We gather once again to discuss the plans for moving back to the trailhead.  Jamey gives the sled a tug and she gives a big lurch forward and dies.  What.  After a bit of conversation and look over the sled, it seemed the clutch was bound up… great… this day was problem-riddled, to say the least.  Jas got the sled to run but there was no letting off the throttle once it was started so Jarred and Jamey set off, canadian, with the throttle held open, hoping to make it to the trailhead.

Again… Its Me, Jas, and Ann headed down the trail.  With a bit of amazement, all the people and sleds that went into the backcountry, made it out.  With all the roadblocks thrown up, my heart was happy, I knew it was a stellar rip for all the shredders in this crew.  Ann confided that it was the best snow she had ridden on her spring adventures and that made me aglow.  We had nice things to say to each other as we parted ways, I am always delighted to stumble on others with souls that are equally afflicted.

Jas and I returned to the truck.  It was so very cold and we were so wet.  We talked over some of the day’s events as we scarfed down some peanut butter sandwiches.  Our sleds were not yet loaded and after warming up and something in our bellies, we decided to try our luck and head out once again.  We had plans to push further, to areas we knew well and were guaranteed holding hella deep snow.  We geared up again and headed out.

It didn’t take us long to reach our bowl, we put a hurtin on that place, wheeeee!  We pressed forward, where not a soul had ventured.  It wasn’t long before we found ourselves in changing conditions and stuck, stuck.  The visibility was horrid all day, but it turned from bad to worse, complete white out conditions.  Jas was the front sled and slammed into a huge snowdrift.  I was no longer comfortable with the conditions or the terrain.  I asked Jas to turn us around and we would head down to see if we could get into better visibility.  He got his sled unstuck and began to work for a turnaround.  He disappeared from sight 50 feet from me.  Then, the sound of his sled disappeared.  In seconds, he reappeared and had successfully made a turnaround.  He instructed me to stay in his tracks as he encountered drifts.  I moved forward, staying in his tracks.  I climbed and made the turn.  On my descent my sled bucked to the right and drifted from the tracks.  I felt my sled slam into a wall of snow, feeling like concrete had just encased my sled, bars barely visible, the mountain had swallowed my sled whole, a 5 foot snowdrift.  I called on the radio, I’m not sure he heard what I said, but he certainly understood what happened.  STUCK!  It took us about a half an hour of digging to unearth the sled and ensure the runway was a good one, because there is nothing worse than second or third stucks.  My sled popped out of the hole and following Jas’ advice carefully, I did not stop until I felt a good downward slope sitting under me.  Jas joined me and we reaffirmed we were indeed in a complete whiteout and conditions had worsen.  We stuck to the tracks we made over the few ridgelines we had traversed, even though this is very familiar territory, the conditions warranted caution and calculated moves.  The visibility improved a bit as we dropped down in elevation but it was still time to call it.  Without further incident, we returned to the truck safe and sound.

We drank up the finest champagne from the Colorado chalice, until we were drunk off of adrenaline.  What an exquisite adventure.  I met kindred spirits, I overcame great adversities, I found absolute bliss in becoming one with my sled and the backcountry.  It is church to my soul, being in the backcountry, I feel alive and find serenity there.

I’m an afflicted soul, I will chase happiness into the backcountry,

and there you will find me, finding myself.

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