Friday, March 10, 2006

Out There Extra: our day on Loveland Pass

To start what I hope will be a series of "story behind the story" features on Out There's blog, here are some extra photos from shooter Christian Murdock. Below, read a bit about the scene we found on the pass.

When Chirstian and I pulled up to the top of the pass at about 10:30 on a Sunday, there wasn't a single parking spot. I had to knock on the window of a battered old Transport minivan full of snowboarders, and after the smoke cleared, get them to repark so I could squeeze in on the right. That's pretty typical for Loveland Pass. You shouldn't expect to get a parking spot. Later in the day, a regular explained that it's better to park at the bottom of the pass and hitchhike up for runs, rather than the other way around. That way, he said, you're never stuck after the last run of the day, waiting for a ride. That's pretty much what happened to us, but more on that later.

So we got to the pass and I whipped out my notebook and a freeze-proof pen (experienced snow journalist at work here) and started talking to folks as they ferried in and out of cars. Four distinct types emerged:

1: the camera tourist: a group of underdressed white people (OK, actually everyone we saw that day was white) who doublepark and briefly get out to take a snapshot in front of the sign that says "Loveland Pass," then drive away.

2. the park-and-riders: skiers and snowboarders who park and ski directly from the pass. This is easy, but not particularly good skiing, since it gets hit so often. It requires minimal effort, but offers minimal reward. These skiers tend to be either hungover, or on their way back from a full day of skiing.

3. the ambitious amateur: these are good skiers who set out for a 15-, 20-minute walk to reach some of the more spicy runs. They're from Colorado and have been to Loveland before, but aren't regular backcountry skiers. They don't carry avalanche safety gear. Surprisingly, to my knowledge, there has never been an avi fatality in this area. But with all these guys, it may only be a matter of time.

4. the backcountry local: this is a focused, skilled skier, usually 20-40 years old, with permanent raccoon eyes and and upturned nose from many seasons of looking down at the tourists. This is a ski purist who is willing to expend all kinds of energy to get the fresh turns and subsequent bragging rights of reaching distant slopes. These guys wear avalanche gear and generally hike beyond the crowds, often with their dogs, to hidden runs such as Hippy Trees and The Professor.

So anyway, we talked and shot photos for a while until we couldn't fight the urge to ski anymore. Then we hiked west up the ridge to one of the main runs and dropped in. The snow was bad - really, really bad. Wind had scoured it into a junkyard of choppy fins and dips and boilerplate faces. But that's the pass for you: no grooming.

Down below the windy area, the snow was much better, and we ran into a cool group of kids who had built an enormous jump and were pitching themselves into the air. We stopped to talk and, of course, not wanting to seem like dweebs, we had to hit the jump too. You'll notice there is no picture of me here going off the jump. That tells you how good I made it look. (crashed and burned) But we had a lot of fun.

Anyway, finally, we ended up at the bottom with about 30 other people, all waiting for a ride. And all the traffic was going the other way, since it was now late in the afternoon and the crowds were heading back to Denver. So we waited, and waited. And watched a dog run out into the highway because his dumb hippie owner had too much bong resin in his head to realize you might want to keep an animal on a leash in such a situation. And the dog got hit by a car. And the next pickup to come by took the dog and several snowboarders to the vet. And we waited. And finally a guy with a Jeep Liberty pulled up and he said, "Hey, it's a rental. Pack 'em in," and about 10 people piled in.

I have to say, I love the pass on a good snow day. If I'm driving over, it's almost impossible for me not to stop for just one run. Hopefully, we Coloradans will continue to take good care of this place, so we can continue to dash down through the powder.

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