Today the temperature in Denver reached 100 degrees. While the city folk were likely teeing it up at the golf course, or cooling off at neighborhood pools, I was lugging 25 pounds of ski gear up a 14,000 foot peak just 50 miles west of the city. As I climbed the trail, nearly everyone that I passed had something to say.“Where are you going to ski?,” “Now that’s determination!,” and “Don’t you think it’s a little late in the year for that?” were some of the comments that I heard. On this particular day, my goal was to ski a large snowfield off the summit of 14,278 foot Grays Peak, accessed from the south side of the mountain.
I began my summer skiing adventures at the age of 19, when a friend encouraged me to try to ski every month of the year. My early journeys took me to tiny snow patches that I’d spotted from local 4-wheel drive trails. These patches would usually offer up no more than a few hundred feet of runnelled and suncupped, low-angle slush. I also ventured to some more popular summer skiing spots such as St. Mary’s Glacier, which by late August would hardly qualify as a dirt covered ice cube, let alone a glacier. I knew I could do better than that. As the years went on, I learned where to look to find long-lasting snow patches that held several hundred to several thousand feet of good skiing late into the summer.
Finding the snow is the easy part, safely venturing to and then skiing down them is more difficult. Summer skiing offers up a long list of hazards, from wet slides, to rockfall, to lightning and hail-laden thunderstorms. As for the snow, the cool nights freeze the nearly isothermal snow, locking it up temporarily. As the strong sun rises and begins heating, the surface the snow eventually transforms into something that resembles a snowcone dropped on a hot asphalt parking lot. The goal of the summer skier is to find the perfect blend of these. Dropping in on a summer line too early or too late can be disastrous.
Today, my turns are made nearly three miles above sea level. I find almost ideal conditions for the steep pitch that precipitously drops 2000 feet to an emerald blue lake below. I carve turns to the lake and change into my hiking boots. As I pack up my ski gear and set off on the two-mile hike to the car, I begin to think about the flip-flops, shorts and cold beer waiting at the bottom, and the comments that I’ll get from the passersby on the way down.
By: Doug Evans