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Travel Series- Rocky Mountain Road Trip | UNITED STATES, WYOMING | 01/22/2009, by BrennanLagasseWelcome to the STB Travel Series
What's more exciting than making turns where you never have before? Not much if you're a backcountry skier. Get ready for a series of epic ski travels, presented to you here on Skiing the Backcountry.com with hopes that we'll entertain you, stoke you out, and maybe even get those creative juices flowing so you can write to us about your own epic adventures! Throughout the season, we'll focus on a trip that relates to the time of season we're in. So in February we'll help you plan for the trip to AK that you just can't put off anymore. In March, we'll help you plan for those epic Spring descents- from Tuckerman Ravine in the East Coast, to the greatest corn on earth in California's Eastern Sierra. Of course we'll also include travel stories in between, like planning for summer turns in South America, to this week's article about the classic Rocky Mountain Ski Road Trip. Enjoy!
The classic Rocky Mountain Road Trip is something that we've all dreamed of, done in part, or done to the "T". This trip usually begins with one destination, but then falls into the trap of "Well, we're already so close..." I've been wanting to return to ski in Montana ever since I made summer turns down a beautiful couloir in Glacier National Park. So with the help of Google Maps, I started planning last October. Starting in my home town of Tahoe City, it just happens that Utah and Jackson Hole are practically on the way to Montana. Colorado made the cut when I found out that one of my favorite bands was playing a show in Denver.
The morning of December 22nd was cold in Tahoe. It was the winter Solstice, snow was falling lightly, and we were all pretty excited. Most of our friends figured that we'd return hating each other after mimicking sardines in a can for two full weeks, but we were optimistic. However, as we spent 3 hours taking the rack and box of his car, then my car, then reattaching my rack to his car, then both boxes to his car (Did I mention it was cold and snowing?), even I began to doubt the concept of this Rocky Mountain road trip. "Should we leave the next morning? Should we take two cars?", we silently wondered. But the momentum of the trip had us on our way and by late afternoon we were heading east on I-80.
The storm was going to hit Utah with a few inches and we had tentative plans of staying in a hotel for two nights before heading up to Jackson, then Montana. However, we soon learned...
Lesson #1 of Ski Road Trips: Plans are meant to be broken!
A few inches in Utah wouldn't be deep enough to warrant paying for the hotel. Especially not when free couches and floor space were available in Jackson. On the fly we got off in Wells, NV and I cruised through a snowy Nevada into a snowier Idaho. I wondered if we were gonna make it to Jackson in time to ski the next day, and soon learned...
Lesson #2: Don't get bogged down by the inevitable bumps in the road.
In the middle of the night (after about 12 hours of driving), we were slowed to a crawl due to huge and unpredictable snow drifts on the road. The change of pace awakened all 7 of us from our zombie-like trance and even the dogs were at their wits end. However, once loaded on the new Jackson Tram, smiles were abundant and the long drive felt no worse than a mild whiskey hangover.
While the inbounds turns weren't the prettiest of my life, the next day's trip up Teton Pass to Mt. Glory erased any doubts about our decision to bail on Utah. Dropping off the top into 18 or so inches of soft pow, we were all hootin on the way down. We even made it out to Grand Teton National Park that afternoon for a tour to recon "25 Short". With jagged granite peaks as a backdrop, we were stoked to experience these classic Jackson turns.
And then it started snowing. In a flash, the avalanche forecast in the Jackson area hit extreme, and our plans to hit some bigger objectives were canned. No worries though- you've gotta be flexible when you're a visiting skier in an unstable, unfamiliar snowpack. Besides, we were treated with untracked, light, overhead powder at the Jackson Hole resort! Sadly, our epic powder day coincided with an inbounds avalanche that claimed the life of a Wilson local.
At the end of the day, I carefully counted and we were still 7 bodies in a Subaru Forester. Stoked about getting quality turns both inbounds and in the Jackson backcountry, but feeling uneasy about a local boy not coming home from that "all-time" day we had at the resort, we decided that it was time to move on. Although logic of a road trip loop would send us North to Montana, severe wind was predicted at Bridger Bowl and we drifted down to Colorado.
Lesson #3 was almost, but not quite funny: When you are in the middle- of-nowhere-Wyoming, make sure you don't run out of gas.
We did, but with the help of AAA, we pulled into Steamboat Springs with enough light in the day to enjoy a few turns in the famed "Champagne Powder". We also made it to Denver that night, arriving at an old college friend's house excited for the music and looking forward to making turns in yet another epic ski destination.
Denver's an interesting city with a high concentration of mountain lovers. It's also only an hour away from Loveland Pass and Berthoud Pass, so backcountry access is fairly easy. Our first day at Loveland was great. The whole crew of guys, gals and dogs made turns off the continental divide with soft, stable snow under our feet.
The next day's turns at Bethound Pass were even better. If any of you are thinking about hitting this zone in the near future, don't think anymore- just go. It's an amazing collection of bowls, chutes, and big faces. We consistently scored fresh turns right from the road, with the dogs, with minimal effort and a maximum fun factor. This is definitely a zone I liked to explore more of in the future.
After two nights of amazing musical showmanship in Denver coupled with a couple great days of pass skiing, the Rocky Mountain road trip was coming close to an end. It was January 1st and we had to be back in Tahoe by the 4th. "Should we just bail on Montana?" Hell no was the word and the Bridger Bowl parking lot was only a 10 hour drive.
The Ridge. Man, it's just plain old epic. As a primarily backcountry skier, I felt a unique connection to this mountain and its mentality of, "if you want to ski it, go hike it". Needless to say we had a great day at Bridger and if you want to sit on a lift without supporting the Intrawest and Vail Corp. domination of the ski industry, this is your place.
Our last day was going to be a big one. The plan: ski Big Sky and get back to Tahoe. Miraculously it worked. We even scored the Big Couloir (highly recommended) and got to ski Moonlight Basin's North Snow Fields that just happened to open up that day. By the time we were cruising through Yellowstone on our way home all I could think of was how worthy the trip was, and how much I'd like to return to all these places. That's the thing about the good trips. If you really felt the connection, even if you technically got your goal to drop in and make turns in a new place, chances are if it was really worth it to travel all the way up there you'll want to come back just as bad.
As we rolled into Tahoe at 4am I felt alive. I was actually pretty worked, but we skied pow every single day of the trip and I had a strong feeling of contentment. And that's it. Feeling content. Traveling can bring us to new places, allow us to meet new people, and bring us oh so close to that dream of scoring Jackson with two feet of blower. It can also be frustrating when there hasn't been a drop of precipitation in weeks and you commit to a trip with a limited amount of time. BUT, when you get to that place you've been talking about for years, the memories will stay with you for the rest of your life no matter what the conditions. They'll also shape you in a way that's meaningful, so much so that hopefully, that energy will become a gift that encourages you to keep traveling and others you come into contact with to get of the couch and go get deep themselves! Hint, Hint...