The Vortex!

As I’m getting closer to my goal of a 50+ day ski season, I think about how blessed we’ve been this season with consistent snowfall and some really stellar conditions. Today is Day 44, and there’s still plenty of freaking awesome skiing to be had.

Awesome skiing like The Vortex, a classic west and southwest facing line on the east side of Berthoud Pass that starts as a wide open, above treeline face and narrows down into a drainage gully through some trees. Being that I’m still skiing most of my days inbounds, and haven’t had a lot of days at Berthoud, this was a new line for me.

I met up with a friend of The Mayor named Bryan and a buddy of his (who was pretty new to backcountry skiing, and was borrowing gear from Bryan) mid-morning at the Berthoud Pass parking lot. After getting everyone familiarized with the gear, we set up the shuttle down at the bottom of Berthoud Pass on the Winter Park side. Back at the top, we got to climbing.

At first, straight up the fall line towards the summit of Mines Peak. Then a few hundred feet below the summit of Mines Peak, we started traversing towards the north, and eventually got high enough we found ourselves in rocky, windswept terrain. When that happens, the skis come off the feet and go on the pack, and booting it is how it gets done.

Our route would largely follow the Mount Floral bit of the Continental Divide Trail, to just to the west of the peak of Mount Floral.

Who’s excited to ski today?

This goober right here, that’s who. The hat and bibs might make me look like Gomer Pyle, but they’re pretty functional. The hat keeps the sun off my face and neck (when I’m not wearing a gaiter/headsock) and the bibs are roomy enough to move around with plenty of vents to open up and keep cool when skinning uphill.

So yeah, super dorky, but extremely functional. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself…

The first part of our ski is a fair bit above treeline, and the west facing aspect was pretty wind and sun affected. The surface was more medium-soft wind board than a death crust, so it wasn’t too bad to manage so long as you skied a bit aggressively you could still get an edge in. Here’s Bryan, making some big open turns on the open, shallow face.

Once we got to the rollover into the drainage, the snow quality improved significantly. The day was warm and the sun was bright, and we enjoyed some smooth hot pow on a little bit steeper slopes here.

The angle gets into the 30º range here and there, but generally hovers around the high 20s. Slope angles like this are “¡Super Bueno!” to ski, in my opinion. Steep enough that you don’t have to work to get momentum, you can let it rip and have fun. But not so steep that you have to be on your absolute A-game because falling could be disastrous.

I always manage to goober up any photo opportunity. I’m sure it’s not my neanderthal ex-snowboarder skiing style, it’s probably the bibs and silly sun hat.

That’s probably it.

Bryan, dropping knees and crushing some buttery smooth hot pow. Ring, ring!

Bryan once told me that he used to snowboard, but when he first met his future wife she told him he had to learn to tele or it would never work out. He must have known pretty quick that she was the one, because he got really good at tele skiing.

The lower we got, the hotter the temps and sun got. The exit drainage has you travel right underneath two very dangerous avalanche paths known as Mines 1 and Mines 2, so we kept it moving through that section. There were some folks skiing those chutes, and we made sure to keep our distance lest they set something off on top of us.

Once out of the drainage, the exit flattens out considerably and parallels the Fraser River along Highway 40 until it meets the road at the bottom switchback on the Winter Park side of Berthoud Pass. This is where we’d dropped our shuttle vehicle, so hitching back to the top wasn’t needed for this one. A quick ride back to the lot and the cold beers waiting there, and we called this one a wrap.

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