Antonio Olivero: Summit freeski trio caps deep February with epic road gap jump
Goodnough, Jones, Spriggs reflect on powder-filled process
Summit County locals Pat Goodnough and Trent Jones were at Vail Mountain on Feb. 7, the morning of the resort’s notoriously long lift lines. Not in a mood to wait, they pivoted to their snowmobiles.
“And we had one of the most epic snowmobiling days,” Jones, a Frisco native, said Tuesday. “The deepest snow you could ever imagine. After that storm, it was on for the whole rest of the month.”
All through February, Goodnough, Jones and their Summit County local freeski friend John Spriggs sought out the deepness of #Februburied, as the month came to be known, wherever it was. There were upward of 10 days they spent exclusively snowmobiling backcountry powder. There were days they spent earning their turns, fully human-powered, to ski backcountry locations. And then there were maybe the best days: when they used their motorized sleds to access prime backcountry skiing.
Through the month, the trio had its share of fun, including building a jump to ski over a road gap in French Creek near Breckenridge. But the main event, the end result of all of February’s powder and their exploration of it, was their skiing over the Lime Creek Road gap last week.
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To the trio’s knowledge, they were the first to hit the gap all winter. From assessing avalanche danger to testing the quality and depth of the snow, the conditions have to be just right. Spriggs was the only one of the friends to previously hit the gap, which he did two years ago. Beginning in January, Spriggs led the way in prepping the landing for the jump, which features a 50-foot in-run. The jump sends skiers or snowboarders 40 feet over the old mining road below, so the trio had to find the 30-foot-wide, 10-foot-deep sweet spot to land on before the flat.
Over the years, a handful of others, including such names as Summit County legend Chad Otterstrom, have hit the gap. That knowledge made the idea of trying it that much more alluring to Goodnough and Jones.
So last Wednesday, the trio spent a couple of hours prepping the jump off the natural cliff. They returned the next morning to find the road leading to the jump had been groomed by the U.S. Forest Service. While it made the access that much easier, it meant the landing beneath the gap was now chock-full of what the trio described as “roller balls”: slick and icy snowball-like clusters tilled by the snowcat up and over the road during grooming. Resting in the landing, the “death cookies,” as Jones called them, made the landing more sketchy.
But after some assessment and manicuring of the landing — and thanks to a few inches of fresh snow overnight — the trio deemed the landing safe. Spriggs was the first to give the in-run a speed check, dropping in from the top, where the trio couldn’t see the jump.
As the guinea pig, Spriggs “window shopped,” as he put it, until the sunlight was right at 9:30 a.m. to execute a cork 720 with a poked out mute grab. When he rode out his landing on the super stylish trick, Goodnough and Jones knew it was game on. But Goodnough’s fortune with the snow gods wasn’t as good. He was unable to land his backflip with a blunt grab due to a lack of speed after his left ski sunk into soft powder on the in-run. Luckily, he cleared the gap and lived to ski another day. He plans to try the gap again this winter.
“It was definitely top-five most scared I’ve been on my skis in my life,” Goodnough said.
As for Jones, he gave the in-run a close eye after watching Goodnough’s attempt. He still went for a flat-spin 360, landing it to help the crew end the day on a high note.
As for the rest of winter, the three will keep doing what they love. Spriggs has his eyes set on a 100-foot gap with a 60-foot drop near Leadville that would be his magnum opus singular backcountry accomplishment as a Summit County skier.
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