Maximizing a Colorado Winter: An Interview with a Seasoned Backcountry Skier

The iconic Rocky Mountains of Colorado suffered an egregious lack of snowfall at the beginning of this ski season. While the East Coast was bombarded with storms and snow days, Colorado’s December felt more like a sunny spring. Despite barren forests and grassy patches, the avid skiers of Colorado College got creative and resourceful to make sure they didn’t miss a single turn. I caught up with junior Max Vivado to talk about his recent backcountry ski trip over Half Block Break and how he searched far and wide for hidden January powder.

Vivado is an advanced skier. He has been skiing for nearly a decade and was raised on the mountains in New England, preparing him with the skills for any condition imaginable. He began seeking adventure in the backcountry upon his arrival to CC freshman year and he just recently took the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education Level 1 course. He consistently maintains a positive outlook on Mother Nature’s crazy weather patterns. “Just make the best of what you get,” Vivado said. When I asked him what his ideal snow conditions were, he explained that a snowy day in the woods is ideal, but not necessary, for a good time.

Vivado recently spent this year’s Half Block Break with a group of friends in Berthoud Pass, about a two-hour drive from CC. He escaped to the seclusion of the Pass because the resort ski areas, such as Breckenridge and Keystone, get crowded on the weekends, particularly early in the season when the mountains don’t have all of their terrain open yet.

This winter was particularly snowless, and only just recently did snow blanket the forest floor. Vivado noted that he definitely found much more snow on Berthoud Pass than he would have found at Breckenridge, describing the conditions he encountered as, “shin-deep, untouched, fresh powder.” Such conditions weren’t found at ease, however. Vivado and his friends had to hike for half an hour just to get a good run.

There was more snow on Berthoud Pass because of the lack of foot traffic, as well as the dense trees, which prevent the wind from brushing the snow away. The tree density varied in different areas. Vivado recalled that, in some places, “You wouldn’t get out without having a twig in your face.” Vivado already knew of a specific spot that would have good snow since he is a seasoned veteran of backcountry skiing.

I asked Vivado what the highlight of his trip was. “Being outside with friends, sitting around a campfire at night, and just catching up with one another,” he said in response. I assumed his highlight would have been the fresh, fluffy snow that he had to work so hard to find. Instead, this led me to conclude that Vivado has a very appreciative outlook on skiing. While it was impressive that he creatively found a way to make the most of the early winter, he was grateful for the time outside, being surrounded by amazing people regardless of whether there was snow or dirt under his skis.

Vivado’s perspective on making the most out of the beginning of the season is simple: “Adapt, because you have no choice. Who knows what outdoor winter sports are going to be like in 10 years with this questionable climate?” Above all, Vivado recommended that when you do go out seeking a snowy adventure in the woods, be safe, and don’t assume that just because you have been there before means it’s going to be the same conditions as the last time.

Backcountry skiing definitely comes with precautions and is only for more advanced skiers with avalanche training. With his skiing skills and taste for adventure, Vivado sought out the woods for the perfect ski day at a time where Colorado could have used some serious snow on the slopes. His outlook on the recent snowfall issues is admirable, and he definitely sees his weekend adventures through a positive lens. Vivado sets a good example of how to make the best of the slushiest of situations.

Ultimately, CC students don’t just seek out snow; they take advantage of the beautiful Colorado outdoors, regardless of weather.

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