Backcountry, Out of Bounds or just lost in Steamboat?

Steamboat Out of bounds sbackcountry ign

So as ever we ended up with a mini-adventure, which is what happens when a plan goes wrong.

There's a reason that sign was there

After making the most of nigh on 45cm of fresh powder the day before exploring various trails, runs and inbound off-piste, we continued our search for the classic Steamboat Trade Marked Champagne Powder.

Again, we were in the ‘line’ at 07:35 for First Tracks, and the powder, after the much colder early hour's temps, was way lighter than the Prosecco Powder of the previous day, which has to be said was better than most Euro Powder days.

We learnt from the day before and so skied a couple of lines in the woods close to the trails, and then took the Sundown Express timing it to perfection as they then opened the rest of resort up, and we had fresh tracks in the pine glades and aspen, skiing superb blower powder.

We then went off down to Morningside and hiked up to Mt Werner, where we went out of bounds (picture above) and then hiked some more before going inbounds under the rope to ski untracked back to the lift.

 

It was atop of the outbounds hike that I saw some tracks going off down towards East Face, a run that we did yesterday, so a plan started to formulate.

Next time back up I chatted with a few people about options and they agreed it was possible to ski that direction, but warned that there could be a long run out and try to keep to skier’s left.

And so, we set off and I could see tracks, which was a positive, or not?

Descent was really good but looking back at my track/route I must have suffered from blower powder fever as after one great line instead of bearing north/north-east I headed off in a south-easterly direction (see map below), and then the fun ‘n' games started as we ended up on a plateau and had to try and pole out with the skis, which was just too difficult, I then picked up maybe what was a snowshoe track and we were able to boot pack and then we came across a skinning track so we followed that as it must have been coming up from resort/town, except the only problem was that we were climbing and in very deep snow so we had to take it in turns to do 60 strides.

Steamboat GPS track

 
I eventually decided that we had gained enough height to ski back in an easterly direction hoping to pick up a trail. By this time I was frustrated that I had not downloaded any local mapping as I was a little paranoid we might still be heading in the wrong direction, however, every now and again the weather would clear a little and we could make out the radio masts on top of Mount Werner, which was a positive.

After a brief descent we skied out of the trees on to another plateau, and I did feel my moral taking a bit of a nosedive, then we heard some ‘whoops’ and saw some guys on the other side of the plateau boarding and skiing out of the trees and then making their way along a path, so we were sort of back in backcountry civilisation as it were, and not totally lost, the only problem was that we had to boot pack through nigh on thigh deep snow, and that is not easy as they make it look in the movies.

We were ok time wise and loss of daylight was not an issue as we eventually made it on the track that skiers and boarders had made.

I did then think that we’d make it back to in-bounds quite soon but we still had a lot of poling and boot packing to do, and again a couple of decisions with regard to route finding, and I opted not to take the track the snowboarders had as it looked as if that too was going off in the wrong direction while there was another obvious path to follow, and we quickly found ourselves on a lovely steep powder face, and for the first time skiing in Colorado, I started to evaluate the terrain relative to avalanche risk.

So we didn’t charge the top, though what I thought was a wind lip was, in fact, a very large rock face - once we were under that we could let the skis run and then out of the corner of my eye I saw this other skier come hacking down jumping pillows as he came towards us and he got his phone out to film his mate  coming down, skiing in a similar way­.

He did seem pretty surprised when I asked him the way out, and his response and attitude was obviously what the feck are these Brits doing here, but he did give enough information to help, in that we were to traverse above the creek, Forest River Creek and bear left, though by then the route was fairly obvious, and again we met another skier who confirmed what they said.

So, after a very long traverse involving yet more hiking as well as some deft technical skiing we had one more final climb out, to ironically join a piste where the day before I had stopped to see people hiking out.

So as ever we ended up with a mini-adventure, which is what happens when a plan goes wrong.

As a postscript, we later heard that many visitors frequently do get stuck in the backcountry and have to be rescued at $500 per person and they were very surprised that we had managed to find our way out from where we were as it’s way off the beaten track.

What we do know that should we return to Colorado we’ll bring our touring gear, study maps / Google Earth, search for GPX tracks and the like as there is so much potential.

However for 99% of skiers visiting Steamboat the skiing inbounds is more than enough to keep them happy,and above all it is 99% safe due to their Avalanche Mitigation, (which is another word for control) - and who wouldn't want to quench their thirst for fresh snow with genuine 6 percent moisture content Steamboat Champagne Powder ®?