Words: Allison Perry
Images: Kristofer Noel
On the phone last night with a friend who still lives in NYC, I mentioned that the next morning, this morning, I was awakening at 4:30 am to go skiing with my boyfriend before he had to be at work.
“Ugh. Are you serious?” she asked. “Why would you do that to yourself? I can barely get up at 7 to go to work. You’re crazy.”
Of course she conveyed this all in the good-natured manner of someone who thinks fondly thinks of lunatics, in much the same manner I usually react to anyone who announces they are traiing for a marathon, and while I know she supports whatever insane endeavor I feel I must embark upon, there is no mistaking the fact that she, and many, many others, will never understand the concept of dawn patrol or why we, as backcountry skiers, subject ourselves to its early morning rigors.
Here’s what we sound like: “I’m going to purposefully wake up when it’s still dark out, somehow ski uphill for hours with a bunch of weight attached to my body while gasping for air and alternately freezing and sweating. All this to ski downhill for maybe ten or twenty minutes while risking the possibility of getting caught in an avalanche and/or suffering a horrific injury courtesy of a rock or a tree. I am willingly ignoring the existence of chairlifts and ski resorts, the possible presence of wild animals, and the option to go to the gym for a safe, sheltered, early morning workout.”
As I lurched up the skintrack under the canopy of 5am darkness, I found myself wondering how I could explain all this insanity to my friend in a way that she could understand.
Here’s what I wanted to say, how I thought I might explain it:
While I’ve been on this same skintrack many times, in the space between darkness and waking hours it becomes otherwordly. Nothing exists other than stark white snow and darkened trees, like centurions, lining our path, limbs striving upwards towards straggling stars who stubbornly refuse to blink out as the sky begins to turn bluer and bluer.
As the shadows melt, colors start to come into focus, mountain tops show their faces, the world is revealed. Despite numb fingers and toes and the river of snot pouring out of my nose, these moments are pure enchantment.
When I’m on dawn patrol I feel as if I’ve stumbled upon a secret corner of the forest set aside just for me. The only sounds I am aware of are my skins whispering over the snow and my heart beating solidly in my chest. I easily tune out my partner a little ways ahead of me and watch my dog darting in and out of the dark woods, disappearing, then reappearing. It’s just me and Mama Nature. The shock of cold air moving in and out of my lungs is invigorating, my head is clear of cobwebs, and I savor the feeling of each muscle as it clamors from inertia, warms, and propels my body forward.
While you were asleep this morning, I was at 10,000 feet watching the sun’s pale pink and yellow fingertips gently nudge the mountaintops from slumber, and was so filled up by the stillness of it, the perfection of it and the smallness of myself within the scene that in that moment I understood acutely that there is nothing in the universe that means more to me than this.
I’d also point out that, lest we all forget the point of these missions, that I got to ski fresh powder, something that is not always abundant on the ski resort, and that I got to ski it alone with two of my favorite beings in the entire world.
Then I’d sit back and wait, listening for those three small words to come through the phone and into my ear: “Ahh, I get it!”
Ok. Four words.
In reality, after all was said and done, as I sank into my couch to ride out the rest of my morning, a text message beeped in from my friend:
“How was it?!? Are you alive?”
Here was my chance! My golden opportunity to convert a skeptic!
“We are alive! And I got to eat a cheeseburger and a Snickers bar for breakfast! Booyah.”
There are simply some things you can’t put into words, at least not in a text message, for someone who doesn’t live for the same moments that the lot of us here in Telluride seem to be addicted to.
What can be universally understood, however, is guilt-free meat, cheese and chocolate before 10am.
My friend’s response?
Damn right you are.
Road Tripping and Fly Fishing
Photos and Words by Buck Smith
My first look at the Gunnison River, its pristine waters slowly cutting through a deep desert landscape, reveals a scene that seemed out of place in Colorado, a drastic contrast to the normally turbid silt riddled rivers that spill out of the high country this time of year. Still six hundred feet above the river we could see mats of emerald green vegetation clinging to the riverbed, shimmering beneath crystal clear water, I felt thirsty. After spending all of my 26 years in Colorado, I again found myself in a world completely new to me, familiar, yet unique in the high desert of southwest.
Two days earlier, I was sitting in Ophir enjoying my offseason, home between spontaneous trips to the desert, Front Range, biking, more fishing, camping and everything else that peaks my interests. My phone lit up, “Thinking about exploring the Gunny Gorge for a couple days, want to join?” Bobby and I had been talking about making our way to this world renowned fishery for a while, knowing I had no tethers keeping me from checking this amazing place off my ever expanding list, my decision was easy. I quickly gathered all the gear I would need and left early the next morning, excitedly hoping that this famed river would live up to its reputation.
