Thursday, January 31, 2008

Kittens and the warrior

Here's that cool, winning Chinese team sculpture from the snow sculpting competition up in Breckenridge. (Silly me for getting those lights in the frame!) It really is awesome. Even more impressive is that it's the work of two guys.
And here's the kitties! You can't see in this shot, but the eyes are clear ice, with the slit pupils marked in them, and there's a clear, icy charm hanging from the upper kitten's collar. The stringlike snow in the foreground is a bit of yarn, dropping from a spool the kittens are playing with. The sculpture was called Spoolin' Around.
Anyone been up to Breck since the weekend? Are these chilly artworks just puddles of icy water now?

Big snow extends Monarch's season

Monarch Mountain announced that this year's closing date has been moved to April 13, 2008. The last day was going to be April 6, 2008 but due to a record amount of snowfall in December and January the season they added a week . Total snowfall for the two month period has been more than 259 inches. Average for the year is 350.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

This I love...

The Gear Junkie is at the Outdoor Retailer show, where he discovered Merrell's new do-it-yourself puffy jacket.

The jacket comes as an empty shell, a semi-transparent white nylon piece with its insulating areas open and free. Stuff with whatever insulating items the wearer desires. Just zip open the long pockets and stuff in crumpled newspaper, dead leaves, Styrofoam packing peanuts, lead shot or whatever else. The model above appears to be stuffed with plastic newspaper bags, which could make it an ideal coat for responsible winter dog walking.

Available: Fall 2008; will come in a men’s and women’s version

Price: $99

Missing snowmobilier thought to be dead

BRECKENRIDGE (AP) — Authorities say one of the snowmobilers lost in the snow-covered mountains west of Denver is dead.
The other two men in the group are recovering at a Glenwood Springs hospital this morning after a National Guard helicopter spotted their campfire last night.
Craig Morris, of Florida, and Murry Melloni of Littleton told rescuers that John McKibben of Kremmling died sometime Monday night.
Crews are planning to resume a search this morning to find McKibben's body.
The three men failed to return Sunday night from a planned one-day trip. Rescuers says cell-phone text messages the men sent helped find them.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Another use for snow

The colder weather may mean the sculptures at the International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge last through the weekend. I drove up Saturday with my mom to check them out. Un-freaking-believable.

These guys are about 10-12 feet tall, and just as wide/deep. The detail is unreal.

It was crowded, but worth finding a parking place (the toughest part of the day) and walking around. A great apres ski activity, or a reason for a nonskier to make the trip with you.

You can see photos of the sculpting process here.

State moves to clamp down on off-roaders

Just saw this on the wire.

DENVER (AP) — Colorado lawmakers voted to tighten the rules for off-road vehicles Tuesday despite objections that the state is taking away access to federal lands.

“This is not a privilege, this is a right to use your land, and it’s being turned into a privilege,” said Rep. Ray Rose, R-Montrose.

The measure (House Bill 1069) would prohibit motor vehicles from using public lands, trails, or roads unless it’s authorized by a sign or other means. A violation would be a misdemeanor with a $100 fine. People who violate the law while hunting, fishing, trapping would also have 10 suspension points applied to their licenses.

Violations in designated wilderness areas would carry a $200 fine and 15 license suspension points.

The bill passed on a voice vote and faces a third reading and a recorded vote before it goes to the Senate.

Silly vista

Dave said he wanted a trip report, so...

My wife's continuing quest to ski every lift-served ski area in the state took us to Sol Vista on Sunday (Powderhorn and Howelson Hill yet to go) . Skiing was free, thanks to the GEMS card, and worth every penny.

Seriously, I'm not knocking beginner areas. I've run into Texans at Ski Cooper who come up and ski there because, hey, if you only ski once a year and aren't going to do anything tougher than an easy blue, why pay $75 for a lift ticket?

