Literally The Best Season Ever: Telluride Season Conditions Report + Photo Tour

Sergei Poljak | BackcountryBackcountry | Conditions ReportConditions ReportTrip ReportTrip Report
Scott Kennett living the legend on a perfect powder day, with the San Joaquin Couloir standing watch in the background. Photo: Sergei Poljak

Telluride, CO had the best season of all-time this year! Anyone younger than thirty had the best winter of their life. Anyone over forty may never have another winter like this again, at least in the San Juans. After having one of our worst winters ever last year, and an extremely dry summer to beat, this year’s snowpack was essential not only to our sanity but the very core of this fragile mountain ecosystem.

The season started off early, with two feet in early October. We got a few laps in at Red Mountain Pass before heading off to Moab for the off-season. This early season snow served the foundation for several months of faceted snowpack – one which proved to be deadly on multiple occasions in the San Juans this year.

The first big pow day of the season was December first. Still got the bike on the back of the van!

Dumping! Still got the bike on the van! Photo: Sergei Poljak.

We slowly built a snowpack over the course of December. No super deep days, but it stayed cold and most of the good lift access, non-hike-to terrain was open by Christmas.

And_Or getting some in ole Swamp-womp! Photo: Sergei Poljak

January was cold, cloudy, and snowy as we continued to build a base and tally an average snowpack YTD. In typical Telluride fashion, the snow piled up slowly, with many two or three inch pow days keeping things soft. The base was still very thin down low, somewhat impeding enjoyment in the backcountry, and up high facets remained near the surface, easily agitated by a skier making turns down the mountain. On January 7th, a skier was killed in the alpine on Red Mountain Pass during a Level 2 Avalanche Class. We spent most of this period ripping the bumps and steeps around the resort. As we approached a forty or fifty-inch base, the trees began to fill in and our boundaries slowly opened.

Tom Huntley getting it on my first Creek lap of the year. January 2nd. Good up top, so bad down low! So many good laps to come though! Photo: Sergei Poljak

Of note is January 25th. One of the best days of the season. Super sleeper powder day where there was little forecasted snow, only 2 inches in town, and only 6 inches on the report in the morning. Snow ratios must have been 25-1 liquid equivalent and there was NOBODY on the mountain. Soft base from snow two days before. Half clouds half sun. Good visibility. Untracked powder every run until 2 p.m. The lesson being that the best day of your season will probably not be the deepest day, but rather the unexpected, sleeper day. Pay attention, and be ready to slay at any time!

Tight like tiger! Snowboarders only! Telluride in January, baby! Had to downclimb this one for a bit. Didn’t make it back here again this season, but next year I’m pinning it! Photo: Sergei Poljak
Pilot Knob in all its glory in January. Photo: Sergei Poljak

It was around this time that it began to snow in earnest. February and March proved to be two of the best months in the HISTORY of the resort. Virtually every day was a powder day, whether inbounds, out of bounds, or somewhere in the backcountry in the San Juans.Check out these numbers! 250% of average snowfall in March!

Miracle March! Still riding that high! Credit: OpenSnow.

 

Those two weeks at the beginning of March! So many DEEP days in and around Telluride Ski Resort! My body has never been so tired, stoke never so high – truly, I was running on stoke! That shit is strong, man! Credit: OpenSnow.

There were no less than THREE natural avalanche cycles this winter, the third being truly historic in all respects, including frequency and scale. Many of these avalanches far outran their existing paths, tearing down trees and shutting down roads.

The paths on the backside of the resort came into condition around the beginning of February. That’s when the real fun began!

Jacob Rueter in the steep and deep near Telluride Ski Area! Photo: Sergei Poljak
Sergei making a soft turn in the path through the woods! Photo: Jake Rueter
Sergei in the twilight on Red Mountain Pass. Photo: Andy Orowitz
Coolies! Photo: Andy Orowitz.
Jake Rueter slashes one for the photo. Actually, he just always skis that nice. Photo: Sergei Poljak
Wasatch face, just before we hit all those lines! Photo: Sergei Poljak

Things stabilized at the end of March, just in time for us to hit the big lines on the Wasatch Face and beyond. Heaven’s Eleven! Hairy Banana! San Joaquin! Silver Chute! So many big lines! Even bigger than all those big lines from earlier in the season! These lines are always consequential, and often very dangerous, but this year they were so in condition that it was really just steep powder skiing with some techy intervals.

Sergei making the Hairy Banana look not so steep! Photo: Jake Rueter
Scott taking the first bite of the Hairy Banana. What a sick line! Photo: Jake Rueter
About to drop into the hatch! View into Heaven’s Eleven Couloir from the entrance. Photo: Sergei Poljak
Scotty making those hero turns above Heaven’s Elevens. Photo: Sergei Poljak
I was struck by this view from lift 7 early one spring morning. Photo: Sergei Poljak.
Dave Hilb and I’s perfect tracks coming out of Silver Chute! Photo: Sergei Poljak
Town of Telluride, pitted. Photo: Sergei Poljak
Sergei about to send the San Joaquin Couloir! Photo: Andy Orowitz
Lift 8 on a powder day. What’s better than taking an ancient 2-seater out of town into the wonderful world beyond? Photo: Sergei Poljak

This winter was the best, but there’s not too much else to write – the pictures speak louder than the words. We just got up, skied, worked, slept, did it again in that order.

This winter had me thinking about a lot of things. How lucky I was to have access to such wonderful skiing day in and day out.

The ethereal beauty of waking up in the town of Telluride, stepping out of my van into powder space, and walking, in perfect beauty and silence, to the lifts in town, meeting my friends and skiing 2 or 3 thousand vertical steep powder shots all day. The sheer simplicity of this life contrasted with the intensity of skiing in extreme terrain nearly every day.

The speed, the rush, the thrill, the dolphin turns, the monkey calls in the woods, the slithering, snaking skier elevator-shafting a steep couloir in perfect powder then arriving, fashionably late, to the restaurant to serve the baboons in fancy clothes going to their fancy dinners where they talk about money in fancy words to mask their broken lives. They would never experience the primal joy of it all, so powerfully fulfilling that you get to the bottom and exclaim, passionately, “I fucking love you man” to all of your friends who you just had this experience with. Skiing, the most powerful cement on the market for friendships! The whole damn thing was just surreal!

However, the brightest of hours must be contrasted by the darkest of hours. These are the properties of mankind’s experience in this universe. This winter, Telluride lost two of its most prized locals to backcountry avalanches. This article is dedicated to Salvatore Garcia-Atance and Scott Spencer and their respective families.


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