Colorado, pure backcountry
Text: Lorenzo Campanile - Powdermob.com
Riders: Lorenzo, Justin, Eric, Danny
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As usual, I spent the Christmas season with my wife, Regina, and her family. Instead of the usual travel companion of a golf bag, this time I decide to take my ski boots. But Texas? There its always ninety degrees and the closest mountains are in New Mexico-Angelfire. In fact, during my trip, Ill be taking the detour that Ive always dreamed of: Colorado!
Finally I decided to accept my good friend, Justins invitation. Hes a freeskier and lives in Steamboat. My dream of Colorado comes to life!
After a great week spent with my Texan family, and by now having tried all the local sports - horsebackriding, four-wheeling, rifle shooting and steak-eating contests, I am ready to begin my adventure.
I leave Dallas and its summery temperatures and that evening I arrive, via Frontier Airlines, at Denver International Airport.
The arrival in the capital is splendid and the little light I can see from the plane allows a view of an enormous space filled with lights, characteristic of every American city. In the distance, the background, I see a mass of white. Yes, the Rockies.
In the airport, already I sense something. Airports are always exceptional places where people from different places mix, dressed in the strangest ways according to their destination. But soon the big white cowboy hats that accompanied me during my trip start to blend with dreadlocked snowboarders, high-tech backpacks and people sporting ski boots over their shoulders - a different world, equipped to host skiers from around the world. So much so that at the luggage claim theres a special belt that youll never see in any other airport in the world: a rotating rack just for skis!
By now Im completely involved in this exciting atmosphere dedicated to the mountains. While Im waiting for the Alpine Taxi (that is supposed to take me to Steamboat in three hours) I encounter my first ski bum. With his ski boots in tow, his cool soft-shell jacket, he approaches me and asks directions as if I were a local.
Is this the bus for Steamboat? and What is the PowderMob? I just saw the patch on your backpack.
Thankfully, finding things in common to talk about is pretty easy. It certainly made for an easier trip! The trip that was supposed to take three hours ended up taking six, due to a technical problem.
At four a.m. I arrive in Steamboat where my awesome friend Justin is waiting for me for quite awhile. Exhausted, I hit the sack (literally-I crash in a sleeping bag on his floor) and after a few hours of sleep Im ready to begin my American adventure.
In the morning, adrenaline pumping, I am up and at em, ready to go. After a breakfast of leftover chili, I readily meet my ski buddies for the next four euphoric days.
Justin is an ex-national skier for the Junior US Ski Team and superb athlete when it comes to Big Mountains and Skicross.
Danny is by now a freeskier by profession - after four concussions in his previous career in pro-rodeos.
Eric, the self-deemed snowfarmer, by summer works as a carpenter so that by winter he can roam the Rockies in search of the best snow.
My three friends inform me that during Christmas the ski resorts are horrendous, just like home. So, for the next four days, only pure backcountry skiing awaits... What great news!
Furthermore, they add, that in order to explore the great space in these mountains were gonna have to use snow mobiles!
This is a great new too: this time no long and hard hikes, just small connection pitches to the top! I was worry about my heavy fat-boards but, in this case, my fat- friends, mounted with a Naxo21 are the perfect weapon!
In North America the use of snow mobiles, albeit regulated, is very common and completely legal (unlike at home).
Eric owns two snow mobiles that he always takes with him, hitched to the back of his Toyota Tacoma.
After filling up the tanks with a couple dollars worth of gas, we head towards the nearby Buffalo Pass.
The place is fabulous. It looks just like an enchanted forest. But in the parking lot, other pick-ups are starting to arrive and the amount of snowmobiles is increasing. Theyre called sled necks - rednecks with sleds - the Harley-esque type groups in the snow.
We load up our skis, two of us per snowmobile, and with that were off (at an unreal speed) in search of the highest crests.
By the time we reach the top, Im already exhausted. Driving a snowmobile, at least for the first few times, is much more difficult than one might think. They give me the honor of the first run. Then, back at the top again, its up and down all day long, just easy skinnig pitches to reach the drop-in-points of the best lines. We alternate between us - who drives the snowmobile and who skis.
The snow is soft and deep, stamina in the stars and when it starts to get dark I only want to continue to take advantage of those conditions as much as possible. But my legs convince me that its time for turbojets in the hotub.
The next day we decide to make our way toward Vail Pass. We leave Steamboat at the first light of dawn and by 8:45 were already on the snowmobile.
We start all over again, a continuous turbine. Its useless to say that Vail Pass is marvelous. Bigger and more windblown, it offers challenging terrains, no matter your preference. There are slopes that pass through Aspen trees for those who like the narrow paths, open curves for those who enjoy wide curves, coniferous trees completely submerged in steep walls that support fantastic powder pillows. Yes, powder pillows - real pillows of powdery snow. Rocks, pebbles, and tree trunks are covered in layers of fresh snow, great for jumping from one to the other like an escaping Steinbeck. Pure fun! The day slips quickly away and we realize that its almost time to turn on the headlights on the snowmobile. Tired, but happy, we head back.
The next two days we spend in Buffalo Pass, always on the look out for new slopes and lines to trace. The snow continues to fall every night. We only ski in fresh snow and its always deep. Justin affords me a few big cliffs good enough to win the Verbier Extreme. Eric, the grand pilot, lets me try the pure joy of curving in fresh snow with the snowmobile-man its so fun! At every curve I completely sink into the powder and once I get going again I bounce back around like a ride at the fair.
In the evening we finally see a few rays of sun pass through a tiny hole in the sky. While we head back to the car, the guys decide to give me my last gift. They let me ski the last bit of the narrow path through the trees, illuminated by the red of the sunset, alone. Its a memory that Ill always take with me - my last slope in Colorado, happy as a kid, legs heavy and tired and my mind full of emotions and thoughts that I cant wait to tell my brothers as soon as I get home.
Unfortunately, its time to go home to Italy. But the adventure is not over. Its only now that I feel like my legs are in shape and Ive gotten the hang of driving the snowmobile
. I return home with a lot to tell. Ive brought with me so much of what I learned from the people in the mountains the people that know it and live it in the most complete way; useful technical advice, practical advice thats always useful in a day spent in the mountains. But most of all what will always remain with me is the love for skiing and for the mountains that these guys transmit. These are guys that left secure jobs and now work sporadically whenever they have to just to ski as many days a year as possible. One worked in New York City. He said he made good money but he wasnt happy. Now he works in the summer so that he can ski and compete in the winter. He doesnt know what his future holds and frankly he could care less. Only one thing is certain: at the end of every slope theres a face and a smile that explains everything.
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