* Editor’s note: Breckenridge ski patroller Matt Krane is contributing occasional posts describing life at Breckenridge ski area from the perspective of a patroller. In this latest installment, Krane talks about what it took to get the mountain open after big December snows, as well as plans for expanded backcountry access.
By Matt Krane
I was planning to write a bit more frequently than once a month, but when the the snow came so fast and furious, we all on the Breckenridge Pro Patrol found ourselves opening up the entire mountain, and I mean WALL-TO-WALL, by Christmas Day, pulling extra duty and hours in the process. It’s not often that we see abundant snowfalls during such warm, moist Pacific fronts, but this is the Christmas present that La Niña has gifted us with. It is literally dumbfounding to look up at the vast above-treeline expanse that is Whale’s Tail/Peak 7 terrain and see none of dirt ridges and rockfields that define much of the terrain up there. To ski through these pitches in superb north-facing dry Colorado powder (the Tail, George’s Thumb) and not see anything but snow for your next twenty turns is equally impressive.
Because a heavier, warmer snowpack is not our norm, the patrol and our ever-vigilant snow safety department and avalanche technicians spent countless hours and hundreds of pounds of high explosives on successive days to open upper Peak 7 by the week after Thanksgiving. A temperamental mountain with a storied history, Peak 7 has been skiing absolutely superbly top-to-bottom. more than a few multi-charge ‘airblasts’ were utilized to help confirm the mountain’s great shape before opening. Many townsfolk commented on the number of blasts they were hearing, not to mention the inward flexing of their windows, and the occasional piddling of their canines … indoors. Probably the greatest coup of all, and with celestial timing, was the opening of Snow White (and the 7 Dwarves) on Christmas day. Not just an opening, but 150 acres of creamy south/southeast-facing powder awaited those who made the short climb to the top of Peak 8. A bluebird day with barely a breeze (Breckenridge?!), Mount of the Holy Cross, Elbert, Massive, and even The Maroon Bells stood out as if they were in the neighborhood. After an initial lap, this Patroller hung out on the summit for a meet-and-greet to many smiling guests. It was warm enough to handle many cameras for them.
One of the aspects of Breckenridge that has kept me here so many years is the high alpine environment found, well, up high. From town, the treeline ski runs dominate our views, although the peaks and ridges of the 10-Mile Range are quite visible. Once you’re a-top the Falcon lift, E-Chair, 6-Chair, the above-treeline terrain opens up like a vast ocean of white. As you ride the Imperial Chair, there is a high-alpine landscape which unfolds almost too quickly (the ride is only 3.5 min. long). Without even hiking the last pitch, a traverse to the northwest (The Lazy 7 Traverse), one can gain the ridgeline which provides views of the aforementioned Fourteeners and The Gore Range.
Snow White is the most recent piece of terrain to be opened by the Breckenridge Ski Area. There is just so much to look at on the ridgeline on the way over, I have more than once had to check my trajectory and not veered into Zoot Chute. The terrain in Snow White offers an embrace of the sparkling upper Sawmill Creek drainage, from the sheer cliffs of Peak 9 to the mature sub-alpine fir forest below, a drop into anyone of the many paths of this terrain gives you sustained pitches over 30 degrees and a chance to scare up some Ptarmigan along the way.
As a segue to my next topic, the southern boundary of the Snow White terrain is roped and very well-signed down skier’s right of The Buttress. This, as well as all of our boundaries, is to be respected. The shoulder of Peak 9, just outside of that boundary, is known to load up very heavily from the winds coming through the saddle, and avalanches often by itself, leaving impressive amounts of debris. You may see shot holes out there from time-to-time which are done for snow science and safety reasons.
Now, what you may have been waiting for. The Breckenridge Ski Patrol has been in negotiations with the Forest Service to expand our backcountry gate/access program. At this time, we are hoping to have our new signage ready to deploy and in place by mid-to-late January. The new gate to be placed just above the top of the Falcon lift will offer an easier approach than the current gate one the south side at Appaloosa Bowl. This will, of course, offer easier access to ‘The Ballroom’ area, a generally lower-angle pitch than much of the rest of Carter Ridge.
As always, travel with partners and the proper gear, and don’t just know how to turn you transceiver on, but practice deeper burials with your friends … practice shovelling. We do, ALL the time.
Somewhere down the north ridge of Peak 7 (Magic Carpet) will be another backcountry access gate. This will allow easier access to Peak 6, but travel routes must be chosen carefully as always. The Breckenridge Patrol is not currently conducting avalanche studies and explosives routes as we have in the past. Again, we urge safe backcountry travel practice, good training between you and your partners. Remember, as we’ve seen a good deal this winter, weather changes can come in fast and furious.
With all the terrain openings and management, all the Patrol crews are still training daily in trauma and medical assessment/response. A number of us are IV certified-we also have a number of EMT-Intermediates and Paramedics (several a week from graduating). We have red Emergency telephones throughout the 4 mountains that make up our ski area. We also receive 911 calls from Summit County Dispatch. In the last four years, we have saved two cardiac arrest patients. What this means is that we can get anywhere on the mountain very quickly. Enjoy your holidays and the phenomenal snow pack (137 percent of normal right now). make good decisions, smile a lot. Fell free to track us down, ride the lift with us, pop your head in any of the ‘huts’. Happy New Year from the men and women of the Breckenridge Ski Patrol.
Filed under: Colorado, Summit County Colorado, Summit County news, Summit County snow and weather Tagged: | backcountry skiing, Breckenridge Ski Area, Breckenridge ski patrol, Matt Krane, Peak 6 Breckenridge, Summit County Colorado, Summit County News