Summit ski, snowboard locals dig out mountain road to keep Fourth of July Bowl tradition alive
'Peak 10 Classic' raises $2,300 for SOS Outreach nonprofit
BRECKENRIDGE — The final few switchbacks of Dan Kuneli’s Independence Day pilgrimage from Colorado Springs to Peak 10 were the hardest, especially with his Jeep Wrangler Unlimited lacking power steering. As he scaled a scree-bedded road, and as the hitchhikers who thumbed a ride up bounced around in the back with their black lab, the Air Force Academy student approached his final destination.
Like hundreds of others on Saturday, July 4, he was in the Tenmile Range for the ultimate star-spangled ski and snowboard experience: Dropping into Peak 10’s Fourth of July Bowl on the Fourth of July.
At around 9:45 a.m., with the American flag at Peak 10’s 13,633-foot summit flapping in the wind, Kuneli followed the skier in front of him, who wore an American flag speedo, down into the summer snow.
A few hundred feet below, Kuneli entered the banked turns of a 500-foot-tall snake run. Over the previous couple of weeks, Summit County locals like Josh Barilar, Zach Ryan, Nick Mitchell and many others spent hours skiing and snowboarding the S-like trench to make it the fast, flowy half-mile track that greeted Kuneli and so many others.
But the time to build the snake run was just a part of the 150-hours worth of effort the tribe of friends put in over two weeks to make the Breckenridge Independence Day tradition a reality. In the end, it was at a scale the Summit ski community has never seen before.
“This is an unreal experience,” Chris Meehan said as he sat on the bed of his friend Mitchell’s pickup truck looking up at the third-annual unofficial community fundraising event dubbed “The Peak 10 Classic.”
Shortly after Kuneli reached the Tenmile Range’s treeline, he drove on the four-wheel drive road with 7-foot-high snow banks enveloping the top of his car windows. It’s here, about a half-mile up from the U.S. Forest Service gate, where the hardest challenge of the work happened. Their shovels cleared a trench through the 150-yard snowpatch to ensure high-clearance vehicles could access the Fourth of July Bowl, which has been a ski mecca for decades now.
“The idea is once you get a little ground exposed everything melts quicker,” Ryan said. “The ground heats up and melts the snow and it’s like watching an ice cube melt versus crushed ice.”
On Thursday, Barilar and the 15-20 friends who put in the work announced on social media the Forest Service had opened the gate. The Classic was on.
In the year of the novel coronavirus, Saturday was special for many people who can’t always make the pilgrimage due to other Fourth of July demands. That included Breckenridge born-and-raised local Patrick Gruber.
Instead of working the canceled annual Firecracker 50 mountain bike race, Gruber took his mountain bike to the top of the snake run after Barilar told him the night before no one had ever biked it. But, he said, it was possible. After skiing it once, Gruber figured he’d give it a shot. He got to the top. The snow was punchy. He dropped in like it was the Carter Park switchbacks during the Firecracker.
What name would he christen his snowy mountain bike trail?
“‘Patrick’s Thumb,’ because my Dad has a run on Peak 8 named ‘George’s Thumb,’” he said.
It was also the first year Gary “The Mayor of Pow Town” Fondl brought his daughter Sophia Fondl up with him. Decked out in red, white and blue ski gear, Sophia Fondl, a 2020 Summit High School graduate, led her dad into the flowy snake run before turning around to see him execute the Breckenridge-classic spread eagle trick off of the final jump at the base of the banked slalom snow.
“It means the world to me,” Fondl said. “I’ve been waiting years for this.”
Danny Frazer of Rockaway Beach, New York, watched the action from Mitchell’s truck. Hot dogs in hand, the truck was the home base for the “Keystone Surf Club” snowboard tribe. Frazer said if you would have told him as a kid on his home at the New York City beaches years ago he’d spend a July 4 skiing in the Rocky Mountains, he would have thought you were crazy.
“This has been a dream to come and ski here, be here,” Frazer said as Duane Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser” blasted from the speakers atop the snow podium stand halfway up the snake run.
As snowboarders and skiers stomped backflips and 360 spins on the course’s three jumps, Barilar and Ryan explained why Saturday meant so much to them. In the days leading up to the classic, they received donations from several businesses across the county. The swag they secured was given away via a raffle based out of the “Snake Pit” grill at the bottom of the bowl.
The fundraiser collected $2,300 for SOS Outreach, an organization devoted to helping underprivileged children ski and snowboard for the first time.
Outer Range Brewing Co., J Skis, Surefoot, Blue Heron Tattoo, Wilderness Sports, New Belgium, Base camp Wine & Spirits, Dunkin Donuts, Pit Viper Sunglasses, Avalanche Sports, Rocky Mountain Underground, Gold Pan Saloon, HD Tavern, Glade Optics, Green Light ski and snowboard tuning, Breckenridge Ale House, Slopestyle ski shop Rebel Sports, Mountain Outfitters, Team Summit, Arapahoe Cafe, Avanti Food and Beverage Group, Cup of Joe.
At 11:20 a.m., before an afternoon thunderstorm blanketed the bowl with graupel, one of the coolest moments of the day occurred. It came before honors were handed out in the afternoon, such as the “best wave” award, given to the snowboarder who rode through the snake the best, and the awards for the least likely vehicle to get up the road and for the first naked skier of the day — a longtime Fourth of July Bowl tradition. The moment was when 23 locals followed behind a lead shredder holding a massive American flag — the ultimate star-spangled snake through the slalom snow.
To the older Breckenridge locals in attendance, who decades ago started the Peak 10 Classic tradition before it died out for a few years, this was what Independence Day is all about.
“Quintessential Summit County,” Mitchell said.
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