But I'm a little confused why anyone would buy a house or a condo next to Sol Vista. Even if you have young kids, they're going to outgrow the area in a couple years. Sure, your house would still be close to Winter Park/Mary Jane, but living next to any ski hill is probably a lot more expensive than just buying a place in Granby (Civic motto: "Let our giant, armored bulldozers bring the Granby spirit right to your door. Heck, through your door!").

We did three runs, one labeled black, one blue and one green. You can downgrade each of those one category if you're comparing them to a normal ski area. I'm not sure what green downgrades to, though - lime? Sea mist?

On, by the way, Silverton got pounded.

I mean, pounded. 36 inches in 24 hours. More on the way.

Aspen shrines documented

A few years ago I wrote a story on Aspen Mountain's collection of secret, informal shrines (i.e. places to smoke pot) in the woods. Now there's a website documenting them all (but not their locations.) Check it out here.
Liberace has a shrine. Jimi Hendrix has a shrine. But no Neil Diamond? What's going on?

Interesting cloud on Pikes Peak today

From downtown, it looks just like a veil, thinly covering the eastern cirque. It's not quite a lenticular, not blowing snow. Any weather folks out there care to educate us.
On Monday, also, there was an odd cloud over the mountains. I was riding my bike downtown at about 10 a.m. and a bank of clouds, as dark as a summer thunder storm but without any hard edges rose over the mountains, swept into the city, and pelted me with a few large, wet pieces of grappel. I went into the bank to cash a check, but the time I got out, the bank of clouds had already swooped east, and the sky was blue.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Katie Compton DNFs at World Cyclocross Champs

A few weeks ago we had a profile in Out There of Colorado Springs Cyclist Katie Compton, who was one of the favorites to win the women's World Cup Championships in Cyclocross in Italy Sunday. According to Velonews, she, instead ran into trouble early.
The bicycle news Website said she dropped out in the first lap, and that "Compton has been suffering from a recurring muscle ailment that has kept her off her bike for the past two weeks and has left her with a noticeable limp at times. Before the race on Sunday, Compton said she planned "to start and then see how I feel, but right now, I'm not too sure."

Friday, January 25, 2008

Steep opens at Tinseltown

If you missed it in today's Go! section,"Steep," the big mountain skiing documentary that includes footage of Colorado ski legends Lou Dawson and Chris Davenport opens its local run today.

It follows the history of extreme skiing and includes what Gazette writer Andy Wineke says is awesome scenes of, well, steeps. And shots of skiers riding out an avalanche that are mind boggling.

Read Andy's story about filmmaker Mark Obenhaus here.

Read his review of the movie here.

Link to showtimes here.

Scroll down a bit and watch Andrew McLean, who survived that avalance, talk to Steve Colbert on The Colbert Report.

The best trail website for the region

Is Where else can you find free maps, descriptions and photos for over almost 100 local trails? We have popular classics such as Waldo Canyon and Barr Trail, and more obscure gems, such as the long way up Mount Rosa, and little-climbed Mays Peak. Check it out.

Look what I found in a box in my basement!

It's the first ever (and maybe still only) mountain bike guide to the Pikes Peak region, "Where to Ride Guide" by Rika Newton Moore, circa 1989. Inside you'll find lots of pedal clips, big Bell helmets and not a shock in sight. Interestingly, despite a surge in mountain biking in the 20 years since it was written, there are not many more mountain bike trails. The classics still stand: Captain Jacks, Chutes, Section 16. There are a few intriguing trails I don't know. Anyone ever ride Mule Creek near Woodland Park?

Can tolls reduce ski traffic

That's the simple question a very complex plan by State Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver. He wants to do something to discourage drivers from heading to the slopes on I-70 between about 7:30 and 10:30 on weekend mornings, either by charging those who do, or rewarding those who don't. Romer, who is a skier and investment banker says he would drive during peak time anyway, since the toll, which could be as much as $12, is mere pocket change worth nothing compared to his time.
Problem is, there is no easy way to collect a toll, and no conceivable way to accurately and efficiently award non-peak driver.
Maybe they should stick with the idea of the monorail.

This weekend: Get OUT THERE!

