Saturday, June 6, 2020

Summer skiing

“You see things more creatively and things start to look more fun”

by Than Acuff

ith the onset of global weirding, summer ski destinations have changed, or disappeared, in the past 20 or so years, but after this past winter, summer skiing is back on and in full force.

Driving, walking—lots and lots of walking—some biking, some bushwhacking, high-centered vehicles left to be shoveled out after the ski, sun cups, dust, runnels, creeks and rocks. It’s all part of the magic of skiing in the summer. And, in the end, while it pales in comparison to powder in the winter and corn in the spring, it’s all still worth it.

“Talk about earning your turns—summer skiing you definitely earn your turns,” says Ian Hatchett.

Hatchett, who may be the only person to “triple crown,” i.e., alpine ski, telemark ski and snowboard one particular set of steep local couloirs, went on his first summer ski in 1987. He had just finished his first ski season in Crested Butte and a friend was the caretaker of some cabins owned by Crested Butte Mountain Resort at the time in an area called North Pole Basin. He heard of, and then went and saw, how much snow held in there in the summer and he was hooked.

“As an Australian surfer who had only dabbled in skiing, the whole idea that you could ski in the summer blew my brain,” says Hatchett.

His first summer ski then led to numerous summer excursions, including closing the summer ski season with an annual Labor Day Ski Fest with several locals in the late ’80s and early 1990s.

“Part of the concept was bad beer and we’d have as many as 20 people head out each with a 12-pack of bad beer and chairs,” says Hatchett. “People would ski a lap down the glacial remnant, sit in their chair, have a beer and go up and ski another lap—telemarking, of course.”

That continued for Hatchett through the 1990s and into the 2000s. He readily admits the skiing itself is not the best, but there’s far more to it than the skiing.

“The skiing itself is often pretty marginal,” explains Hatchett. “For me a lot of it was just going out solo and climbing and skiing lines that still exist in the summer.”

Drew Kelly is on the opposite spectrum from Hatchett, having moved to Crested Butte last fall and not even born when Hatchett first skied in the summer. Nevertheless, he shares in the love for summer skiing. Kelly’s jump into summer skiing was five years ago and came as a result of futility and irreverence at a job in Carbondale.

“I had a sh***y summer job which seemed pointless and another worker and I started talking complete nonsense at work,” explains Kelly. “We found irreverence was fun and summer skiing seemed just as pointless and it seemed like being able to get weird and do something without a point enabled all of that.”

Since then Kelly has skied every month for the past five years while living in Carbondale, then Telluride and now here. He finds that summer ski excursions have their plusses and minuses.

“I walked 20 miles round-trip through clouds of mosquitoes only to find a particular ski line wasn’t in,” says Kelly. “But, when stuff starts to melt out, you see lines that you don’t really see in the winter. You see things more creatively and things start to look more fun.”

While avalanche concerns are off of the table with the summer ski experience, a host of other hazards rear their ugly heads. Slide for life conditions into scree fields, rock fall and raging water crossings, among other potential hazards, are all part of the summer ski experience.

“You’re dealing with wicked sun cups and rock debris and if you fall in some places, you’re going to slice and dice yourself on the slide down,” says Hatchett. “And then there’s the late afternoon lightning strikes. I remember being out there and getting crushed by a graupel and lightning storm. We were running for cover from all of the lightning.”

Hatchett cites an additional element to summer skiing that is the exact opposite of winter adventures.

“In winter skiing, being the first skier is the best,” explains Hatchett. “In summer, the judicious decision is to be the last and let the others smooth out the sun cups a little and scrape off some of the dust.”

With June and July already in the bag, Kelly plans to keep the streak alive in August with no specific plans or goals, just to ski.

“There’s a lot of options out there,” says Kelly.

As for Hatchett, a string of injuries has kept him away from summer skiing but he hopes to get back out there next summer for a Fourth of July Freedom Ski and maybe even another birthday ski on August 16. Though that’s getting tougher to pull off with the requirement that he make as many turns as years he’s been alive.

“That has the double dilemma of global warming reducing the summer snowpack, coupled with my increasing years of age,” says Hatchett.

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