Friday, April 17, 2009

Spring Ski Mountaineering In RMNP

So here it is my first attempt to write a blog post, or is it submission? I meant to write this days ago when the skiing was still fresh in my mind, but life sometimes takes over. I had the pleasure of ski touring with good friends last Friday and Saturday up in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). Sometimes I forget how breathtaking RMNP can be. As the spring season progressed I was beginning to worry about the snow pack and how long it would be around. After the recent snows, and the one coming I am no longer worried. We skied the Dragontail Couloir on the south side of Flattop, and a north facing couloir off of Mt Otis.

Friday we met at Micky Don Dons in Estes for a little breakfast at 7 am. It seemed late for spring, but it was not quite sunny and we wanted to let Jonathan relax as it was his Birthday. Along for the ride were Jonathan, Simon, Craig, Pat, and myself. We drove into the park and decided to ski into Tyndall Gorge and climb up the couloir to get a good read on conditions. The skin in was beautiful and a few inches of fresh snow had fallen overnight. The skin up to the bench proved easy and the new snow had bonded well to the old surface and provided a nice platform for our skins to stick too.

Then the fun begins... take off the skis and strap them to the pack. Start kicking steps. About 1,500 feet later, stop kicking steps. The top of the couloir is the crux and Craig was nice enough to break trail for that section. He claimed it was the steepest snow he had ever climbed and was psyched. We made good time to the top, but were about 30 minutes late for the powder skiing. The sun had come out and backed all the new snow and it was sloughing off from the rocks into the run. I still thought we would get some heavy powder...

...boy was I mistaken. Jonathan's first turn released the new snow below to expose the old solid firm layer. The skiing at this section steepness to 45 degrees, on firm snow, and makes you think about every turn. After following Jonathan in, I realized the snow would soften as we descended and I thought that we would get some good skiing in.

Sure enough, the solid layer turned soft as we skied down and we enjoyed a great run of corn skiing after the initial 500 vertical feet. The run to the parking lot was sunny and I looked forward to the next day, skiing the Elevator Shaft on Halletts Peak in perfect corn.

Who would have known the weather for Saturday would be overcast and cold. Not exactly the perfect day for corn skiing. As we skinned out of the Bear Lake parking lot it seemed firm under foot, but worth the effort to go take a look. The group of John, Winston, Paul, and myself were eager for a nice tour and at least take a look into Chaos Canyon. As we crossed lake Haiyaha the snow stayed firm and we altered the plan to go ski a north facing shot off of Otis and hoped for powder.

The boot pack up the couloir proved to be perfect conditions and we made good time. It was Winston's first snow climbing experience - his hockey background proved useful in putting his head down and climbing to the top. After the couloir, the slope eases and we were able to put skins back on and skin to the top of the ridge to look across at Thatchtop and the surrounding areas.

The ski down proved to be some of the best powder skiing of the year. The snow pack was solid and we were able to ski down with confidence soaring. The group was psyched the whole way, and we were able to finish the day off with a tour down the Dream Lake chutes.

I am looking forward to this weekend's powder shots and perhaps another try at the Elevator Shaft.

-Mike Alkaitis

(Mike will be running our Steep Ski Camp May 1-3, 2009. Please contact us if you have questions or to book this program. The skiing is good... don't miss out! 800-836-4008 or

Key Gear for BC Skiing:
Skis: K2 Combas
Bindings: Dynafit F12
Boots: Black Diamond Factor
Skins: Black Diamond STS Light
Beacon, Shovel and Probe: Backcountry Access
Shell: Marmot Mica Jkt
Pants: Marmot Scree Pant
Poles: Black Diamond Whippet

Check out the gear reviews for some of these and give your opinion on the products

1 comment:

Janiels said...

Those were really nice experience, I really missed skiing, but I will next year, oh by the way have you heard that Alpine Meadows has some killer deals on next years season passes, I'm trying to figure out if I'll take advantage of it before it expires on May 31st. Season passes start from just $299, check it out if also you are interested also over this site

hope to see you there.!!