(Almost at Monarch!)

There's plenty to do this weekend.

The International Snow Sculpture Championship in Breckenridge

Winter X Games 12 at Buttermilk in Aspen

Mary Jane's Birthday Bash and Winterfest at Winter Park

14th annual Country in the Rockies at Steamboat Springs

Mardi Gras Race - it's open to all - and College Day ($27 tix) at Wolf Creek

Snowboard Cross - or hit the tubing hills at Copper Mountain

For a list of Colorado ski areas - you can check each resort's site for other activities - try Colorado Ski Country USA

Not a snow fan? Head to a local hiking trail. If you want to learn as you hike, check out the planned activities at Cheyenne Mountain State Park.
Or follow our Happy Trail advice and head to the Paint Mines.
Need another place to hike, check out our searchable Web site.

Bleiler shines at hometown X Games

(AP photo of Gretchen Bleiler of Aspen in the pipe Thursday at the X Games at Buttermilk.)

Gretchen Bleiler is wowing the crowds at the X Games at Buttermilk in Aspen. Read Gazette reporter Brian Gomez's report here. The games continue through Sunday. Pack the car and go. You'll see some of the best riding in the world.

Poacher sought in elk killing

As Out There friend Zen mentions and The Gazette reported today, officials are seeking information that will lead to the person who apparently killed an elk at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument last weekend. Read the story here.

Hunting is allowed in Colorado. But you can't hunt on the grounds of the monument and you can't hunt in the city. C'mon.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Suburban poachers sport arrows

No joke, someone is using a bow and arrows to shoot deer in Rockrimmon in northwest Colorado Springs. In the past two weeks, the Colorado Division of Wildlife has found evidence that at least three deer were shot with arrows in the vicinity of Allegheny and Oak Hills.
"In each case, the deer where shot with archery equipment," said District Wildlife Manager Steve Cooley.
I've often thought it would be cool to hunt and eat an urban deer, but it sounds like someone is making pot shots that just injure the animals. Not as cool.
Anyone who may have seen any suspicious activity, or has information about this case, is asked to contact the DOW at (719) 227-5282. Or, they can call Operation Game Thief toll-free at 1-877-265-6648.

McLean on Colbert

Why not a ski license plate

Colorado Ski Country USA, the umbrella marketing group for Colorado's ski resorts, is lobbying for the return of the skier license plate. And why not? The state already had a skier license plate back in the good ol' days. Plus, we have vanity plates for things as obscure as 'Survivor of Pearl Harbor" and "Greyhound Lovers." I'm the proud owner of an adopted greyhound, but come on, how many of those does the state really sell?

Which leads to the real question. If there is a state ski license plate, would you pay extra for it?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

X Games hit Aspen

Today there plenty of practice and the men's ski SuperPipe elimination at the Winter X 12. Thursday is snowboarding the SuperPipe, some slopeside, some snowmobiling. Check the entire schedule, through Sunday, here.

There's plenty to see, the scene to take in, and free music, too. See the band lineup here.

The Gazette's Brian Gomez, who also covers Olympic sports, is there. He'll have daily updates in the sports section. We'll share any special highlights here on the OT blog.

Skier Billy Poole dies in Utah

Details here. And a lot of fond memories here.

From the description, it sounds like he was filming for Warren Miller and attempting a massive jump in the backcountry between Solitude and Brighton and hit hard on the landing.

Prints point to wolf in Rocky Mountain NP

(That's not the wolf print from RMNP, it's a photo taken by someone at the University of Montana that's used in its environmental studies program. Dang big print, regardless.)

Biologists say rumors of a wolf in Rocky Mountain National Park may be true.
A paw print found Thursday is large enough to be that of a wolf or wolf-dog hybrid.

The only other dogs that would leave a print that size are a "massive malamute or a great Dane," said Dave Augeri, a Denver Zoo biologist.

The track was about 4 inches across and found off a trail heading into open fields.

Park volunteers said they saw a wolf about six weeks ago.

