We stayed at the Grand Imperial Hotel, full of Victorian charm and reminiscent of a time when the mines were active.
Day one - Molas pass.
The bus dropped us off under a blue sky, no wind, and lots of fresh snow. Conditions were perfect.
Two groups headed south to Andrews Lake and further south in hopes of reaching Crater lake. I had my eyes set on moderate angle terrain about 3/4 of a mile south of Andrews Lake. Kirk Mazzie and I set out, following the long train of skiers on lighter gear that was faster on the flats. Kirk and I were both on alpine touring (AKA randonnee) gear that allows a free heel for climbing, but locks the heel for down hill skiing. Since we both are ski resort babies that learned to ski with a locked heel, this was perfect for us.
Foot bridge over Andrews Lake. We bypassed it, skiing over the frozen, snow covered surface.
Signs of high wind were obvious far above treeline.
The class three tour to Crater lake followed our skin track up the ridge....
...and continued south...
We looked north, down slope...coveting the powder between widely spaced trees.
A successful first run!
Kirk carefully sampled the powder's depth and consistency. We both agreed that the snow was very easy to ski...a foot of light and fresh over a firm base.
To the southeast Snowdon Peak rises above a foreground ridge.
Kirk and I enjoyed the ski down so much that we skinned up for a second lap.
We noticed clouds moving in from the west...
...and could see that falling snow was hiding the distant peaks. Bad weather was moving in.
The view north told us the same story - approaching storm. It was time to ski down and return to the bus.
Overview of Molas Pass area, planned route (black), and actual route (red).
Back at the Grand Imperial Hotel we realized that the four-poster beds made excellent drying racks.
Day two - Red Mountain Pass. The bus needed chains.
The most technical climb was getting out of the parking lot, which required booting up the eight-foot snow bank. Snow conditions were again great, but visibility was poor. Guy Miller led a class three tour group up toward US Basin, while Kirk, Gordon, and I had plans to find skiable terrain in the same general vicinity...if weather would allow.
After only one mile and 400 feet of skinning we reached (together with some locals we met on the way) the Saint Paul lodge. This looks like an awful good place to access moderate angle ski terrain, especially the glades to the south.
A smaller cabin sits next to Saint Paul Lodge.
Skinning up and past the lodge we entered the bottom of US Basin. My initial plan was to climb a gentle ridge on the north side of the basin that leads up to about 12,500 feet, but low visibility forced a change in plans. Instead we would follow the trees until they topped out and ski down in their shelter to the right. (And the locals had similar plans.) Guy's group pushed up into US Basin (AKA 'the milk-bowl').
Gordon skinning up to the top of the tree line.
At tree line we stopped to rest, snack...and rip skins.
Silent testimony to the wonderful glade skiing south of Saint Paul Lodge. The powder was deeper here than at Molas Pass.
Kirk was feeling tired and headed to Saint Paul Lodge, but Gordon and I headed up again for a second run. Our skin track was sometimes a foot deep! Good thing the locals were ahead of us to break trail.
On the way up we saw distant ghosts...Guy's group returning from their 'braille ski pole' tour to the saddle at the top of US Basin. This day they were denied the hundred mile view.
I kept eyeing terrain above tree line, but poor visibility, winds, and recent snow loading on the steeper slopes kept me turning back into the trees. The bus was back early and there were concerns of the pass closing...or at least deteriorating conditions. Time to ski down.
I told you the most technical part of the route was the parking lot snow bank. Ignore it at your own peril.
Chet wisely takes the easy way down.
Guy covers the last 200 yards to the bus...next to a very deep snow pack.
No matter how foul the weather, Karen always smiles.
Overview of US Basin and Big Horn Gulch south of Saint Paul Lodge. I originally wanted to ski farther down the gulch, but the locals told us it would be one helluva slog back up, so we only skied down as far as the lodge (red line) and returned on established skin tracks. Yes, skiing farther down would involve climbing and breaking trail in very deep snow...very tiring. The locals also mentioned the possibility of skiing the Power Line just outside the town of Silverton. A few of us ruminated on that hint over dinner that night....
Day three - the Power Line. The south end of Silverton has a small ski area. This is the start of the Aspen Town loop that Guy Miller was going to cover today, and also led to the Power Line.
Kendall Mountain takes it on the chin. Doesn't the wind ever stop blowing up there?
The Power Line. Narrow and steep...and with a decent snow cover. Looked good to me, Eric, and Gordon.
As we skinned up the switchback road we crossed the Power Line again, and it was clear that the higher we climbed...the fewer tracks there were. Things were looking up.
Gordon was all fired up to climb. I think he smelled food at the top.
After racing Guy's group to the top, we ripped skins and tightened boots...and then dropped in to sample steeper powder. Gordon demonstrates classic telemark turn technique.
This turn earned a 10.0 from the Russian judge! But comments were made on the choice of hat.
Eric also telemarks, but he used parallel technique to negotiate the narrow Power Line.
The switchback road was a convenient stopping point...and we were too tired to take the run non-stop anyway.
Overview of the Power Line (red) and switchback road that is part of the Aspen Town Loop. 90 minutes of climbing were good for 10 minutes of skiing. Next time I may hire a snowmobile to shuttle me up.