With a raging storm in California, who knew if decent snow would make its way to Colorado? The Mayor knows, if anyone. So when he started hatching a plan to be on the Western Slope this past week, I was all ears. His plan was to visit his buddy in Crawford and fish for a couple of days, then camp out near Powderhorn Ski Area Friday night to get the goods on Saturday. I shuffled some work around, made sure I get it done, loaded up Vinny the Van with skis and plenty of spare blankets, and headed west Friday late afternoon.
Snow was starting to gently fall as I made my way up to the top of Grand Mesa on Friday night, arriving at our camp spot around 8pm. There was already an inch or so on the ground, and it was starting to snow heavily. I was unable to get the heater working in the van, so those extra blankets came in handy. I stayed reasonably warm overnight, and woke up to boot top deep snow and a gorgeous winter sunrise on Saturday morning.
Just before 8am, a snowplow came through and started plowing out the spot we were camped, so we needed to get a move on to move our rigs from one side of the zone to where the plow had just cleared. I was a bit nervous with Vinnie being RWD and all, but a bit of gumption and the Blizzaks made short work of the plow berm.
After coffee, hot oatmeal, and some faffing about we got down to Powderhorn, got parked, and got our day passes squared away. Our Loveland season passes include some days at Powderhorn, the caveat being we had to make reservations 48 hours ahead of time. Such are the ways of COVID times, fortunately the Mayor had been planning this for a bit so we were all set.
There are only 2-1/2 lifts at Powderhorn: two lifts that serve real terrain plus a beginner lift that kinda goes nowhere. The line for the main lift, Flat Top Flyer which goes out of the base area, seemed pretty long and we wanted to get to the terrain served by the other lift, the West End, anyways. We asked a couple locals if the beginner lift would get us to a place where we could at least ski over to the West End and BOOM the answer was yes. We hopped on Easy Rider, the beginner lift, and cruised the catwalk over to the West End.
Once there, we decided to just follow our noses and explore the ski area with whatever looked like good skiing. That seemed to work all day, mostly. Though on our very first lap, we followed those noses into a tree stand, and got spit out into what looked like an amazing pillow line… only to find out that the pillows were created by a giant boulder field, and there just wasn’t quite enough snow to really fill it all in.
Once we navigated that nonsense, we were back on the West End lift to seek out the magical aspen tree runs we had heard so much about. The West End is a tiny, slow, long lift. But the clouds, low sun, and general ambiance was sublime.
We rode the West End lift many times, and there was always someone skiing under the left, hooting and hollering. The vibe and stoked were high. On one particular lap, we witnessed a group of teenagers sessioning a small bump that could be aired out a bit. After a few kids had gone, there was only one left. Taunting him, the de facto leader of the little band of soldiers yelled up “Miles, send the jump!”
Miles graciously abided, and exploded on the landing into a mess of snowboard, coat, and gangly appendages. As he got sorted from his ordeal, he had an important announcement for the other kids.
Oh, and those aspen tree runs? We did find those aspens tree runs. And then we found some more. And some more. And then another one.
Mid winter light is just beautiful, and the cloud cover made the light even better. And with snow this soft, even as the trees started getting chopped up there were still plenty of great turns to be found.
The Mayor in his element: low sun, soft snow, good times. It might be a tiny ski area, but the skiing at Powderhorn is anything but small in challenge. We found plenty to keep us entertained, and would love to chase another storm later this season as the willows and boulder runs get more filled in.
Towards the end of the day the sun started breaking through the clouds, our legs became more and more tired, and our run selection mellowed. We knew cold beers, hot chili, and our camp chairs awaited at the base area. We made one last run down a mellow but chopped-pow filled run, finding pillowy stashes of still-fresh snow along the edges. A satisfying end to a day of hard skiing.