Although wolves are native to Colorado, the predator was wiped out by ranchers, government agents and others about 80 years ago.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife confirmed that a large black animal caught on video by wildlife officers last February in northern Colorado was a wolf.

In 2004, a dead wolf was found along Interstate 70 west of Denver. Its radio collar showed that it was from Yellowstone National Park.

Augeri and his crew have placed 5 cameras in the park in hopes of gathering more evidence.
Here's a piece in the High Country News about what wolves would bring to the ecosystem.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Andrew McLean on Colbert tonight (Wed.)

This could be cool... or it could totally suck. Expeditionary skier extraordinaire Andrew McLean will be on "The Colbert Report" tonight. I think that's 11 p.m. for Comcast subscribers, 9 p.m. for those of us with satellite.

He'll be talking about the ski doc "Steep," which I wrote about last week (and will have a review of on Friday in Go - I give it a B+, if I recall correctly).

McLean sort of serves as the film's voice of reason, after the death of Doug Coombs and the ever-greater extremes extreme skiers go to. It's a little ironic, given that, that the film's most harrowing scene captures McLean and his party being caught in an avalanche in Iceland. It's seriously intense - you've never seen anything like this on film before.

I talked to McLean for a few minutes after the film's premiere at Telluride. He was pretty positive about the film, having a record of extreme skiing's history and honoring its pioneers. He said his mom was always wondering what exactly it is that he does and, with this, he could just show her the movie.

Can't imagine what he and Stephen Colbert will have to talk about, but I'll be watching.

Drilling for gas near the Sand Dunes

(National Park Service photo by Patrick Myers of an autumn view of the dunes and Sangre de Cristo Mountains from Zapata Falls Recreation Area)

Did you catch this story in The Gazette over the weekend by R. Scott Rappold? It's got our commenters hopping.

In a nutshell:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to let a Canadian energy company drill for natural gas in the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, which is in the San Luis Valley, within 2 miles of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

Environmental groups are worried about the impact on wildlife, air and water quality, and the nearby national park, but federal officials say their hands are tied.

Toronto-based Lexam Energy Exploration owns mineral rights and wants to drill 2 test wells, which would involve bulldozing and clearing 14.5 acres.

Again, you can read Scott's story here.

He'll update the story in this Sunday's Gazette.

You can read the environmental assessment here.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting comments through March 2, which may be submitted to or to San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 9383 El Rancho Lane, Alamosa, CO 81101.

Snow on the sage

Driving through the sage-covered hills around Gunnison yesterday, I was amazed how much snow there is. I would guess 24 inches of dense, heavy stuff covering prairie hills I don't think I've ever seen hold more than a dusting. No wonder the Division of Wildlife is feeding deer and elk in the area. They can't get through to browse.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A real survivorman

Talk about one tough dude. Check out this story from Reuters:

A Canadian man survived 96 hours pinned under his all-terrain vehicle in the Rocky Mountains by eating rotting animal carcasses, drinking melted snow and thinking of his grandchildren, he said today.

Ken Hildebrand was trapped face down for 4 days and 3 nights in the Crowsnest Pass area of southwestern Alberta, where he tried numerous ways to free himself in below-freezing temperatures.

Throughout the ordeal, he kept wolves and coyotes away by blowing on an emergency whistle.

He was rescued from the wreck by hikers, and has spent a week in a hospital.

He said he was checking animal traps Jan. 8 in an area where ranchers had complained of wolves preying on livestock. The vehicle hit a rock, throwing him off and settling on his legs.

He tried for hours to pry the ATV off, but his awkward position made that impossible.

He stayed alive by eating the animals he had collected, although the rotting flesh made him sick, the Calgary Sun newspaper reported.

Snowboarder dies attempting trick

It appears the 33-year-old snowboarder who died at Breckenridge yesterday was attempting a trick at the Park Lake Terrain Park.

Denver news stations and newspapers say James McLean, a podiatrist from Leawood, Kansas, died after landing on his head just before 2 p.m. He was wearing a helmet. The coroner said he died of a fractured neck.

