Summit skiers describe late-July skiing on lingering snow patch
Summer skiing is somewhat common in Summit County’s backcountry, but this year skiers and riders have had to work extra hard to access lingering lines after a winter and spring short on snow.
Silver Plume-based photographer Casey Day and friends trudged up the 13,180-foot Santa Fe Peak on Saturday, July 24, to celebrate Day’s birthday and ski a remote line accessed off of Peru Creek near Montezuma. Day said though narrow in spots, the dirty strip of snow on the High Voltage line is one of the longer lines people are still able to ski this time of year in Summit County.
Located by an above-tree-line power line near Argentine Pass, High Voltage was skiable on Saturday despite the fact a portion of the middle of the line had melted away.
“The particular patch of snow we skied is very narrow and long, and parts of it are barely as wide as your skis to make turns,” Day said. “But we ended up getting quite a few turns in for 700 feet of vertical.
“When we drove up and parked you would have had no idea there was snow there. … So the conditions are always a little bit of a surprise. But we had a big enough group we smoothed out the snow; the last skier had much smoother snow than the first skier.”
Kyle Crawford, of Golden, said the birthday ski adventure for Day required the group to hike two miles and climb more than 1,500 vertical feet to reach the cornice where they dropped in.
“The absurdity (of it) is kind of fun,” Crawford said. “From the parking lot you can’t tell there’s snow; it’s hidden behind a ridge. Once you do find a small strip of snow and make turns on snow in July, it’s extra fun. And the absurdity adds an extra level. I find myself giggling on the way down.”
Crawford said the location is also unique because of its southwest face, an aspect that is not typically as shady as north-facing slopes. But with the contour in front of the slope’s bowl, snow can pile up to 30-feet deep in midwinter and remain 8-feet deep come summer.
“You need to be controlled,” Crawford said. “Falling is not an option. There are rocks on either side, so it’s slow and controlled skiing. But the snow is in pretty good condition. It’s nice and soft, like a spring day.”
Lauren Rainen of Keystone said the experience was truly one of working with what was available, having to plan out maneuvers like straight lines in short spurts to navigate rocks and imperfections in the snow.
“Your skis can get a little banged up, that’s for sure,” Crawford said. “It’s sort of an interesting combination of skis light enough to carry on your back but strong enough to ski the terrain.”
Jen VanCleave, of Littleton, said the trip was the latest she’s ever skied in July. With the conditions, she said it was important to take some turns to get into the groove of the snow after rain littered the patch with some washout debris from a storm the night before.
“I think it’s just a matter of enjoying what you have when you’re on skis,” VanCleave said. “Days on skis are better than not on skis.”
Crawford said he and some other friends who aim to ski each month of the year will likely take on the Skyscraper Glacier near Rollins Pass next month, which divides the Winter Park area from the Front Range. The location is a popular late-summer spot for many eager, experienced, expert-level backcountry skiers and snowboarders looking to make turns each August.
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