Sunday, April 26, 2009

Epic Crested Butte Winter

It was a long winter in Crested Butte, CO this year, and it just wont let go either. We had little early season snow, and I was worried about what to do with the first Avalanche Safety Course of the season. Just in time, it dumped the weekend of the first course, and didn’t let up until the New Year! Christmas time brought three feet of fresh in two days along with high avalanche danger making for tricky conditions during a very busy week of backcountry ski guiding. Luckily I had mostly strong clients and we were able to get out in great powder and get some amazing turns.

The snow stopped in mid January, the sun came out and got warm! We actually got great corn skiing on the higher south facing peaks in the valley, and I was able to take some clients on epic ski mountaineering tours usually reserved for the stable conditions of spring.

The break was short lived, though, and another meter of snow finished out the month, making for some fun avalanche control work with the Crested Butte Pro Ski Patrol.

March came in like a lamb and it seemed the ski season would end early. After two weeks of T-shirt weather and amazingly stable snow and skiing winter returned to no surprise of any local who has seem this pattern before. It always looks like spring in the Rockies before it really is! I took advantage of the warm weather to get in some fantastic ice climbing with clients and friends. The sunny days and cold nights created fat ice in the San Juans and the Black Canyon.

A few more weeks of snow had people grumbling and headed for the desert, but those of us who stuck it out were treated to a high alpine powder fest with big lines being skied with great conditions and little avalanche danger.

With the Crested Butte Mountain Resort ski area closing the first week of April, many of my clients began booking backcountry trips to extend their skiing beyond the lift lines. Unfortunately, after a week of getting after it in the heavier than usual powder, my knees couldn’t take it any more and I tore my ACL. It was an interesting situation as I was 900 vertical feet above the valley and a 6 mile snowmobile ride from the trailhead with two clients and my father who was visiting from Vermont. I still managed some decent one-ski powder turns and got home without any further problems. Being off-season in town already, I couldn’t find a doctor in town for several days! Finally I got a hold of a great surgeon here in CB and he was able to get me into the hospital for repair on Tuesday…..the same day I was scheduled to fly to Chamonix for the spring guiding season. Bummer. Now I am 5 days out of surgery, icing and elevating and watching the snow continue to fly outside my window.

I guess I need a bit of time to catch up on things (like writing this blog) but being forced into it by injury is not the way to go. On the plus side, I should be climbing by June, just when it starts getting good in Colorado, and the doc thinks I will be 100% by the end of July, so I can still get over to the Alps for the end of the summer mountaineering season there.
-Steve Banks