Here's an UPDATE to this post. McLean was starting a career in physical medicine and rehabilitation, not podiatry, as previously noted.

Peace be with James and his family and friends. Man, you just never know when it will happen.

Where's Dave

I'm off to Telluride for the next three days to look at the new Black Iron Bowl, some of that inbounds backcountry-type terrain that has become so popular.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Too cold to run? Not an excuse

A good column from the NYT on getting out in the cold. Read on.

Zebra mussels found in Pueblo Reservoir

Enter the Borg. These guys are the invasive bane of fresh water lakes everywhere. I remember when I lived in Vermont, zebra mussels were slowly taking over the floor of Lake Champlain. It was big news, because apparently Champ won't eat shellfish. Let's hope the creatures in Lake Pueblo aren't as picky.

Katie Compton gallery

Today Out There has a profile of top cyclocross rider Katie Compton who left Colorado Springs this week to compete in the World Champs in Italy. Here's the story.
Here's some more images and vid:

Here's video from a small American race that gives you an idea of the courses.
Here's video from last year's World Cup Championships in Belgium.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Off-piste in Austria

Michael Hagen, who we featured in our spread on randonee racing in last week's Out There section, sent a couple pix from his recent trip to Austria, where the children start ski touring before they're out of diapers. The snow's looking pretty decent, eh?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Stroke of luck leads to Mt. Hood rescue

Talk about lucky.
Achance encounter with a plastic bottle early Tuesday helped two lost climbers find their way off the lower flanks of Mount Hood after a night spent huddled in a hastily built snow cave.

The bottle, apparently left by someone playing an adventure game, held map coordinates giving their precise location. And the two Portland men spotted it just as searchers called their cell phones -- which they mistakenly believed had stopped working for good the night before.

Read more here.

Surf in the City

We bloggarians love posting these stories about futuristic indoor sports parks where people can ski in Texas or kayak in the desert. The latest is London's proposed surf park, where for 30 quid you can hang 10 for an hour. It plans to open in 2011.
My bet: ain't gonna happen. I've written about a snowless terrain park set to open in Castle Rock, or a ski resort in Texas. We note how they have plans, investors, and proposed opening dates. Then nothing happens. To this day there is no artificial snow park in the United States.

Climber on Little Bear presumed dead

20-year-old University of Norther Colorado Student Lygon Stevens is presumed dead after an avalanche on the southwest face of Little Bear Peak on Thursday swept her away as she hiked with her brother, Nick.

Nick Stevens, 23, survived, stumbled down the mountain and called authorities when he got cell-phone reception shortly before 9 a.m. Friday.

Authorities searched with ground crews and helicopters but called off the search Saturday due to the increasingly dangerous weather conditions and the presumption that Lygon Stevens had died.

Lygon Stevens and her brother scaled several mountain peaks including the tallest in North America, Mount McKinley in Alaska.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mount Hood climbers safe

You may have heard/read earlier that two climbers were missing on Mount Hood (11,239 feet), although they had talked to rescuers via a cell phone.

They're down and safe now, after spending a night in a snow cave.

Justin Votos, 27, and Matthew Pitts, 28, said they'd summited twice before, and thought they had a good climbing window but got caught in whiteout conditions at about 10,000 feet.

They started hiking down toward Timberline Lodge, but missed it and said they built the cave at about 5,000 feet.

Walking down today they found a geocache with GPS gear that allowed them to report their location to rescuers via cell phone. They were near Enid Lake and less than a mile from U.S. 26.

Great news for those two, and a reminder to the rest of us to be prepared for the worst.

Mountaineer promotes peace

Former Out There writer Deb Acord talked to Greg Mortensen of Montana a few times in her career at The Gazette. She helped shine a light on Greg's campaign to improve the lives of people in the remote villages of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The co-founder of the Central Asia Institute met the people while climbing in the region.

