Backcountry Touring and 14er Skiing Progression

Info, conditions and gear related to skiing or riding Colorado Peaks, including the 14ers!
Forum rules
Please do not use this forum to advertise, sell photos or other products or promote a commercial website. For more details, please see the Terms of Use you agreed to when joining the forum.
User avatar
kwhit24
Posts: 174
Joined: 10/5/2015
14ers:summits50 
13ers:summits76 
Trip Reports (7)

Backcountry Touring and 14er Skiing Progression

Post by kwhit24 » Wed Jan 03, 2018 3:54 pm

Previously there have been topics about summer hiking progression and good discussions/insight about which peaks people went for to get more confidence, comfort/risk tolerance, and skill. What has been your progression in the hiking "off" season? Where would you suggest people to start touring or hike-to-skiing?

This spring I plan to ski my first 14er (and I plan to take an avy class). Proper gear and training/classes aside, I'm curious where someone with no touring experience but a lot of resort hike-to experience should start. Hopefully come spring I can find some more experienced people on here willing to help me take some trips either touring or skiing down a 14er.
User avatar
Dave B
Posts: 1929
Joined: 6/14/2010
14ers: List not added
Trip Reports (9)

Re: Backcountry Touring and 14er Skiing Progression

Post by Dave B » Wed Jan 03, 2018 4:04 pm

James Peak, St. Vrain Mountain, and Flattop in RMNP are good teeth-cutters. Squaretop can be skied with minimal avy exposure. North gully on Guyot makes a good next step ski with pretty low risk.

Quandary is the obvious first choice for a 14er ski descent. After that I'm kind of clueless since most of my peak skiing was on 13ers on the FRange.
User avatar
EatinHardtack
Posts: 1074
Joined: 7/10/2006
14ers:summits42 ski19 winter3 
13ers:summits79 ski37 winter2 
Trip Reports (8)

Re: Backcountry Touring and 14er Skiing Progression

Post by EatinHardtack » Wed Jan 03, 2018 4:21 pm

Get some education and start getting the hang of touring at resorts before lifts open. Most resorts allow you to uphill, just check their policy and maps.

Definitely vet your partners as you ease into skiing peaks. You will find out pretty quickly that everyone in your party needs to be on the same page and communication is key. Again your entire party has to be able to step back and say "maybe this isn't the day" while everyone is ok with it. You'll also find out quickly that you may work well with some people but not others. Just part of the process.

As for peaks my first few were Sherman, Quandary and Elbert. Worked my way up to harder descents. FYI, I've skied more fun lines on 13ers than 14ers, so don't let elevation hold you back.

Also get good at skiing absolutely every condition. Hard pan, ice, sastrugi, corn, maybe even some powder, etc etc. you will see it all on peaks. Not every descent is a gem, some a rough and you just want it over, but the good ones always make you come back.
"In our youths our hearts were touched with fire" - Oliver Wendell Holmes
User avatar
bergsteigen
Posts: 2270
Joined: 6/14/2008
14ers:summits58 ski52 winter18 
13ers:summits519 ski98 winter18 
Trip Reports (233)
Contact:

Re: Backcountry Touring and 14er Skiing Progression

Post by bergsteigen » Wed Jan 03, 2018 5:39 pm

First off, realize that there will be a steep learning curve! New equipment, skins, AT boots and each will have its own quirks. Transitioning will take time to learn. The main run on the western end of Berthoud Pass is a great place to practice.

Being a good resort skier does not mean you will be a good backcountry skier, right away. It takes time to get good in the BC, so be patient!

As for 14ers and 13ers (and lower): I’ve been working on my own page (http://otinasadventures.com/index.php?map=skimo_map). I’m adding in the traditional green circle, blue square and black diamonds to denote what I (and others) have rated the route.

NOTE: green does NOT mean easy. Just that they are the easiest of the routes.

As Zach mentions, choose partners carefully. Everyone has different risk tolerance levels as well as pace and skills. Find a mentor if you can, and treat them well!
Attachments
6113BBEA-4EB9-4AAA-8032-BE38927F3DC7.jpeg
My peaks skied and route ratings
6113BBEA-4EB9-4AAA-8032-BE38927F3DC7.jpeg (687.73 KiB) Viewed 5582 times
53D53FB2-5993-42EB-809A-BD077D9E663F.jpeg
Ski scale description
53D53FB2-5993-42EB-809A-BD077D9E663F.jpeg (648.97 KiB) Viewed 5582 times
"Auto racing, bull fighting, and mountain climbing are the only real sports ... all others are games." - Ernest Hemingway (or was it Barnaby Conrad?)
Your knees only get so many bumps in life, don't waste them on moguls!
“No athlete is truly tested until they’ve stared an injury in the face and come out on the other side stronger than ever” -anonymous

http://otinasadventures.com @otina
User avatar
SchralpTheGnar
Posts: 1598
Joined: 2/26/2008
14ers:summits51 ski49 winter1 
13ers:summits28 ski21 
Trip Reports (20)

Re: Backcountry Touring and 14er Skiing Progression

Post by SchralpTheGnar » Wed Jan 03, 2018 6:44 pm

One does not simply ski a 14er, or maybe one does, you never know, that’s what makes skiing 14ers such a crazy game.

