The Four-Skin: A manly journey
February 25, 2004
Editors note: For those unfamiliar with backcountry winter travel, to skin is to climb uphill on skis, with adhesive nylon or mohair skins attached to the skis for traction. Most winter sports enthusiasts would agree that skinning up four mountains in one day is both crazy and manly in the extreme.When everyone around you is asking Why? sometimes the only way to answer is, Why not?Why would you want to run a marathon? Why would you do a six-day adventure race? Why would you want to ride your bike in the desert for 24 hours? Why would you stick a thumbtack up your nose? (Oops different story!) The answer is always the same for me why not?I have learned that you cant think about these things too much. If you do, you start to wonder Why? yourself. Then, next thing you know, youre sitting on the couch, drinking beer and asking other people, Why?Get the picture?This is how I live my life, and luckily I have a group of friends who feel the same way. So when I mentioned jokingly to a couple of buddies that I wanted to skin up all four Aspen-area ski mountains in one day, they didnt ask Why? they asked, When? This, mind you, with absolutely no alcohol involved.Thus was the Four-Skin born.PlanningNow, the trick with a scheme like this is to start planning before anyone has a chance to change their minds and do something else, like go to breakfast, take out the recycling or wash the cat. You need to pick a date and time and get verbal agreement from all involved.If you are unfamiliar with verbal agreements among guys, it can be a delicate and complicated thing. It goes something like this:”Hey, you want to do the Four-Skin this weekend?Yeah, I guess. Can we go to The Hickory House after?Totally.Beer?Sure.Cool, Im in!Verbal agreements may not hold much weight these days in world politics or at the used car lot, but in the male arena of sweat and ego they are the law. To go back on such an agreement is to face humiliation and torment. Well not really, but you sure hear about it.Funny thing, though you never hear afterward about the bad stuff, the blisters, sore muscles and frostbite. Its always the good stuff like, Oh man, you missed a killer day! or, Dude, it was epic! or Check it out we totally saw Heidi Klum when we were hiking Snowmass!Guys like to throw this sort of thing in to make you feel miserable about bagging out. Really though, all they need to say is, Man, this beer tastes really good you should have been there today! Upon hearing these words, any guy who has missed an adventure with the gang quickly realizes the severity of his mistake.So, a quick note on choosing the number of people. When choosing a group, here are some things to keep in mind:1. Going by yourself can be fun, but you run the risk of becoming a newspaper story that your mom doesnt want to read. And, who is really going to believe that you did what you said?2. Going with a partner is great, because then you have proof. You also have someone to help you out if you get stuck for three hours trying to remember what group sang To the Beat of the Rhythm of the Night.Give up? Its El Debarge.3. Going with three people is always a great idea. For one thing, its much easier to carry someone with a broken leg when you have a partner. But more important, with three people you might actually be able to remember all of the words to To the Beat of the Rhythm of the Night! Dont try this one alone.4. Think you can find more than two partners to go with you ? Good luck!Using this scientific formula, we decided three was the most responsible number of people for the Four-Skin. That, and the fact that everyone else was either too busy or too smart.With three of us signed on, it was time to plan. Planning for something like this is not a thing to take lightly. You need to take into account weather conditions, gear failure, and most important, where you can get coffee at 6:30 a.m.! Its a complex process. Here is a conversation I had with my buddy Julian while getting ready:”Hey, we still on for tomorrow?”Yeah, what time?”6:30 Aspen.”Sounds good. Ill call Chad.”Good.It may seem like a lot, but you cant be too prepared when dealing with so many unknown variables.Now, with everything in place, its time to clear your calendar for a good nights rest before the big day. This can be tough when you live in a town like Aspen with so much happening in the evening hours. Luckily for me, however, I am not of the social persuasion and my cat took the news well when I told him there would be no movie that night. Julian and Chad are both married, Chad with a new baby, so I dont even know what they did to get to bed early. I imagine it must have included diapers, bottles and honey-do lists.Now, if by some chance you cant get a good nights sleep, or you show up with a hangover (me never), dont worry. It is an unwritten law among men to make the rest of your day a living hell by setting a blistering pace, and taking no breaks. I think it is rooted in some hunting and gathering, survival-of-the-fittest instinct that we cant let go. Or maybe its connected to the popularity of Pamela Anderson and barbecue ribs. Who knows? Anyway, thats what friends are for.Plans made, calendar clear, sleeping away!Aspen MountainThe next thing I know Im standing at the bottom of Aspen Mountain at 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning. The light of the full moon, just disappearing behind Shadow Mountain, is