You can hear about Greg's efforts tonight at 7 at Shove Chapel at Colorado College. Doors open at 6:30. I imagine the seats will quickly fill up.

The event is sponsored by Univ. of Colorado at Colorado Springs' Center for Homeland Security (educated kids become adult workers, not terrorists), and comes on the heels of Greg's success as an author. Check out his book, "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time."

Greg decided to help the villagers after they nursed him back to health after a climbing mishap. His efforts have resulted in construction of at least 64 schools.

Practice dodging blowdown

A new report says pine beetles will likely kill every mature lodgepole pine in Colorado in the next five years. That will likely leave millions of acres of forest standing dead. The dead forest will then eventually fall over, probably during storms and high winds. The blowdown can be a big danger for hikers because, if a tree falls in the woods, and you're under it, you may not ever make a sound again.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Another weekend trail report

Hiked in Red Rock Canyon on Saturday with my mom, who's visiting from the San Diego area. She falls more deeply in love with the park every visit.
Stretches of trail that see a lot of midday sun have some snowmelt and resulting mud, but most of the trails were snow-covered.
Trails that follow roads were the slickest where tires had tread - or hundreds of feet had walked the tread tracks. Walking the ridge between the tracks was easier going.
Remember, even if it's a bit muddy, stay on the trail. Going off trail does not help the trail system.

Areas of the Goddesses/Contemplative trial were slick, too. Yaktraks help. We saw a few people using trekking poles, too, for added balance.
We hiked Red Rock Canyon to Roundup to Goddesses. Gorgeous. With today's sunshine and relative warmth and Wednesday's predicted freeze, however, look out. It could make hikes a bit more treacherous.

A LOT of unleashed dogs running around. All of them friendly to us, but that's not the point. More than one eager pup jumped up, which could have been a problem if we'd been standing on an icy section of trail.
And while I'm on the topic of dogs -- take along waste bags. There was a fair amount of dog poop in the middle of trails. Frozen dog poop is not more aesthetic nor easier to get off your hiking boot than it is in dry conditions.

Avalanche deaths running high

As Dave noted below, 1 more Coloradan was killed in an avalanche over the weekend.

Another 3 people were killed in Wyoming, bringing to 21 the number of people killed in avalances in the West since Nov. 12. The national annual average for avalanche deaths is about 25.

35 people were killed nationwide in avalanches in the 2001-02 season, the most on record, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Before heading into the backcountry, experts advise you recognize the signs of avalanche danger and take a course -- or courses -- in avalanche survival. You can get regular updates on general danger at the Colorado Avalance Information Center. If you go to the Web site now, you'll see a good portion of our mountains are posted as "considerable" danger to avalanches.

You can look up classes at the site, too.

The Wyoming victims were snownmobilers. The Coloradan was a skier. Skiers also are said to have triggered 3 avalanches Saturday on Loveland Pass.

And 2 skiers were caught in but survived a slide Sunday near Cache Peak in the Gros Ventre Wildnerness in Wyoming. One suffered a broken leg.

Powder and No Crowds

Here's a weekend ski report from Out There friend and Biz editor Joanna Bean:

I skiied Winter Park/Mary Jane on Sunday after a years-long hiatus (too long of a day trip for me from Colorado Springs). I'd heard and read about some of the changes there, particularly the condo development around the base.

I was pleasantly surprised that Winter Park still "feels" like it used to, for the most part.

I didn't ski Jane as much as I would have liked (had the kids with me) but we found plenty to keep us busy at Winter Park. (And I snuck in a few trips through the bumps on Retta's Run and Outrigger.)

If you're an intermediate skier, head over to the Pioneer Express lift, on the Vasquez Ridge of Winter Park. We found plenty of powder and no crowds. Views were great, too.

Also new this year off Jane's Parsenn Bowl is what they're calling North America's highest six-person chairlift, along with new glade terrain. That's high on my list for my next no-kids ski day.

