Route Finder: January 2017 was one of the finest months for powder skiing in years
February 2, 2017
Want more from resident backcountry guru Fritz Sperry? Read on for memories and photos from the first few days of an unbelievable January.
The last few days have been a respite from the maelstrom of deep winter. The sun has come out to shine down on six-plus feet of January snow and the winds have been going on and off. We haven't gotten new snow for a while, but there has been plenty of wind transport in the hills. It's been nice to wake up and see sunrise alpenglow on the surrounding peaks.
But it won't last long. As I write this in the first days of February, the skies have reopened for business and I can't see town. Now we can get back to the good life.
The pow routine
Thinking back on the past 31 days, I can't help but laugh. What a month! This has to be one of the finest months of skiing I've ever experienced. It started slowly at first (as did the season as a whole), and I believe this late start came to our aid in a major way. With less early-season snow, Colorado had less of a rotting issue at the base of our snowpack than usual. We also had a lot of wind in December, creating a persistent slab issue, but after the first few storms of January the persistent issues were largely resolved by the weight of all the new snow.
And then it just kept snowing and snowing and snowing. The pack got deep, even in zones that had slid already. Every morning, like a kid on Christmas morning, I would run to the window looking for my presents. A childish glee came over me when, to my surprise, Ullr had delivered the gift of pow.
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Again and again this scene was repeated: mornings started with coffee and planning, evenings were filled with drying out gear next to a roaring fire in preparation for the next day. Dinners were mostly carbs to refill the tanks with fuel for the next powder session. This turned into the norm of life — clean the truck, ski, eat, sleep and repeat.
A month to remember
At first we were hitting the old winter standbys. These classic, tree-filled descents offer safe harbor from the threat of slides, with gentler slope angles and deep, thick forests to help keep the avy hazard at a minimum. The cold smoke of the turns was worth going back for lap after lap.
That first storm of January was the Arctic blast. The snow was denser than normal — in some ways it was almost Cascadian quality. This storm was measured in feet.
After a day of clearing and wicked-cold temps, the Pineapple Express arrived from north of Hawaii. This storm was also measured in feet. These systems are usually a bad thing for snowpack, as it can create an upside-down pack and make for lots of slides. And it did just that, cleaning out most of the persistent slab issues along the way.
Then we got another round of tropical moisture, also measured in feet. All hell broke loose and ski areas started closing. Mount Bethel, the 12,000-foot sentinel just north and east of Loveland Ski Area, ripped across the interstate. Avy danger was extreme. After a little while, though, the snowpack equalized and the skiing went to a place I've never been. Each day became more perfect than the next. The turns were bottomless. The joy was like nothing else and every new day became the best ever. The term "all-time" gets thrown around a lot. These days truly were.
January was pure joy. The friends of the day let out whoops of joy on the unbelievable descents. At the end of each day, we shared gasps of breathless joy and toasted beers up high — but not all the way up because the body was tired to the bone from all those turns. The daily routine repeated and it was time to head back to the house for dry clothes, a warm fire and carb-loaded dinner before the next day's powder adventure. Where to next? No one knew, but almost anywhere was fair game.
To those who enjoyed it: may we rest well for the next round.
Fritz Sperry is a skier, author, photographer and artist who has skied extensively in the Colorado backcountry. He's the author of: "Makingturns in the Tenmile-Mosquito Range," and "Makingturns in Colorado's Front Range, Vol. 1," both available from his company, Giterdun Publishing.
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