Looking down from above, prior to dropping in, Matt and I felt a bit nervous. Neither of us had skied this mountain before today, and we had reserves about the conditions that may lay ahead. Although the avalanche report said danger levels were mostly moderate, there were over thirty inches of snow this past week, and we knew there was a chance of slides on steeper, wind-loaded aspects. The pitch we stood above was a steep, wind-loaded aspect. Hahaha. It was difficult to see down the chutes below us, because of their steep pitch and the poor lighting in the trees. Not knowing what lay between us and the comfort of a more mellow slope a hundred feet below, we edged forward slowly, peering down into a snowboarder’s purgatory.
This morning Matt and I were about to load the lift chair when I turned to him and said, “Wait, don’t you have a sled? Forget the resort, let’s go backcountry!” He was all for it. We turned around and hurried to my house, where I frantically loaded my backpack. Double-checking the necessities, I realized I needed a last minute favor. We loaded into my car and I called a friend Mike to ask for help. He came through in the clutch with an awesome split set-up from K2 (my splitboard isn’t currently up to par, and this one was flexible and seemed like a lot of fun). I dropped Matt at his house, sped over to Mike’s, grabbed the goods, and jetted back to Matt’s, where he sat in his Jeep with the trailer hitched, sled-ready. Neither of us could live down the excitement we shared as we neared the trailhead, thinking back on less than an hour ago when we stood at the base of the resort, anticipating a day of soft chop and two-day old bump runs. Now as Matt fired up the sled and I struggled to set my bindings to my liking, we dreamt of the turns just around the corner. They would be soft and bottomless, fluffy and blinding. We may even choke on a few powsicles today.
The K2 I was riding handled my entrance into the bowl very well. I edged along with slight-nerves on my toe-side in thigh-deep snow, until I got out around a small plot of trees and could nervously picture my line in my mind. I amped myself up and overcame some nerves, jumped out of the grasp that the snow held on my board and legs, and on fresh, fast snow pointed downhill. Immediately I began to gain speed, so I hooked a hard left around a shrub and pointed it. It looked good from my perspective, and I went into it hoping the speedwas would be clear. It was. Straight down a steep chute between a rock and a pillow, and out into the pow field at about mach-5. The board handled the speed and the hard carves incredibly, and also had great flex to allow for butters and slashes during the rest of the ride down. Matt’s new splitboard was cut from a Burton Fish, and this was his first big day on it. Although at first a bit skeptical because the board lacks tail (it’s practically all nose and torso) and we were dropping in on a pretty steep aspect, he fell in love with it after only a few fast turns. Actually, I believe his exact words as we flew down the mountainside were “This is the best I’ve ever had!”, referring to earned turns out-of-bounds, of course, since Crested Butte has the best inbounds either of us has ever had.
The snow was steep and deep, and cold and fluffy. The sun was shining and all worries were left behind. All on our minds was the awesome ride we’d just had, and possibilities that lay in the next pitch toward the valley floor. We stopped for a brief moment to take it all in. We decided that the snowpack was stable and safe, and that it was now Party Time. We shred as a team from there on out (surfers call it a “Party Wave”), weaving between numerous small, scattered spruce pines and hurdling the ones we couldn’t dodge, and hootin’ and hollerin’ the whole way down. “There’s plenty of vacancies in the white room!” I shouted through my laughter, as we carved out of Axtel Mountain’s first bowl, floating like jet boats through a timbered hillside. When we reached the bottom we did what came naturally. High fives! Then we savored a moment of silence, staring up into the sun at our lines. We could barely make out our drop-in lines. They seemed to have developed in the clouds, only to suddenly appear on the face of the white beast that stood above us.