Fritz Sperry is a Denver-based skier and writer. He primarily spends his time skiing in the backcountry and is working on a ski guidebook to one of Colorado’s more popular mountain ranges not far from Berthoud Pass. Fritz was kind enough to share this guest blog with us.
Let’s just start this post with the fact that I haven’t skied Berthoud Pass once this year. I’ve found plenty of reasons not to ski Berthoud. There are many, from the lack of snow in the lower portions of my favorite Floral Park to the desire for a longer, bigger vertical workout and I could go on and on. This season is shaping up to be one of the worst all time. I feel that the lack of snow is magnified by the copious snow totals from last season. The snow that we do have has gone to absolute hell. So where do we go from here? I continue onward while going inward.
The mountains will always be a place for introspection for me. Winters like the one we had last year aren’t the norm. Almost every winter ski day I had last year was a powder adventure. It was a dream season with more visits to my all-time list than I really deserve. However in the face of this winter I find myself reaching within for my joy. It’s hard to appreciate what you have in the moment, especially in the shadow of the epic winter we had last year. Yet in the face of these poor conditions I’ve opened my eyes. I’ve come to realize that the journey is the reason to go out and visit the mountains. Instead of focusing on the goal or the powder or the peak I’ve taken to appreciate getting there more.
As I slow down sometimes I speed up. Focusing on the journey doesn’t have to mean that you are slower. You can still push yourself to new levels of endurance, focusing on your breathing for instance, or fighting the urge to slow down to ease the pain. The concept is more a philosophical shift for me. By giving up the expectation and desire to charge forward to some predetermined end you look toward the moments that are involved with getting there. This appreciation for the little things you encounter along the way, opens your world up to so much. The nuances of the mountain are often lost to those seeking the peak. Looking inward or outward during the journey offers many insights.
There are plenty of sights to see along the way. Inwardly you can focus on yourself and issues you are going through. Inversely you could attempt to focus on nothing, going for a complete escape. Sometimes that escape is just what I need. A visit with nature can definitely offer a change of thought. Outwardly there are lots of options. Study the snowpack, the trees, the clouds, the peaks. Searching for animals is fun. Don’t we visit the mountains for all these things? If not than shouldn’t we think about it a little more? Most poor souls don’t get the chance to escape to nature and absorb its good tidings and tests.
Speaking of test, the journey can offer many tests. Yesterday I went for a tour up Butler Gulch. I got a late start due to having to take care of family matters. When I arrived at the trailhead the snow was blowing with a ferociousness that you often see in the Front Range. I must admit that I wasn’t very excited to skin up into the maelstrom. The more I thought about it the more I just wanted to go home and go back to bed. However I was there and a day in the hills is better than a day in the city so off I went. I forgot my ipod so all I had were my thoughts and the sound of the wind raging through the tree tops above. I’m glad I went, for the time spent thinking on the approach was worth it to me. I worked out more than a few issues that have been bothering me and reset my focus to where it needed to be. Before long I was at treeline and facing some decisions. How high should I go and what should I ski? I took a few steps past treeline and was promptly knocked to the ground. Well it seems to me that this is probably a good place to stop. The snow was soft then hard then thin then a little deeper. Classic wind-blown garbage is what it could be called. I got to the bottom and reskinned my skis. I went back for another lap, off into the maelstrom once again. This second lap I focused more on my fitness, working on some breathing techniques and seeing if I could use them to temper my heart rate. I felt fast and I felt good. I wasn’t excited for the skiing or the wind but that wasn’t really the point. I was excited to be in the mountains. The snow was worse this run with turn initiation issues due to slabby snow that then led to blown off hard pack. I got to the bottom and reskinned my skis. Heading back for another lap just seemed to fit with my day and this journey. For the third ascent I just tried to tune it all out. This is not easy when the wind is whipping with a frenzy and the cold, driven by the wind, seeps through to your bones. I needed to reach for nothingness though so I pushed onward. Movement can grant you freedom and freedom can grant you peace. At the top I wasn’t looking forward to the ski, but I was looking forward to not going up anymore. My goggles had frozen over and I switched to my sunglasses. The wind whipped away at my face as the glasses were placed on my face. I cursed the gods that taunted me and tightened my balaclava. As I dropped in I rolled my weight for my first turn. The wind packed snow made my ski track instead of enter the turn. Classic. I hopped to initiate the turn and searched for better snow in the denser trees. As I skied back to the trailhead through the trees I thought about how lucky I am. The mountains always leave an impression, sometimes I listen better than others.
As the weather pattern begins to change and snow returns to the mountains try not to forget. These lean times offer insight into why we actually go in the first place. Yes the powder is great, it’s why I moved to Colorado in the first place. Once you spend some time in these mountains you begin to realize that it isn’t really the powder that we’re after. The powder isn’t always there but I still can’t seem to stay away. As I said before, it’s hard to appreciate what you have in the moment but after experiencing the drought that we just went through I have a feeling that I’m going to have a great time on my next tour. Perhaps I might slow down to look at the snowflakes and ponder the leaner days. I might just savor the moment that much more since it seems like it’s been far too long since the last time. It will be nice to return with eyes wide open.