Berthoud is a good place to start. Do you have an at setup? Do you have Avy gear? Have you skied corbets?
User avatar
Conor
Posts: 971
Joined: 9/2/2014
14ers:summits41 ski6 winter6 
13ers:summits41 ski1 winter1 
Trip Reports (7)

Re: Backcountry Touring and 14er Skiing Progression

Post by Conor » Wed Jan 03, 2018 6:56 pm

In order of importance when it comes to picking a ski (or winter partner).

1) ability to find and pull me out of an avalanche, if it were to come to that. If you aren't proficient at using your beacon, probe and shovel, you're useless.

2) Ability to travel in avy terrain. In 93% of avy accidents, the avalanche is triggered by the victim or someone within the victims' party. You need to know what the dangers are, elevations/aspects to avoid and how to read the terrain. I've been extremely lax in this area, and I am going back to filling out the lame blue book for each trip. I'm reading Temper's "Avalanche Essentials" right now and he makes the point that 1.4% of avalanche victims are avalanche professionals, despite them spending significantly more time in avalanche terrain in more "danger" than the average bear. Temper says it is "system" used by professionals that keep them safe. Aviation uses a "system" as well, not sure why it seems awkward to do it at the trailhead?

3) physical fitness. Skis are heavy. Winter gear is heavy. approaches are longer.

4) ski ability.

This is just me. But, IMO, you need to make the avy investment to be deemed a reliable partner. A lot of people throw the noobs in as a 3rd and 4th man, which I think is a mistake.
User avatar
lodgling
Posts: 461
Joined: 6/21/2005
14ers:summits58 ski57 winter2 
13ers:summits18 ski1 
Trip Reports (11)

Re: Backcountry Touring and 14er Skiing Progression

Post by lodgling » Wed Jan 03, 2018 10:33 pm

As far as 14ers are concerned, if you wait for actual spring conditions, all the avy stuff simplifies. Colorado’s winter snowpack sucks so don’t expect to figure that out without years of practice. Don’t trust someone who thinks they have the winter snowpack all figured out.

So for 14ers, I’d put the focus on your ability to get up and down without falling. The same goes for partners. A great boot pack setter that goes on a slide for life on the way down is a liability.

For actual spring (generally):

1. Clear night skies = good freeze.
2. Alpine start = less worries about hot snow.
3. Coldish snow = safe descent (assuming you don’t fall).

#2 is the most important to me because it is the factor I control. Aspect determines how early is early enough. Dawson’s book identifies sunhit for a lot of the lines. I’d rather nap on the top waiting for corn to ripen or ski hard refrozen than risk skiing too late.

Think snow!
User avatar
gb
Posts: 888
Joined: 12/12/2006
14ers:summits56 ski54 winter6 
13ers:summits65 ski59 
Trip Reports (26)

Re: Backcountry Touring and 14er Skiing Progression

Post by gb » Thu Jan 04, 2018 9:14 am

bergsteigen wrote: As for 14ers and 13ers (and lower): I’ve been working on my own page (http://otinasadventures.com/index.php?map=skimo_map). I’m adding in the traditional green circle, blue square and black diamonds to denote what I (and others) have rated the route.
How many of these are "your" D ratings, and how many are other skier's ratings? Ratings have always been so hard, it's so dependent on conditions. Until the day arrives when routes have 50 ratings that can be averaged, it's a tough one... I like seeing your numbers though, way to keep track!

OP, The best advice is to just slowly work your way towards harder routes, and hopefully find some partners with more experience that can mentor you. Also, there is no shame in hiring a guide and picking their brain, even though that's not as typical here in the USA...
User avatar
bergsteigen
Posts: 2270
Joined: 6/14/2008
14ers:summits58 ski52 winter18 
13ers:summits519 ski98 winter18 
Trip Reports (233)
Contact:

Re: Backcountry Touring and 14er Skiing Progression

Post by bergsteigen » Thu Jan 04, 2018 11:35 am

gb wrote:
bergsteigen wrote: As for 14ers and 13ers (and lower): I’ve been working on my own page (http://otinasadventures.com/index.php?map=skimo_map). I’m adding in the traditional green circle, blue square and black diamonds to denote what I (and others) have rated the route.
How many of these are "your" D ratings, and how many are other skier's ratings? Ratings have always been so hard, it's so dependent on conditions. Until the day arrives when routes have 50 ratings that can be averaged, it's a tough one... I like seeing your numbers though, way to keep track!
Whenever possible I’ve used Dawson’s or BillM’s ratings. Mine are most of the non-14ers that Lou hasn’t rated. Ratings will certainly depend on the conditions! I skied Blanca on an average snow year, and my rating will always be harder than when BillM skied it in quarter century level powder! I typically use my inclinometer on slopes as I’m going up to get a reading. Though high vs low snow year will also effect this measurement too.

