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Friday, January 11, 2013

Avalanche livin

Waking up to a wood stove, a gigantic french press and a big bowl of granola, fruit, and yogurt made for a good beginning of an epic day of backcountry splitboarding!

We hit the road for Silverton at 9am leaving from Grand Junction. The air was a crisp 12 degrees and the skies looked of looming danger in the horizon. As Blair was driving his trusty 4-wheel drive ford pickup truck, I pulled out my Iphone and checked the backcountry avalanche forecast. Overnight, Silverton was dumped on by mother nature, clocking in at over 3 feet of powder in some areas. The avalanche forecast called a high alert for avalanches all over the San Juan mountain range which is exactly where we were headed.

After about 2.5 hours of driving, we had just passed an ice climbing competitions in a small town where we started climbing a long mountain pass. Winding switchbacks, no guardrails, and snow covered roads led up and around a fantastically big mountain range. I could feel my heart starting to race, my palms starting to sweat. Completely out of my element I looked up at the snow-covered mountains and said to Blair, "what are we doing?" He chuckled and in a stoic voice said, "were gonna have a blast." I was reassured, Blair has been backcountry splitboarding for a long time. He  taught me  about digging avalanche pits, reading the layers of snow, and making decisions on where to shred. We decided we would stick to the tree lines and not go out into to the open mountain faces because of the avalanche warnings.

We got over the mountain and on the descent into Silverton there was a snow blasting crew. They were posted up in the middle of the road, not letting anyone pass. They were shooting this giant grenade launcher to create "controlled" avalanches and sending them straight into the roads, after the avalanche comes tumbling down, they send in machinery to clear out the roads after blasting. This is to keep natural avalanches from happening while cars are on the roads! Crazy stuff!! We parked about 20 miles south of Silverton and pulled out the splitboards. For those of you who don't know, splitboards are snowboards that come apart down the middle and act as backcountry skis. You put special skins on the bottom of them that make it easier to make your way through deep powder and hike to the top of wherever you're going to start shredding, then you put them back together and snowboard down.

After a quick drill on how to use my avalanche beacon we hit the trail, packs on our backs. The skis crunched lightly on the deep powder and we were soon in the thick Colorado backcountry skinning up slopes that make Butternut look like an ant hill. We hiked to the top of a beautiful forest and got to it.

Powder boarding is a whole different beast than the hard packed trails I grew up on in New England. The powder was about 6 feet deep and it was absolutely the most epic thing I have ever done. I felt like I was in one of those crazy backcountry movies. Blair was like a seasoned veteran floating lightly down and making subtle turns to float his way through the powder. I was more like a toddler flailing my way through the deep powder. I fell down a lot. At one point I was in front of this giant pile of snow and Blair was right below it, he called for me to just lean back and get the front of my board over it. Little did I know it was a giant tree that had fallen down. I leaned back got the front over and then tumbled head first into a giant pillow of powdery goodness. Talk about a pow shot to the face!!!

I made it though!!!! My first real Colorado backcountry experience, a goal I have had for a LONG time was accomplished. I felt a deep sereneness in my heart and gave Blair a giant hug and felt super grateful for the relationships I have created in my life. With giant mountains all around us I felt a deep connection and happiness. We're now chilling in Silverton about to grab some grub and head back out for an entire day in the backcountry again tomorrow!!!

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