The Silver #004
It’s no secret that some mountain ranges hold a special place in the hearts of those who explore them. Only 20 miles long and 5 miles wide, the Gores sit in the heart of the Colorado high country. Their particular orography and location help create great snowfall quantities similarly to their surrounding neighbor Vail. However impressive the Gores are in ruggedness they are just as impressive in their remoteness. To get to the zones you will have to travel at least 4+ miles and cross undulating hills that require bushwhacking and the crossing of many drainages. Although, the premier line in the Gore range is actually less remote than the rest of the range. It is one of the classic lines of Colorado that are in the book by Chris davenport “The 50 Classic ski lines of north America”, due to its visibility from i-70 and of course the excellent skiing.
We arrive at the white river national forest trailhead at 8am to a full parking lot. It’s a small parking lot but still it shouldn’t be full that early. We realize that Buffalo Mountain is a popular destination and the rise of backcountry skiing is exponential. It seems as I write more of these journal entries, the amount of backcountry skiers at the popular lines is becoming an apparent theme.
We find a spot near the trailhead unload the truck, put our skins on, do our beacon check, and head up the skin trail. It will be around 3 miles and about 2800ft of vertical for our up-track to the summit. A later start is better this time of the year because heavily used skin tracks can make for icy excursions, at least when you start after sunrise the snow softens up. With such a well defined skin track, getting lost is difficult. Even if we disagree on the track in place, staying on course is still better than putting in your own. The key to today is efficiency, keeping the pace and making long strides.
The approach to the trailhead junction is nice and open. The sun is warm and the wind is calm as we pass through the remains of a burned section of forest. To see these trees and the orange color they reflect off the morning light is surreal. We travel through this pine growth and reach the trail junction. One way is the return trail and the other is the approach. You could do the trail in reverse and boot pack up the couloir to the peak, but skinning is much more efficient. We take a left and start our climb. As we are approaching tree line, a slight breeze and a warm sun hits our skin. We take a break and look out toward summit county. Peak one sits calmly in the distance. We take a break and drink water get calories down. The trees are thinning and the wind begins to howl…we are in the alpine now. The last half mile of the skin track is in the alpine with no obstructions. The wind is strong, so strong that we were both blown over, having to lay on the snow head down waiting out the gusts. We reach the summit at 1130am with high winds and cloudiness. The entrance to the silver is quite obvious and large, however with the winds we were concerned with loading and unconsolidated drifted snow.
With the winds howling we switch over to ski mode. The temps drop significantly and transitioning a split board is tough. We get our shit together and head for the entrance of the couloir. The entrance is gigantic. I drop in to the right side and test the snow. It’s great. The turns are a little heavy but soft. The combination of drifted snow and cold temps allow for decent snow quality and fun skiing. I find a safe spot near the rocks on the skiers right and watch my partner drop in while keeping an eye on the snow. He skis past me to the next safe spot only to see another group sitting at the choke of the couloir. (Don’t sit at the choke of a couloir, it’s not safe). We yell down to the other group to get out of the way or move over to a safer zone. If an avalanche released it would have taken them out. After they ski down we are feeling confident in the snow pack and decide to ski it the rest of the way down only stoping at predetermined safe zones for pictures. In the couloir the winds are much more calm which makes the skiing experience better.
Our legs are starting to feeling it after 1800ft of decent. We start to venture out of the main shoot and find a nice stash of untracked snow on the left side of the couloir. White room engaged! We take a moment before the last bit of decent to look back up at what we’ve done. The wind drifted snow on the tops of the peaks seem heavenly and powerful. The contrast of the rocks to the snow is deep.
Van Smith making big powder turn down the last section of the couloir
Looking back up at the silver, its classic reputation is well deserved. Such a great line.