Fool’s errand produces gold in Snowmass’ Hanging Valley
October 3, 2015
I was pretty certain I was on a fool's errand Saturday morning when I started trudging up the steep Hanging Valley terrain at Snowmass Ski Area to search for a ski I lost in February.
It was the last chance to undertake the search. The Elk Camp Gondola and Elk Camp Chairlift closed for the offseason Sunday. I had a vague picture in my mind's eye of where I lost my Volkl Mantra, but I also spend enough time in the ski areas during summers to know how drastically different the terrain looks sans snow.
I lost the ski after several inches of wet, heavy powder fell in late February. I was headed down the Valley Valley trail, a specific run in Hanging Valley, when I clicked out of one binding. I spent about two fruitless hours searching that day. It's been in the back of my mind since the snow melted that I should go up and at least take a stab at finding it. I could live without the ski, but it's the principle — I lost it, I should try to find it.
I stopped Saturday and consulted with a member of the Snowmass summer patrol. He did the best he could to point out where the Valley Valley trail was on the slopes high above and gave me one critical bit of information. The upper portion of the trail would be rock scree, he said. If I got into grassy slopes, I would be too far to the skier's left.
I put my legs and lungs to the test on the slopes of Lower and Upper Ladder and eventually hit the flatter bench below the Headwall. It was nearly impossible to decipher where Valley Valley was located. There's just a bunch of steep terrain covered in boulders and scree with varying degrees of conifer cover. There are no distinct trails, especially not higher up.
I spent about two hours zigzagging back and forth on the upper third of the steep slopes. It was hard enough to keep my balance, let alone scan up and down for a ski. I came across a dozen lost ski poles, a Samsung phone (which I turned in to the patrol), several empty beer cans and an ancient container of WD40, but no ski.
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I wasn't ready to give up but I was getting frustrated and losing track of where I was on the hillside. That's when I made the two best decisions of the day.
I clawed my way back up and located the entrance gate for the Upper Ladder terrain to orient myself. Then I took the patrolman's advice and stuck to the scree, even though it seemed too far skier's right from where I thought I was last winter. After a few zigs and zags without luck, I was staring upslope, into the sun, when I spotted what looked like one of those big red mushrooms.
"That can't be," I thought. "It's too late in the season."
I scrambled up to investigate and soon made out the black "V" for Volkl on the tip of the ski, the bottom of which is mostly red.
I stared in disbelief at my ski lodged in a bush beneath a mature conifer about 15 feet lower on the slope than I had searched last winter. Just the tip was peeking out and visible from below. The ski brake didn't trigger when I clicked out. The ski had gone further than I figured and got hung up in what was a tree well in February. Thankfully, it got wedged in a small bush and didn't launch downslope as the snow melted.
It's no worse for wear. I'll be back on it this winter, with the binding set a little higher.
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