Front range ski alpinism

If skiing is fun and climbing is fun, doesn’t it make sense that climbing to ski will be even more fun? It would probably be pretty hard to beat the alps in this regard.   Likewise, the Cascades or Tetons  have excellent options.  Despite the numerous mountains in view from the front range (or even throughout CO), surprisingly few provide logical combinations of great climbing and great skiing.  Too much wind, inconsistent ice conditions, early warming, poor rock quality, or the even more common complete lack of technical climbing on a mountain.  With that said, a little creativity goes a long way towards making the best of what we have.

I have little interest in carrying skis on my back up multiple pitches of 5.10 rock or difficult mixed.  The ideal ascent routes can be done with minimal gear or rope work.  If skiing on a spring snowpack, one will have limited time to reach the summit and be on the descent before wet slide danger increases.  I’d tend to look for routes with 4th class to low-5th class rock, or moderate (WI3/M3) ice and mixed.  For rock routes, ridges provide good options, whereas ice routes are likely to be in gullies. Remember, you’ll be climbing in ski boots, and skis on your back are fairly obstructive.  The idea is for the skis to make the day more fun and interesting, not the other way around. Below are two highly recommended combos from past seasons.

Mount Bancroft – East Ridge to Various Descent Options

Route Overview
Route Overview

Climbing description

Due to weather, it took us two attempts during different seasons to make this itinerary work. First attempt was on a knowingly unsettled day in April 2011. We made fast time to the route and up the snow covered solid talus that starts the ridge.  By the time we reached the notch, weather was looking pretty grim.

We continued up the short crux, taking a slightly off route chimney instead of the usual face pitch. A few hundred feet above, it became clear the weather wasn’t going to improve, so we bailed back  the notch and rapped into a narrow S facing couloir.  The east ridge of Bancroft actually has a bunch of cool descent options on the way to the summit. 0

The next attempt went much better, with perfect weather. Again we scrambled to the notch, rapped in, climbed out through the correct line (which is excellent low fifth class with good gear and large boot and glove friendly holds. Above we scrambled upwards, occasionally setting impromptu belay for the less frequent climbers. Upon reaching the top, two of us skied the direct SE face from the false summit, while the other two skied the standard moderate east ridge route. The SE face makes a fine descent with a steep entrance and moderate exposure. There were a few narrow passages that typically cleared on skiers left.

Mount Meeker – Dreamweaver to Dragon’s Egg

Climbing description

In spite of icy ski conditions, this was one of the most fun days I’ve had in the mountains. Dreamweaver is an excellent beginner ice and snow climb, with short cruxes separated by moderate snow. Although Dreamweaver itself makes an admirable ski option, the traverse over Meeker and down the Dragon’s Egg provides much more skiing and a beautiful tour. I recommend a car shuttle for this tour, dropping one car at Wild Basin, then taking the other to Long’s Peak trailhead. Depending on conditions on Dreamweaver, one could find a mix of soft snow, hard snow, ice, or rock. Some folks will prefer a rope for the short cruxes, while others will feel comfortable without. Being such a windy aspect, Dragon’s Egg wont come in every year, and the top will only stay in for a short amount of time. A few sticky windless spring storms are required for optimum conditions. The good news is you can see the line from all over the front range and peak to peak highway, so there wont be much of a secret.

I also made a short movie about the day:

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