A relative/subjective rating is better than nothing!
"Auto racing, bull fighting, and mountain climbing are the only real sports ... all others are games." - Ernest Hemingway (or was it Barnaby Conrad?)
Your knees only get so many bumps in life, don't waste them on moguls!
“No athlete is truly tested until they’ve stared an injury in the face and come out on the other side stronger than ever” -anonymous

http://otinasadventures.com @otina
User avatar
kwhit24
Posts: 174
Joined: 10/5/2015
14ers:summits50 
13ers:summits76 
Trip Reports (7)

Re: Backcountry Touring and 14er Skiing Progression

Post by kwhit24 » Thu Jan 04, 2018 12:39 pm

EatinHardtack wrote:Get some education and start getting the hang of touring at resorts before lifts open. Most resorts allow you to uphill, just check their policy and maps.

Definitely vet your partners as you ease into skiing peaks. You will find out pretty quickly that everyone in your party needs to be on the same page and communication is key. Again your entire party has to be able to step back and say "maybe this isn't the day" while everyone is ok with it. You'll also find out quickly that you may work well with some people but not others. Just part of the process.

As for peaks my first few were Sherman, Quandary and Elbert. Worked my way up to harder descents. FYI, I've skied more fun lines on 13ers than 14ers, so don't let elevation hold you back.

Also get good at skiing absolutely every condition. Hard pan, ice, sastrugi, corn, maybe even some powder, etc etc. you will see it all on peaks. Not every descent is a gem, some a rough and you just want it over, but the good ones always make you come back.
Uphill at the resorts is where I plan to start because, like you said, most allow uphill skiing before lift service starts and some have designated routes during (Eldora and Crested Butte do but they also cost money during operating hours).

I'm not really sure how to find partners (Maybe getting to know people at the resort uphill skiing) because I only know one person with any BC experience and it's all Montana. He doesn't know any of the routes or places to go here.
bergsteigen wrote: Being a good resort skier does not mean you will be a good backcountry skier, right away. It takes time to get good in the BC, so be patient!
And that's part of why I'm asking a lot of people for advice and trying to go about it in the right way to do it safely. Hiking and skiing are two passions of mine and I look forward to the physical challenges. Plus it might be a way to get away from some of the resort crowds.

When I said "ski a 14er this spring" I should've said use skiing just as means to avoid post-holing down. I'm also not limiting myself to just 14ers in the future but all kinds of mountains and places. I don't currently have an AT set-up or all the avy gear but I'm working on it (different discussion but I'm looking at putting some Kingpins and Griffons on a 110-115 underfoot as #2 in a 2 ski quiver. I know it wouldn't be a sole AT set up and I'm going to sacrifice some weight in the ski but it'd be something for 50/50 resort and BC. Looking at Moment Deathwish or Head Kore 117).

How did any of you know or feel confident enough to go for a true winter ski descent (regardless of elevation)? Did it take years of BC experience? Just finding the right partners and training?
Oldmoose
Posts: 1
Joined: 10/15/2014
14ers: List not added

Re: Backcountry Touring and 14er Skiing Progression

Post by Oldmoose » Thu Jan 04, 2018 1:10 pm

This is a historical reply for Otina. My parents and their friends skied Berthod Pass prior to WWII and right after. They would car shuttle. The East side was called Hoop Creek and the West side was called 7 Mile. That was what they told me as I started skiing at the Berthod Pass Ski Area in the late 1940's. They may have used the technique on other passes.
User avatar
AlexeyD
Posts: 1275
Joined: 10/28/2013
14ers:summits40 ski4 winter2 
Trip Reports (3)

Re: Backcountry Touring and 14er Skiing Progression

Post by AlexeyD » Thu Jan 04, 2018 2:49 pm

I hope I'm not going too much out on a limb here to say that skiing one of the classic easier 14er descents such as Quandary or Sherman in spring conditions is not an unreasonable objective for a strong in-bounds skier with hike-to experience. Certainly get some practice in with your new setup at a place like Berthoud Pass, but once you get a feel for it, either of those would be fine for a first "big" high altitude tour. That being said, I will mention that the N gully of Guyot (which was mentioned earlier) is about the same difficulty but a much more fun and higher quality descent, IMO.
Post Reply