On the hill: Backcountry beckons on Berthoud Pass | AspenTimes.com

On the hill: Backcountry beckons on Berthoud Pass

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

BERTHOUD PASS, Colo. – For me, backcountry skiing is a little bit like anything involving the ocean – enticing but scary. Maybe it’s the enormity of the environment, but mostly I think it’s just the various ways I might die or get into serious trouble that fuel my trepidation.

Early this week, though, I sucked it up for what turned out to be a memorable outing up a drainage off Berthoud Pass, south of Winter Park. Now I’ve read enough stories about avalanche fatalities on Berthoud Pass to leave me more than a little edgy about the prospect of a backcountry venture there, but I was in good company.

By that, I don’t mean fellow fraidy-cats, but a couple of knowledgeable companions – active members of the Colorado Mountain Club, including one who teaches avalanche awareness for the club.

Outfitted with my rarely carried avalanche beacon, shovel and probe (items I hope never to actually need, by the way) I joined a foursome for a ski tour up Second Creek. Huge cornices of snow rimmed the ridges of the upper basin, but our leader assured me we weren’t going to be anywhere near the potential path of a slide should one of them give way. And we weren’t.

Instead, we skinned up through fresh snow and trees on a calm, bluebird day, finally climbing one low ridge and then another, where the terrain opened up and fresh tracks awaited on gentle slopes.

We had the place to ourselves, and virtually no one had skied the slopes ahead of us. The two mountain club members were incredulous – a little about the lack of other skiers, but mostly about the weather. They weren’t strangers to this place, but they were accustomed to gusty winds and little visibility. I wondered if they were seeing the valley for the first time, too.

I threw any hope of making pathetic tele turns out the window for the descent, but after some panicked snowplowing to start, I pulled off some decent parallel turns that left me wanting more.


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