Trekking off the beaten path in the High Country
summit daily news
They called it their most epic telemark backcountry ski trip this year – skiing from Frisco’s Meadow Creek Trailhead to East Vail.
Then, they one-upped themselves and went to Jackson Hole to ski the Tetons.
County residents Sean Von Feldt, Melker Sandberg and Pete Campbell and Chris Hall, from Louisville, have been skiing together for years and have spent early-2011 collecting a set of backcountry adventures to remember.
The 14 miles across Vail Pass took about as long as a day’s work for the group of men who have taken to exploring the Summit County surroundings together on skis.
“There’s not many people who enjoy doing this,” Campbell said. “We have a good time together.”
And for Von Feldt, it’s all about the excitement.
“I get giddy, like I’m looking forward to Christmas,” he said.
Together, they’re more likely to plan unconventional trips and veer off the beaten path. Together, they’re likely to try something new. It’s safer that way, Campbell said. He and the others have avalanche training and carry safety equipment when they head out. They check the avalanche forecasts and use their own observations to judge the sensibility of their outing.
“Only go with people you know and can trust,” Campbell said. “They’re your lifeline. They’re the only ones who will find you.”
Campbell had been wanting to do the trek for awhile and had scouted it with his wife, Ronda, on foot the summer before. With its cliffs, steeps, and ridges above treeline, the route is challenging enough that he wanted a bluebird day to boost the safety level.
And they got it. Starting at 7 a.m. one day at the end of January, the men climbed and took in the views.
“I was high on the scenery,” Campbell said.
“It was a package deal,” Von Feldt said. “It was a day out with the pals away from anything that’s noisy, and it’s the best workout you can get.”
Part of the thrill was breaking trail on a route they speculated no one else had traveled all season, as well as identifying lines they want to ski when they repeat the trek. The route took them to Eccles Pass and along a ridge toward Deming Peak where they summited the Gore Range between Deming Peak and Red Buffalo Pass.
“Nobody goes that deep in the Gore Range in winter,” Campbell said. “This part of the Gore Range is completely untouched in the winter and offers pristine skiing conditions – our goal in life.”
They climbed up about 3,500 feet before heading back down 3,800 feet, and among the rewards – beyond the scenery and the novelty – was skiing 2,000 feet downhill on the northern chutes, the safest aspect, of Deming Peak.
“We want the longest slope with the deepest powder,” Von Feldt said.
But Campbell didn’t tell the rest of the crew what he had found out in the summer – that there was still about 1,800 feet extending several miles after the chutes.
And it wasn’t so steep.
“It was a slog out,” Campbell admitted. “It was a long hard day, but one of our most rewarding days this year.”
Campbell and the others choose their treks based on websites, books and hearsay. They ski passes and Fourteeners and seek their own trails, too. Sandberg said his favorites are the routes listed in out-of-print books, those he finds at garage sales and secondhand stores.
“(The book) could be 15 years old, but the backcountry hasn’t changed,” he said.
Campbell has found his own nooks and crannies on his weekly or bi-weekly outings. He told Sandberg – who was intrigued – about a discovery off Meadow Creek Trail during a three-hour excursion, which is sometimes the limit in the backcountry with the demands of life.
They also tap into the knowledge of friends. Just a few weeks ago, Hall whisked the men away on the Wyoming adventure to ski the Grand Tetons with semi-professional guides in the area.
Campbell estimated that the first day they skinned up and skied down about 9,000 vertical feet over six mountains, called “The Humps” by Jackson locals. Sandberg’s runs were cut short when he escorted another friend, David Carner, out of the backcountry after Carner broke two ribs.
They racked up about 6,000 vertical feet the next two days, with three runs each on Pyramid Mountain and on a slope known as Maverick in the Grant Teton National Park.
“The last two days I had to wrap my feet with duct tape because of blisters,” Campbell said. “I didn’t even think of the blisters as the deep powder conditions and epic skiing was all that occupied my mind.”
“It was without a doubt the pinnacle of this years telemark ski adventures,” he added.
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