being replaced by the morning twilight, and its cold. Its freeze-your-nose-hair, I-cant-feel-my-belly-button cold.If you have not taken the time to climb Aspen Mountain in the winter, you should! There is something about the morning stillness, before the lifts start turning, that is magical no matter how cold. As we hiked, the moons glow was slowly replaced by the rays of the morning sun. We reached the top in exactly an hour and a half. Luckily, the Sundeck was open and we were able to change out of our wet clothes before the frigid descent.Skiing down Aspen Mountain before 8 a.m. made me realize that people in this town are crazy! We saw at least a half-dozen people skinning, snowshoeing or hiking up the hill. Not to mention a few nuts on Swiss Bobs maching down the hill. Talk about crazy.Once at the bottom, it was time for food. We made a quick stop at Bagel Bites for a little C & C (coffee and carbs). I know, I know, carbs are so last Tuesday! But, if you plan to hike 14,000 vertical feet in one day, you need carbohydrates, lots of them.Aspen HighlandsNext stop, Highlands. We arrived just as ski school classes were convening. As a fourth-grade teacher, I can fully appreciate what it must take to keep a group of six to 10 little people together on a snow-covered hill for the entire day. Looking at the mobs of short skis and helmets, I was glad to be hiking. With full bellies, a little caffeine and sunny skies, we headed out and up.Highlands is a great place. I always seem to run into people there, and there are always great skiers to chase around. Plus, Highlands has The Bowl. Need I say more?By the time we reached the top of Loge we had a good sweat going. We skinned up to the drop-off for the Highland Bowl snowcat and peeled off our skins. It was actually a nice change to do the last climb in our boots. By the time we reached the top of the Bowl, two hours and change from the start, the wind was blowing and we didnt want to linger. A quick picture, a change of clothes and we were off to G-6 to find some snow.Looking around at the top, I reconfirmed my previous statement: People in this town are crazy! I saw a few kids up there who I recognized from school. I dont want to mention any ages, because I dont want anyone to feel bad if they havent skied the Bowl before. Lets just say they were in second grade!Skiing down Highlands gave me serious second thoughts about my plans for the rest of the day. Not just because my legs were seizing up, but because the snow was so good! But when you make a stupid plan, you stick to your stupid plan.Next stop, Snowmass.SnowmassSomething you may or may not know about Snowmass its long. Really long! I am not a geography expert, but I am pretty sure that a top-to-bottom run, starting at the Cirque, is only slightly shorter than the Nile River. In fact, the only thing that feels longer to me than a top-to-bottom run at Snowmass is a bottom-to-top run.I wont lie to you this one hurt a little bit. Luckily, the weather was holding and we were all in good spirits. So, we put our heads down and hiked. As we reached the top of Sheer Bliss, the wind came up. We took a second to put on jackets, and then single-filed it up the last section.I want to say thank-you to the Poma operators up on the Cirque. If you hadnt left the hut open, we would have frozen our butts off! Instead, we changed in the comfort of what is basically a phone booth. After two hours and 10 minutes of hiking, we were changed and ready for the hike down. I have five words to describe the trip down. Ouch, ouch and double ouch! As a telemark skier, I pride myself on nice, long, deep turns. But Ill admit I slipped in a few alpine turns on the way down. (Dont tell the guys).ButtermilkLast on our list was Buttermilk. Now, you may think we chose Buttermilk as the last leg because it is the shortest hike, and not quite as steep. Or, because we wanted the terrain park all to ourselves on the way down. Well, those are both good reasons but we are more calculating than that. We decided that, upon completion, Buttermilk would put us only a few moments from the Hickory House. Even thought about ordering ahead from the top, but decided that would be overkill.After the other three hills, the hour and 10 minutes it took to get up The Milk seemed easy. We arrived at the top of West Buttermilk just as the sun was starting to say goodbye for the day, along with my legs. We took a second to appreciate the beauty of the day and take in the splendor of where we live. Dont ever take it for granted. If you feel like you are, then walk outside at sunset. Youll remember why you are here.After seven hours of hiking, 14,000 vertical feet and eight pairs of socks, I found myself at the end of a crazy journey. I definitely wasnt asking why; I had gathered a whole slew of reasons throughout the day. I was outside from sunrise to sunset in the fresh air, sweating and sharing stories with two great friends. I have friends, my health and I live in a natural paradise.No, I was not asking Why? I was asking, What next? Any ideas?At this point, if you are not convinced of the virtues of man-feats like the Four-Skin and might need another reason, then consider this: The Hickory House has a new item on their menu called The Feast.For The Feast and a pitcher of beer, Id do it all again tomorrow. Or whatever Id do it for nothing Why not? Thaddeus Reichley is a professional triathlete and fourth-grade teacher at Aspen Elementary School.