The Legend Of Cold Smoke: Snow’s Affect On Mountain Morale

This guest post comes from Josh Whitney, a Boulder, CO-based pro mountain biker, cyclocrosser and lover of all things alpine. He’ll be sending Tahoe Mountain Sports his trip reports, reviews and inspired mountain ramblings from the Rocky Mountain West throughout the winter. His blog at blends bike racing and mountain adventures with musings on his day job in  business, technology and sustainability. 

Backcountry Skiing Colorado Rockies
Colorado Cold Stoke

Driving up through the valley, the bare ground gave little hope that we’d find any snow at the trail head, let alone enough to actually ski. After four weeks of Rocky Mountain high and dry, things were beginning to look grim. As November rolled into December the entire state of Colorado was jonesing for winter to present itself. We had 70-degree days in Boulder and friends were still doing the summer-standard mountain bike enduro loop through Nederland to Boulder, riding up to nearly 10,000 feet and back to town on bone dry trails. Having had the luck-luster winter of ’11/12 preceded by the epic ’10/11 season, the hope of impending powder turns had transformed for many into a dream – or worse, a legend. Would the future season’s pass morph into a plane ticket to points North? Had we already given up on this season as another wash? With all that sounding potentially over-dramatic, the last decade was the hottest on record and the legitimacy of winter in the lower 48 has been thrown into question.

Colorado Skin Track
La Avenida Magnifica

Fortunately, the wondrous sound of near-zero temps and low-moisture content snow crunching under the slide of skins greeted our trio as we set out with low expectations along Jones Pass Road. Having survived the previous year on a healthy diet of crap resort turns supplemented by reasonable backcountry missions when the horrendously sketchy conditions allowed, we decided to try our luck first in the BC where the turns are at least consistently satisfying and usually fresh. It was dubbed a reconnaissance mission alone, to explore a new zone none of us had been too but had heard great things about. We all agreed that actually making turns would be pure bonus. But as we made our way up the skin track, gaining elevation and feeling like winter had finally arrived, so too did our hopes. This was the morning that welcomed winter into our hearts, legs and lungs. Cold, crisp, brilliant sun meshed with the passing flurried snow cloud. The only thing missing was the wind, whose absence graciously let the freshly fallen snow delicately coat each branch of pine across the entire valley. It was perfect.

Knee-deep in joyous wonderment.

Above-treeline views unfolded a huge triple basin to the West and North with big, later-in-the-season lines. We began pointing this way and that, taking mental notes of potential, aspect and exits. After a short exploration run through a bowl and some steep trees we found some deep snow, but then quickly ended up in a gully that had under a foot of cover. This made for some not-so-fun navigating under and over fallen trees. Ah, the early season. En route back to the skin-track we spotted the obvious mainline and made our way back up to get some goods before returning home. Turns would in fact be had on this day, and they were sweet, like that third, fourth or fifth cookie you know you shouldn’t be eating. They were also surprisingly deep, and with temps hovering at zero the conditions warranted nearly cold smoke designation, turning the all but elusive legend into reality. The stoke meter was raised, senses that were dormant far too long were turned on, and with hoots and hollers echoing down the valley we all realized the winter had begun.

Colorado Snow Flurries
Colorado Cold Smoke proves its worth.

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