I think I’m an addict. My drug of choice is a white powder, and it sends my mind and body racing into a universe of total euphoria. I know that the first part of breaking an addiction is recognizing you have a problem. I am fully aware of my addiction, the time and money it consumes, and the selfish pleasure it feeds me. Yet I still embrace its manipulative control over my desires and priorities, and I will never cut myself off.
That drug is snow, and my paraphernalia are pairs of rockered, K2 Sidekick skis and Scarpa Shaka boots. For the last time this ski season, I let the click of my boots locking into my ski bindings waft through my nose and circulate down into my lungs so as to initiate that high I constantly crave. I felt my chest warming and expanding with every step up towards the top of my run. And finally, at the height of my high, my legs went numb, and all my thoughts exploded like fireworks that lit up my eyes and left only a S-shaped track as physical evidence of my indulgence.
For the last four-day vacation this year, most Colorado College students embraced the emergence of the spring sun by rock climbing in Indian Creek, white-water rafting on the San Juan River, or sand sledding at the Sand Dunes. In my mind, there was still plenty of snow on New York Mountain for one last multi-day backcountry ski trip.
The New York Mountain trailhead is in the Sylvan Lake State Park area, about forty-five minutes outside of Eagle, CO. Skiers, splitboarders, snowshoers, and hikers have two options in terms of lodging: the Polar Star Inn and the Hidden Treasure Yurts. Being poor college students, we opted for the cheaper Hidden Treasure Yurt that sleeps eight people.
From the trailhead, the skin up to Hidden Treasure Yurt is six miles, four of which are road-grade before reaching the (dare I say) town of Fulford. During the first four miles, my six friends and I trekked up with ease, laughing in disbelief that we were covered in sweat in t-shirts while skiing.
The laughing quickly ceased after reaching Fulford. The trail from Fulford splits into three, all of which are unmarked and difficult to decipher. After spending an hour searching for ours with too-heavy packs, we wanted to light the fireplace and curl up in our sleeping bags at the yurt. The next two miles were everything but that. We switchbacked on steep paths through a thick forest of Aspen trees, all of which were naturally engraved with Illuminati eyes. At the five-mile mark, we transitioned from spiny Aspens to bushy conifers holding the last piles of snow of the season. Our packs felt like cinder blocks and legs like melted Jell-O. With every step I would pray for my friend 30 feet in front of my to yell “Land-ho!” or some type of sign of success. Just as I thought I was going to collapse, I heard the song bird sing. I skinned at what felt (but definitely was not) a sprinter’s pace, threw my pack down on the porch, and collapsed on my bed.
The yurt is a single room with three bunk beds. Two of the beds are full-sized, and the rest are twins. The kitchen is stocked with plenty of pots for melting snow for water, plates, utensils, and spices, peanut butter, and Cholula hot sauce left by previous occupants.
The next morning, after coffee, eggs and bacon, and a quick yoga session to wake up dead legs, we skinned north for twenty minutes on an established trail, then headed east up a much steeper grade until we reached treeline. We did not have a plan from there. What do you expect, we’re college kids?
As soon as the pines disappeared and I caught sight of the first false summit of New York Mountain, I knew I was summitting. I had fresh legs and zero desire to ski the crusted slush in the trees the sun had yet to soften. No, it’s not a fourteener, nor a mountain most people have heard of, but the view from the summit is beyond deserving of a fourteener’s reputation. Aspen, Aspen Highlands and the Maroon Bells stand tall to the SSW and various, unnamed, 11,000+ feet peaks boasting steep chutes, fragile cornices, and jagged ridge lines make up the valley connected to the east face of New York Mountain. I spent ten minutes pointing out each chute I would want to run and which cliffs I’d be daring enough to drop. But of course, I had to quell those desires with the crushing reality of summer looming over my head.
The west face of New York Mountain at this time of year is by no means run-of-the-year material. Wind blown divots and hard pack make for a chattery, technique driven ski down to treeline. We didn’t expect much else and didn’t really care much either since we were still enamored by the expanse of Colorado mountain ranges surrounding us for the next two days.
Once in the trees, the top layer of snow had turned to soft slush through which we made tight, quick turns. During each of our four laps thereafter I kept finding little mounds and lips off which to launch, confident that I wouldn’t hit a tree upon landing. Looking back, the combination of the intensity with which I approached my technique and the giddy enthusiasm with which I approached everything else was something quite special that I think the blend of warm weather, great friends and skiing bring about.
Our last run that day was zero intensity and all giddy. A common backcountry trip theme among CC students involves…you guessed it, nudity. With the sun blazing and the wind calm, how could we not? I wish someone could’ve witnessed three boys and four girls buck naked, uncontrollably laughing while carving through the pines as if nothing in the world could deter their happiness. But don’t worry, we have plenty of pictures with our private parts covered by beacons and pack straps.
When leaving Hidden Treasure Yurt, White Quail Gulch is a must-ski during the spring seaosn. The gulch is prone to avalanches the rest of the year, but with the more stable snowpack and shorter cornices in the spring, the extreme conditions are minimized. We skinned up to the saddle at the top of the gulch that overlooked the same valley as the New York Mountain summit, hopped off a baby cornice, and swung our turns around the left and right sides of the half-pipe-like gulch. I went first, set the left boundary, and skied about 20 yards further down than we had agreed. The snow was just too consistently soft for my skis to ever want to stop. They’re part of my addiction, so I had to listen.
All the snow below treeline was crust over dust, so we called it a day at 2 and celebrated our last epic run with beers, hard cider, and Cards Against Humanity. The seven of us agreed this backcountry ski trip would forever be a 7th block break tradition for the next three years at Colorado College.