Skier, author Fritz Sperry releases latest edition of his backcountry guidebook

Antonio Olivero
Summit Daily

FRISCO — Thursday at Underground Snowboards in Breckenridge, Summit County backcountry skier Fritz Sperry detailed the latest edition of his book “Making Turns in Colorado: Volume 1 The North.”

Sperry’s guidebook, which weighs in at a meaty 334 full-color pages, focuses on a large swath of northern Colorado. It documents the proper way to backcountry ski and snowboard 65 peaks and zones and 102 routes, illustrated in more than 400 color photos and maps.

“There’s … more routes in the Tenmile (Range). We’ve covered pretty much most of it, though it wasn’t enough to do a full second volume,” Sperry said earlier in the week. “There’s new lines in the Tenmile Canyon zone. We go into Peak 1 very detailed. We covered a little bit of stuff in the Gore (Range). There were a lot of shenanigans on Buffalo Mountain last year, so we’ve now detailed six routes up Buffalo Mountain.”

The evolving backcountry skiing situation on Buffalo Mountain, Sperry said, illustrates a big reason why he wanted to publish this new edition.

He said the exploding popularity of backcountry ski touring in recent years has led to dangerous situations, searches and rescues on popular lines like Buffalo Mountain’s iconic Silver Couloir. The Silver Couloir was included in the book “Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America,” by Chris Davenport, Art Burrows and Penn Newhard. Sperry said when you combine the popularity of that book with the exponentially increasing popularity of backcountry skiing, it’s resulted in many more skiers and snowboarders attempting the line.

Considering the dangerous continental snowpack and prime avalanche terrain leading up to Silver Couloir — and within the couloir itself — Sperry said if skiers are dead-set on skiing that one line, it could lead to danger on inclement days, especially earlier in winter. As a result he’s explained how to ski the six Buffalo lines section by section.

“Having options is one of the big elements to success in the backcountry,” Sperry said.

In the latest edition of the book, Sperry details most every mountain in this way, with a fine-tooth comb that includes a difficulty rating, when the sun hits the slope, what trailhead to access, the distance round-trip, the aspect of the slope, the amount of vertical feet of skiing and what season is best to ski the line.

“I skied it four times last year, and each time I skied it, there was a rescue in progress,” Sperry said about Silver Couloir. “It’s kind of disconcerting coming back and seeing the sheriff every time there. It’s very easy to get lost going out on that route, and it’s a different game getting lost in the winter when light may be fading.”

As for the Tenmile-Mosquito Range, Sperry said the new edition of the book focuses on some teasers from the previous editions that he never fully completed. That includes getting heavy into the details of skiing the treacherous western Tenmile Canyon side of iconic Summit County peaks such as Peak 1 and Mount Victoria.

“This beautiful place will always hold my heart,” Sperry writes about the Tenmile-Mosquito Range in the book. “It challenges me and satiates my powder fever. Tenmile Canyon is covered intensively, but I didn’t get it all, the journey of discovery is never ending.”

Sperry’s update to skiing in the Tenmile-Mosquito Range details for the first time extremely expert lines on the western slope, such as the Coin Slot. Sperry was clear that skiing a line like the Coin Slot is much more ski mountaineering and less backcountry touring. In order to ski these lines as safely as possible, skiers must have disciplined patience and attention to detail before even venturing out to see if it’s ideal conditions to attempt the lines. And, once there, the expert lines in Sperry’s book require dialed-in winter mountaineering and climbing skills in order to ski the line section by section, assessing snow and avalanche danger with each slight undulation in the terrain.

“This is mountaineering managed from the top down, assessed on a sectional level of the route,” Sperry said. “It’s about making sure all of the spacial variability is accounted for with the attention and willingness to back off and ski something mellow on the east side.”

Last winter’s historic March avalanche cycle led to the ripping out of trees and flora along a path on the eastern slope of Peak 1 that hadn’t slid that big in nearly a century. Depending on who you ask, the new slide coming down from the shoulder summit of Peak 1 is Black Thursday or Silent Bob. Sperry refers to the slide by both names as he details the proper way to ski this 6.1-mile roundtrip, 3,400-feet-of-vertical line.

“I’m including both names here because people are using both names,” Sperry writes in the book. “The point of using names is to ease communication and understanding. With lines in the mountains, knowing where you are, if the s— hits the fan, is imperative when affecting a potential rescue.”

In the new edition, Sperry also writes deeper on backcountry touring and ski mountaineering in the Gore Range. That includes a chronicling of a point-to-point ski tour from the Meadow Creek trailhead in Frisco to East Vail.

Wherever his book takes you, Sperry is adamant that the most important element of backcountry skiing is checking your ego at the door. From moment to moment, snow and avalanche conditions in the backcountry change. As such, he says American Institute for Avalanche Research Level 1 and 2 courses are a must before attempting anything in his book.

Even if a more expansive forecast is telling you the terrain in a general area is stable, Sperry warns you must home in on specific sectional observations in that exact moment.

“There is no ‘safe,’” Sperry said. “You’re in the backcountry. Never assume anything.”