Unlike the high country, seemingly locked in limbo between a dry winter and the coming spring, the desert was in full bloom, cactus flowers and Indian Paintbrush grew dispersed among the Juniper and Sage, every breath was a sweet reminder that spring was here. The hike down Ute trail was quick, wanting to spend as much time as possible in the river; we hastily made our way down the 1200’ walls of the gorge. Reaching the bottom we scanned the river hoping for signs of fish rising. We both prefer dry flies to nymphing especially in such clear water, but after a moment of observation we agreed that staying below the surface would give us the best chance of tempting a monster from the depths.
Geared up and in the water, I quickly find a promising section of river, a small seam between a deep rapid and the green rocky shallow I had waded onto. A hand full of casts later my indicator jolts upstream, practice aided instinct kicks in, the hook is set and the tip of my 4 weight rod is ripped down towards the surface of the water as my reel screams, line being ripped out as the fish turns into the current. Pulling my rod to the left, I slowly battle my quarry; pulling it back into calmer water I see the yellow telltale color of a nice brown trout. Now comes the tricky part, the indicator keeps me from reeling him in any further, slowly, I pull the fish as close as possible, my arms spread wide trying to make up for the 12’ of leader and tippet separating me and the fish. I dipped my net in the water, “got him!” About an inch short from spanning the entire length of my net, a 20 incher, always a prize in my book, a quick photo and the fish is back in the water disappearing into the depths it came from. The rest of the day continued much like this, screaming reels, bent rods and quick glimpses of the natural beauties our world has to offer.
For the first time I didn’t feel like I needed to keep fishing till lack of light kept me from changing my flies or seeing details in the river. After landing a gorgeous 24’ kype jawed rainbow, one of the most beautiful fish I have had the pleasure of seeing in person, I sat on a grassy bank, completely content to watch time flow by like the emerald river in front of me. A true treasure of a day, the hike back to the top of the gorge in the afternoon sun was easy, filled with the very recent memories of the best day I have had with a fly rod in my hand.
Click here to book a guided trip with BootDoctors® and Solitary Anglers
A word from the Doctor: Buck Smith is a BootDoctors® Telluride employee that works in the Mountain Village Store during the winter months, as a key member of our rafting team during the runoff season and a Mountain Bike aficionado to round out the rest of the season.
Written By Patrick Trujillo
Trujillo is a member of BootDoctors® in Taos, NM
In late summer of 2012 I was fortunate to find work in Taos Ski Valley. An associate had recently acquired the remodeling bid for an old unit of the Kandahar Condominiums. Needing much repair, the unit was quickly set to be cleared of all personal belongings left behind by the previous owner, a gentleman whom I later learned had known Taos Ski Valley founder, Ernie Blake.
In boxing up various oddities and alpine ski chalet knick-knacks, I came across a set of hardbound thick books, their edges marked with such titles as, The Eastern Front, Allied Victories of World War Two, & Battle for Stalingrad. I began flipping through their pages, admiring with somber reverence the stock images of battlegrounds, machinery, and faces of war. It was then that I found a few hand written notes between the pages, indecipherable cursive remakes on thoughts and moments, and the gold embossed personal ownership stickers placed precisely inside the upper left covers proceeding the first page. They read simply, “Ernie Blake.”
I remember feeling unsure of the importance and placing the books in a box with other left behind belongings. We began to tear up the carpet later that afternoon, and left for the weekend.
Ernie Blake was delivered into the world of skiing as if the sport had been waiting for him. German born, he was introduced to the Alps at an early age, served as a pilot in the Swiss air force, and immigrated to the United States in 1938 where he quickly became entwined within the pioneering ski circles of Sepp Lanz, Alf Engen, Max Dercum and Darcy Brown.
When WW II engulfed the entirety of Europe, Ernie and Alf tried with much conviction to join the 10th Army Mountain Division, subsequently being denied because of his German ancestry. Ernie wound up in Intelligence and Alf wound up in Research & Development. Much of Ernie’s and Alf’s knowledge of skiing went into the training and forming of the 10th Mountain Division, which in essence, developed backcountry skiing and alpine touring.
Returning home after the war, Ernie set out to fulfill his vision of making the best ski area anyone had ever known. By luck and circumstance of fate, he fell into the operations and finances of industry backers whom shared his vision but often lacked his ambition. Ernie’s choice of area was called, “too steep,” and “too remote,’ but Ernie pressed on and made his dream come into fruition.
