It has been a tough spring here in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado. Spring was a complete dud in terms of moisture and delivered little from the skies except numerous big dust storms. The dust made the already dwindling snowpack melt even faster leaving us with conditions that more resemble late July than early June. What can you do but make the best of a bad hand? This past weekend I loaded up the trusty Subaru Outback for a drive up to Clear Lake above Silverton. Numerous long couloirs lead to aprons that end at the lakes edge making for some of the most scenic runs in the regions.
We packed up our gear, including crampons and ice axes, to make morning skiing some of the half-dozen north facing couloirs above the lake. The climbing was perfect with clear, sunny skies and a light breeze keeping the morning snow firm for the climb up. A few remaining pieces of ice floated lazily across the lake in the warming June sunlight.
At the top of the first couloir I looked down into Ice Lakes Basin just south of my vantage point. The ice was already melted off and the snowpack, shrinking by the day. This is quite possibly one of the most scenic areas in the entire state.
I ditched my spikes and axe in my pack and clipped into my sticks. It had been a few weeks since I was last on skis and the first few turns of this line were the real deal. The consequences of a mistake were big, so I took a moment to check everything over to make sure that I was good to go. I pushed off and linked a couple turns. The corn sprayed a glaze of white across the dark rock walls as I linked turns down a narrow couloir. As I dropped onto the apron, the turns got bigger and the breathing easier. I made my way to the lakes edge and looked at my reflection as I dropped the pack and retooled for another climb — I chuckled as I saw my childlike grin. The snow is going quick and it isn’t epic, but it’s June and I’m skiing in one of America’s great playgrounds while most skiers are sitting back in town dreaming of another winter still 6 solid months away. I’m pretty grateful for what I’ve got.