“I’ve got some words for you,” my good friend Tedford said. He was in the middle of helping Peter and Sasha (his kids) and Dade and Roan click out of their bindings and hug the mountainside so they could scramble across and down the 15-foot-high cliff I had led them right to. “But I don’t think they’d be appropriate for your fucking blog!”
From our home in Denver, Wolf Creek might be the most inconvenient of all the mountains we plan to visit. And not because it’s a four-and-a-half-hour drive away. The problem for our purposes is that geographically it just doesn’t pair well with any other resort. What it does do, though, is get a shit-ton of early-season snow. On December 5, 2015, the day we were there, they reported a 47-inch base and everything was open. That adds up to what are easily the best current conditions in the state.
Plus, they got three inches of fresh snow the night before we arrived, so we made first tracks all the way through Snuffy’s Hollow and down Waterfall Gully to the Alberta chairlift. And by first tracks, I’m talking boot deep in light, fluffy powder. Those few inches felt like a foot, and later I overheard a ski patrol explaining the phenomenon: “We only got three inches, but it was the right three inches.”
From the Alberta lift, we caught our first view of the Knife Ridge Chutes territory. Frankly, it doesn’t look like something you should be allowed to ski. Unless you’re in a Warren Miller movie. And yet, when you arrive at the top, there’s a metal stairway (seriously) a short walk away that’s simply too tempting to ignore.
“Well, we have to do that, right?” I asked.
“Yeah, I think we do,” Ted answered.
Which brings us back to the cliff situation. Ted and I had marked a suitable point of descent along Knife Ridge that was midway between the third and fourth avalanche control structure (again, seriously). For some reason, though, once we were on the ground, we didn’t traverse far enough to skier’s right before stopping and peering off the edge — and collectively steeling ourselves for the wintry plunge to come.
I feel compelled right here to report that, yes, there was a “Danger: Cliffs” sign not far from where we were gathered, but I maintain that I believed the warning was referencing the immediate cornice, not the rocky outcropping I would discover approximately five turns below.
“Mr. JB, you go first to be sure we can get all the way down from here,” Sasha said.
“Yeah, Dad,” Dade chimed in from his perch. “Ski down and then film us!”
Both solid plans. Unfortunately, the part about filming the kids tackling this crazy slope is what stuck with me. I dropped off the shelf and made five fairly decent pedal hop turns, smiling the entire way. And then I saw a craggy, exposed ledge and stopped. No problem.
“Okay, everybody,” I hollered. “It’s good, but traverse a little farther right before you start down,” … is what I should have said. What I actually yelled up the hill went more like this: “Okay, everybody, it’s good, but let me get the camera out before you go!” And now we have a problem.
Without any hesitation, the kids carved their way down. It wasn’t pretty, but they made it happen. When Ted arrived, he asked, “Now what?”
“Not sure,” I said. “There’s a cliff right here. Let me take a look.”
“What? Weren’t you supposed to scout?” This is probably the point at which Tedford started formulating all those fancy words for me.
I picked my way along a snow-covered scar that cut diagonally across the precipice, and eventually launched myself off the overhang and into waist-deep white stuff. Both skis ejected and I did a somersault at impact, but I was in good spirits — until I realized there was no way the kids were going to be able to negotiate the same path. They’d have to take their skis off.
So, one by one, and with Ted directing their actions — “Turn around!” “Dig your toes into the snow!” “Keep your legs straight!” “Hold on!” — they clicked out, did what can best be described as a standing belly crawl along the cliff face, and then jumped about five feet down to where I was waiting. Sasha first. Then Roan and Peter. And then Dade got in position.
“Can I do a flip, Dad?”
The look on Ted’s face when Dade landed was a fantastic mix of amusement and exasperation — pretty much what parenting looks like all the time now that I think about it. The entire process probably took fifteen to twenty minutes. Nobody got hurt, and the kids thought the cliff jump was a good time. Back to no problem. Except wait … where’s everybody’s gear? When the kids handed Ted their skis, he threw them in my general direction (I’ll stop just a skosh shy of saying he was throwing them at me). But now one of Dade’s planks was missing.
We looked for an hour, poking endless holes in the snow with our poles. Nothing. Finally, I called off the search and we made our way to the lodge for lunch. Dade was less than thrilled at first, but he got over it and figured out on the fly how to maneuver on a single ski.
After a sandwich, Ted and I decided we weren’t quite ready to give up on the equipment. We gave Michelle instructions to have Jack and Cokes waiting at 3:00 p.m. sharp, and headed back up to the base of Knife Ridge — via what seemed like a worthwhile and well-deserved detour …
Thirty minutes ticked by — walking our search grid, not poking around Glory Hole — and then I heard Tedford shout, “That’s it! I quit!” I looked up and a lone ski was hurtling toward me (this time, I’m fairly certain he was throwing it at me, and again, that’s fair). “This mountain tried to steal from us, J, and we just kicked its ass.”
I’m not sure we kicked its ass, but I am positive we had an adventure, and man, that’s what this is all about.