For close to 60 years now, Taos Ski Valley has operated in fashion lending itself to an experience credited to be nothing short than unique. The visions of Ernie Blake and skiing pioneers that shaped this resort live strong not only in memory, but in the current expansion as well. The newly installed Kachina Peak lift was an early vision of Ernie’s, as was outreach to all to be able to learn and enjoy skiing. Keeping with that tradition and honoring the service of our military’s veterans, Taos Ski Valley is hosting it’s 2nd annual Not Forgotten Outreach program January 23rd through January 25th.
Adaptive Ski School equipment and instruction will be provided with help from the Veterans Administration, along with $25 lift tickets for active duty and retired personnel, discounted lodging, and dinner for over 200 military families Saturday night. Visit http://notforgottenoutreach. org/programs/military- appreciation-ski-weekends/ for more details.
BootDoctors® is pleased to join in this effort to honor veterans, and invite our servicer members and their families to stop in for half priced demos and boot fitting, along with a storewide discount of 10% offered exclusively to them.
Ernie never forgot where he came from, and those that were close to him often humbly recalled how his experiences of the war shaped and changed him into the man he became.
As for the books, I returned the following Monday to find them gone along with the other left belongings. I am sure they somehow found themselves into the hands of someone whom would cherish them as not forgotten.
We are proud to be carrying Black Crows Skis, direct out of Chamonix, FR. Here’s a blog post from their website that was too good not to re-post and share with you. Epic imagery that’s sure to inspire your next adventure. Stop by BootDoctors® in Mountain Village and take flight on a Black Crows Ski today! Original Article Here
16 December 2014 — By minna riihimäki
There’s nothing weird, if you’re not into Black Virgins, or a practising catholic, or a connoisseur of Unesco World Heritage sites, if you haven’t heard of Monte Sainte Oropa.
I didn’t know anything about the place before I was invited there for a weekend by Giuliano Bordoni. Bruno Compagnet and I were invited by an association, Sensa Cunisium, set up by young locals determined to save their ski resort. At the base of this sacred mountain is a vast architectural beauty, the Catholic Oropa sanctuary, rising up. And from there, it’s a different story, a big step back in time…
The base station is just behind the main cathedral, but the style isn’t quite the same. Time visibly stopped 40 years ago. The first Saturday skiers arrive in the car park at the same time as us, and looking at their gear and clothes, we once more take a step back in time! But it all seems normal here… They’ve got smiles on their faces, they’re stress-free. They’re here to spend a nice day ski touring in a sacred spot. Everyone seems to be smiling, even the guy at the cash desk who issues us with our 2 day passes. He hands us our passes before we’ve even given him our names. Maybe we really have travelled back in time?
The Italian welcome is super friendly and contrasts with the starkness of the buildings at mid-station. The wind flows freely and the walls are crumbling, leaving piles of concrete dust on the fresh snow which encroaches from outside. The second stage has been condemned.
Like always in Italy, the ski day started with a good coffee. At mid-station, the Savoierestaurant-refuge welcomes tourers summer and winter and is a veritable sanctuary of life which contrasts with the silence which reigns all around it.
Skins on, we set off to explore Mucrone, a summit which could still be reached with the second stage of the cable car 10 years ago. These days it’s all been taken down. We climbed, we skied, Daniele shot, we tried some lines, they worked, and we had a great time!
At the end of the afternoon we skinned up under the other lift line, a route which took us to Monte Camino and to the refuge where we’d spend the night. Rifugio Capanna Renata gave us a warm welcome. There were a good twenty of us. Little by little, we learnt the history of the resort and about how the Sensa Cunisium association is fighting to save it. We were honoured to be there. The sincerity of these young guys really touched us and we were really up for helping them. We all sat around a big table in the refuge, covered with different dishes. Italian hospitality sometimes seems limitless. We appreciated it all. People over there know how to live and we were inspired by the evening’s conviviality.
The full moon lit up the night. We could see the valley illuminated far down below, with a light fog trying to trace the forms of the hills. We decided to put our gear back on and face the wind which was blowing violently on the crest just above the refuge. We wanted to capture that moment, the incredible, subdued light, which lit up the wind-sculpted snow. Daniele asked us to stay still, which wasn’t that easy after a few glasses of wine and all the more so in that wind, to catch the most light with his camera…
We’re already planning our return trip to the resort, a place which seems on borrowed-time. It’s also so that we can stay in touch with these guys who have so much love for their mountain and for skiing. They’ve already shown us that, together, it’s possible to change things. This autumn work has been done and the second stage of the Monte Camino will reopen for the winter season.