"Please do not urinate on the peak"

So says the sign atop Alberta Peak at Wolf Creek, the final stop on our weekend swing through southwest Colorado. My wife and I left Thursday morning and hit, in order, Kendall Mountain, Silverton, Purgatory (DMR), Hesperus and Wolf Creek.

It was an interesting excursion. Wolf Creek Pass didn't reopen until Wednesday afternoon, after being closed since Sunday. We'd originally planned to take the northern route through Gunnison and makea loop out of it, but Red Mountain Pass didn't open until Thursday night.

We arrived at Silverton at about 3:30 p.m., just enough time for my wife to catch a few runs at Kendall Mountain. It's Silverton's local hill - about 200 vertical feet, $15 lift tickets and one, newly installed chairlift. With just a few school kids on the hill, Carrie caught some powder turns and said there were some fun little tree shots.

Friday we were skiing Silverton Mountain, the all-expert, double-diamond-only backcountry legend. The only thing legendary about our day there was how bad the weather was. The area didn't open until 11 a.m. - at one point, they called all the ski patrollers together to hold a vote on whether they'd open at all. We only got three runs in, two of which were nothing special. The last, down the Stooges, was knee-deep powder. So the potential was certainly there.

Probably the worst thing was listening to people who had skied on Thursday say "Yesterday, this was all powder" as we skied across bullet-proof wind-blown crust. Our guide, John, had to stop us a couple times because the wind and cold were causing white spots on our faces - incipient frostbite.

Silverton's a great town, though. I've never been in a place so quiet. At one point we saw a coyote running down main street.

Saturday we hit Purgatory, or, as it's called these days "Durango Mountain Resort." Purgatory is a way cooler name. For a resort that aspires to be a Breckenridge or a Copper, DMR was nothing special. If you've skied the blues at Breck, you won't find anything very interesting at Purgatory. The place was pretty well skied out, too. We found a trace of powder in some of the trees. Pretty scenery, though.

We got bored with Purgatory around lunch time and headed to Hesperus. A lot of people haven't heard of this place. It's Durango's local area - one lift and a couple hundred acres of converted cow pasture 20 minutes outside of town. I kid you not: the boundary rope was barb wire fence. The "slow" sign at the base of the lift was borrowed from a construction site.

Don't let any of this deter you: Hesperus rocked. The only people there were kids and dudes in camo or coveralls. And, god bless them, they stayed on the kiddie hill. With maybe 500 feet of vertical, Hesperus had some steep sections and, a week after the big dump, those steeps were still covered in powder. There were even some miniature cliff shots.

I'm not kidding: We found better powder at Hesperus than at Purgatory (and we both took harder crashes at Hesperus than we did at Silverton). We had a lot of fun spending an afternoon there. I'm not saying it would be worth a 300-mile drive, but if you're in the area, it's sure as heck worth $32.

Finally, we stopped at Wolf Creek on Sunday. We'd debated blowing off Wolf to save some cash and get home a little earlier. We actually stopped at a gas station in Pagosa Springs just to ask somebody with skis on their car what the conditions were. They advised us to stick around and that was sound, sound advice. We got up there at 9 a.m. and were one of the first cars in the lot. All day long, we were skiing runs without seeing another soul.

First run, we hiked up Alberta Peak. It was pretty wind-blown and cold up there, but two turns on the crust and it was powder the rest of the way down. It looked skied out, but it was actually really, really good. The entire rest of the day, we did laps on the Alberta Lift (which, despite the name, doesn't go back up the peak). It was a beautiful sunny Sunday, a week after the last storm, and we were skiing shin-deep powder. It was amazing. Just fantastic, fantastic conditions.

Mostly, we were dropping down off the Coyote Loop cat track -the further back we went, the better the powder got. We stared down our vertigo for one run off the Knife Ridge. That traverse is just plain scary, but the powder provided soft landings off the ridge line.

We skied until 2:30, didn't have a bad run and were back in the Springs four hours later.
Anyway, I hope to do a story about the southwestern ski areas at some point (got the headline already: "Western Slopes"), but I wanted to throw this out there for anyone planning a trip this winter.