Season’s Greetings From The Telluride Backcountry
The snowpack may be average, but the Telluride backcountry has been exciting and full of surprises. The winter season in the North San Juan region has been characterized by a number of anomalies. There have been pros and cons, as I will discuss. Nevertheless, the best skiing has been found in the backcountry, and relatively low avalanche danger has allowed some bigger lines earlier in the season than usual. Furthermore, as a result of several intense wind events, the snow conditions have been varied from miserable to hero.
The season began with very little snow accumulation in the mountains. In an unusually warm and dry start to the season, most aspects were bare in mid-November. However, this was a blessing in disguise, because once it started snowing, it didn’t stop and our snowpack built up steadily upon a stable layer. In fact, the notoriously sketchy San Juan region was, and probably still is, the safest in Colorado because of our lack of early season snow that provides the basis for a faceted snowpack in a continental setting. This put us in an excellent spot to enjoy our resort’s access to the goods!
Because there was little pre-season snow reported, we can appreciate the fact that nearly all of our 166 inches YTD have fallen while the resort was open. Things started happening fast. Our base went from 0 to hero in a matter of a couple of weeks, with the Plunge (9) and Gold Hill (14) opening by mid-December. The second half of December remains the most epic part of our season thus far if I do say so myself.
The smoke stayed real cold in those dark December days… how I remember those days before the winds arrived! While we may have started the season with Gusto, as the great Andrew “Gusto” Orowitz would say, we soon paid the price for such decadent powder skiing. Come January, one of the biggest of all-time for some Northwestern resorts, we saw a 10-day wind event in which the devil stole much of our snow from the alpine – removed to his lair, never to be seen again.
Things got harrowing in the alpine, with semi-breakable wind crusts dominating the scene. Every turn you had to wonder – is it going to break? Sometimes. Not always. Luckily, we had some cool rap routes to focus our fidgety little brains on.
Then it started snowing again – just little dumps but enough to get back up into the alpine and do some ‘splorin’.
Alas, despite our hunger for powder and an unrelenting dedication to our beneficent God, Ullr, the devil and his minions (known in some parts as “tourists” or “gapers”) were able to successfully attack. Tragically, with the help of the chilly air that Ullr had kindly bestowed upon us, disease struck the Telluride community with the force of a meteorite. With passionate skiers struck down, powder days missed, and beers and spliffs cast aside indefinitely, suffering and perseverance became the name of the game. On every corner, freeriders could be heard moaning with pain or coughing wretchedly in their dark, foreboding chambers.
Unfortunately, that saga brings us to the present day. Some have recovered, some are still sick, but all voices pray, in unison, for the snow to make its triumphant return to the great North San Juans, where no steep goes unskied, no leaf unstemmed, and no flake unflung by the great tips of our powerful ripsticks.
Telluride Backcountry Conditions + Forecast
Don’t forget to check the avalanche report at: