Sunday, January 8, 2012

New Years in Durango

This New Years weekend I headed to Durango along with some friends to get in some skiing and see what the snow conditions were like.  There was a lot of snow in early December but since then it's been pretty dry around here and in most of Colorado so we weren't sure what to expect.  Saturday morning I found myself at Silverton Mountain for the second time in my life, it's a great mountain with great skiing but it's not your typical ski area.  There are no groomed runs,  you will end up hiking, and you can get yourself into real trouble.  It's backcountry type terrain with a lift that takes you up most of the way to the top.  Currently the skiing is unguided which means a lift ticket is less than most of the other mountains around Durango but in about 2 weeks a lift ticket prices will go up as a guide will be required.  Avalanche gear is always required (beacon, shovel, probe) to ride the lift.

The morning was pretty windy so the lift was delayed in opening.  At around 11 we were on the lift but until then we waited in the tent as that's what they have instead of a lodge.  It's  a pretty nice tent as it has a wood stove, refreshments for sale, and this awesome tree.  I think this is the first real christmas type tree I saw this season, not that it's really an xmas tree.  I was tired and there were nothing comfy left to sit on so I took the picture while laying on the ground trying to get settled so I could take a nap.

As mentioned the mountain doesn't have a lodge so if you need to go to the bathroom you can use this outhouse or find some trees on one of your runs.  You can also see the helicopter that they use for heli-skiing in the background, someday I'll go heli-skiing but hopefully it'll be in another country.

 The first run we went down had some ok snow but towards the bottom I ended up in some tight trees and it really wasn't much fun to get down thru them because the coverage wasn't great.  We were hiking up to our second run and stopped to look at Mandatory Air, a run they had just avy bombed and opened.  Nathan decided since it was just opened and we could get first tracks on it that we should go.  Upon getting ready to head down the run, Nathans binding broke.  What did this mean, that he had to head back down to the bottom of the mountain via the lift and I was left to decide what run to do by myself.  I wasn't sure about going down Mandatory Air alone as there is a section you have to downclimb with a rope but he seemed to think it would be the best way down for me and I would be able to get first tracks.

The snow on the run wasn't that great as it was pretty windblown.  The run is called Mandatory Air as there is section where when there is enough snow you may have to jump, I'm not 100% sure on this as I've only been there early season where they route you to section where you have to use a rope to go down part of the run with some semi stairs.  I have no plans to go down that run again anytime in the near future.  I feel like last time the section you needed the rope for wasn't that long but this time it seemed really long and took me a good 20 minutes to get down.  Part of that I was yelling and getting a bit mad at Nathan for sending me down it alone but it was a bit late to get too upset so I tried to focus on not breaking a leg.  So for this downclimb, you keep your skis on as the edges help to let you grip the snow and keep from sliding down, and then use the rope to lean on and help stabilize you.  As you can see from the photos it's steep and rocky.

Middle of the down step
Done with rope! That middle section is at the top of this photo.

After that run I was feeling a little less confident in my skiing abilities and I was still skiing alone so I decided I would take Tiger down, a pretty mellow run that required minimal hiking.  The snow was alright but still nothing great.  At the end of the run, you walk across the stream and end up on a road where you get picked up by an old FedEx type truck that takes you back to the lift.  If you end your run further up the road from the lift than an old school bus will pick you up, like I said not your typical ski mountain.  I made it back to the lift in time for last chair but at that point I was content to just call it a day as the snow just wasn't that great and I was ready to head back to Durango to celebrate new years.

 On the car ride back to Durango, I told Nathan how horrible my experience was on Mandatory Air was  and that I can't believe he thought it was a good idea for me to go down that run.  He didn't know how bad that section was until Monday when he returned to the mountain.  Upon getting back to Flagstaff he said he was sorry for sending me down that run as it was in pretty bad shape.

We spent New Years night in Durango where we started the night by utilizing the hot tub that was at the place we rented for the weekend.  Then we piled into a car and headed downtown for some tasty wood fired Neapolitan style pizza and to see where the night would go.  The night started great and then I drank way too much, the chocolate martini while delicious put me over my limit.  New Years morning I felt awful, we were supposed to ski at Wolf Creek but is became clear that it would be best to change it to a half day.  When we got there I still wasn't feeling great as everytime I bent over to buckle my boots my head would start spinning.  Ada was in a similar state so we stuck to mostly groomed runs and slow chair lifts while some of the others headed into the trees.  By the end of the ski day I was feeling much better which was good as I decided that instead of staying in Durango another night that I would head back to Flagstaff, 6 hours in a car.  Monday I slept in and headed out for an afternoon run to enjoy the warm, sunny weather we've been having the last 2 weeks as I know it won't last.

All in all, it was a good weekend.  I just wish there was better snow and that I hadn't drank so much on New Years Eve.