Finding a new friend, Paul, and an old friend, Powder, on Monarch Pass
We weren’t expecting much for our one day of backcountry skiing on Monarch Pass.
We had just skied Crested Butte, and what seems to be the theme of this winter, it was great hardpack but not powder.
I’ve missed skiing powder.
Most of Summit County’s fresh snow this season has fallen on our oppressively crowded weekends, and combined with me being a tad too aggressive, it has not added up for many fulfilling days.
Powder or not, at least I was on a road trip with my good friend, Sue.
We travel well together. Neither one of us care much about wining and dining.
In fact, we are experts when it comes to cooking in hotel rooms. All you need is a George Foreman Grill and an electric tea kettle – this covers just about all the necessities from coffee to cheeseburgers.
We prefer to waste ourselves skiing from dawn to dusk. After pounding the moguls at the Butte, we took a relaxing sunset Nordic tour up Brush Creek Road.
This was scenic, but sorry Crusty Butt, even though your mountain bike trails rule, our ski touring terrain is much more interesting.
Monarch Pass hadn’t seen new snow in a few days, but it had remained cold and cloudy, which helped keep the snow fluffy.
Unlike other highway passes known for their backcountry, Monarch wasn’t crowded. We saw two cars parked at the top and right at the beginning, we passed the first group and never saw them again.
Ahead of us was a solo guy who had to wait for us because he had dropped his probe pole on the trail.
He looked like your typical telemark skier – faded ski pants, an old jacket and a pony tail.
I liked him right away when he commented on exactly what was on my mind.
Why do some folks break trail straight uphill when you can get there just as fast by traversing?
Paul, our new buddy, got off the steep trail and started breaking a gentler one. Sue and I gratefully followed.
Paul lived in Salida and skied Monarch Pass frequently, but rarely did he see anyone else.
He had the gift of being incredibly funny, so we stuck with him the rest of the day.
He and Sue realized that they had actually gone to college together 12 years ago in Ohio.
You can just imagine the noise that made, and once they cleared up the fact that they had never actually dated, they reminisced of all their mutual friends.
It was a real shocker when Paul told us he was a public defender; he looked more like a dishwasher.
There are many awesome ski runs on both sides of the pass, but we skied the northwest-facing trees.
And the snow was perfect – deep, light untracked powder. It was that snow where you could turn anywhere, cutting it close to the trees, even straight lining it through the tight ones when necessary.
After about 1,000 feet of untracked bliss, we stopped on an old railroad grade deep in the woods, put the climbing skins on, and did it all over again.
Sue and I were very, very happy.
Finally we had skied real powder.
I can’t believe how much of a grip powder skiing has on my well being; after that first descent, I felt like months of tension had now been released.
All it took was one run.
Paul knew all about the skiing around Monarch, so I was in hog heaven grilling him for information.
The Lost Wonder Hut just down the road sounded great, with a few tantalizing peaks to ski, Aetna and Clover.
Instead of going to work that afternoon, Paul practiced his legal speeches on us, which minus some of his swearing, were quite impressive.
We forgot our swimsuits, but the perfect Monarch Pass trip next time will have to include a soak at one of Buena Vista’s hot springs.
It’s warm enough now that car camping near Salida might be quite pleasant.
That trip was last week, but the buzz lives on.
Powder snow – and in the trees no less – fun company and lots of laughs.
It was one of those top-10 days.
Now, if I could just have one more …
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