Northern exposure | AspenTimes.com

Northern exposure

Tim Mutrie

BANFF, Alberta, Canada ” There’s an area at Kicking Horse, a British Columbia ski resort two hours west of here, called CPR Ridge.

Considering that Banff, the seat of Canada’s first national park, was founded after three Canadian Pacific Railroad workers discovered the Banff Hot Springs in 1883 (a time when hot water, presumably, was as good as gold), I’m pretty sure CPR refers to the area’s railway history.

But the double-entendre soon presents itself.

Yesterday morning, I skied with (blindly followed, really) a 22-year-old snowboard instructor named Lisa, one of only two dozen or so skiing/snowboarding instructors at a resort with more than 2,750 skiable acres. It was only four seasons ago, after all, that a Dutch company overhauled the resort formerly known as Whitetooth, adding to the tiny slope a top-to-bottom gondola that unlocked a whole lotta big country, inbounds and otherwise.

After a few runs off Feuz Bowl (pronounced “foos”) and CPR Ridge, down steep, narrow and rocky chutes made ever more interesting due to a lack of recent snow, Lisa had to catch up with a class at 1 p.m.

On my own, I boarded the gondola once more for the 4,133-foot ride up, chatting with visitors from England, New Zealand and Montreal along the way. Arriving at the top, I was still keen to explore more steeps but equally tentative because of their precarious potential.

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With big exposure and lots of rocks in some of the chutes and alongside all of them, it’s not the kind of place to tear around willy-nilly. (That being said, there’s only three double-black-diamond runs out of a total of 96 on the map here.)

There at the top, I meet Curtis, a ski patroller who’s refitting a worn-out ski break to his custom-edition Volkls made for the nearby CMH heli-skiing operation. I introduce myself and a minute later am chasing him out CPR Ridge, down a perilous, hard-packed chute that Lisa explicitly told me to avoid, through a rock-spiked choke and out onto and over an exposed rib.

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“Welcome to Kicking Horse,” he says as I catch my breath.

Then he’s off again, his eyes all glimmer.

Down to the Stairway of Heaven quad we go and up again for another crack at “Foos Bowl.” This time, however, instead of dropping in (off a traverse that makes everything in Aspen seem like a moving sidewalk) we continue out farther and farther. I duck a rope in pursuit and seem to recall a now-gone-by sign reading “closed.”

Curtis, 29, a three-year Kicking Horse patroller, then tells me he has taken it upon himself, a personal challenge of sorts, to ski the areas that don’t ever get skied. “Part of the snow safety program,” he grins, eyes still fully glimmering. “Gotta beat down all this faceted snow.”

I don’t say anything, just stare incredulously at two glimmering eyes.

“Someone’s gotta do it,” he says.

“This is the Red Light District,” he adds, dropping off into an exposed, technical chute.

“There’s other options over there if you want …” I hear as his voice tapers off.

I follow him again, down and over to a narrow rib. Then he motions over farther, the “Porno Pocket,” he grins.

It’s a tricky air-to-turn passage and after a few deep breaths I imitate his line. Now we’re just below the “Dutch Wallet,” a ridiculously steep tongue of snow that licks at us from a little notch above. “You’ve gotta down-climb to get in there,” he says.

Below us, finally, it’s just skiing ” no chance of dying ” in largely untracked but faceted snow. I watch him swoop out of the chute and into the run out.

I take a fresh line farther right, snaking through a couple avalanche-stunted evergreens and the rock wall that hems the edge of the “Porno Pocket.”

“Nice line, Aspen,” he says when I pull up. “Nobody’s been in there all season.”

“Well it is kinda closed,” I reply.

He shrugs, eyes still all glimmer, and skis off. I follow, of course.

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