Backcountry Skiing in Colorado

Skiing and Hiking in the Colorado Backcountry

Buffalo Mountain, Silver Couloir, 3/26/2011

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I had been looking forward to this trip for months now.  Back in December I casually mentioned to Jon that we may be able to complete a winter descent of Buffalo Mountain.  Jon reacted with such enthusiasm that it got me fired up.  The snowpack in December got twitchy real fast and it wasn’t until late March that we were finally able to get after it.

Buffalo mountain is the huge hump of a mountain that sits just west of Silverthorne Colorado.  It’s quite visible as you descend from Eisenhower tunnel towards the ski resorts.  I’ve been wanting to ski it since before I knew what Alpine touring was.  Back in college I would scope lines on my drives home from Vail, wondering what it would be like to ski a mountain like that.  More recently, I’ve had even more motivation to ski Buffalo.  In August I will be married in Silverthorne, with Buffalo bearing witness, so I wanted to ski it before then.  Along Buffalo’s northeast flank, runs a deep gash in the mountain – the Silver Couloir.  This couloir runs about 2000 vertical feet from the summit, happened to be the target for the day.

Snowing at the trailhead

Jon and I set out early Saturday morning from the T-Rex lot, driving in the dark to get an early start on Buffalo.  I had a huge dinner the night before and didn’t eat much for breakfast, a decision that would cost me later.  I was also rocking my new Dynafit Manaslus, so I thought I’d be invincible.  I didn’t remember that ski mountaineering was a little different than laps at Berthoud/Jone pass, Dynafits or not.

Either way we started up through the trees.  Jon set a pretty good pace (as usual) and I did my best to keep up (as usual.)  The pitch eventually steepened and we began ascending towards the avalanche field  Eventually the trees thinned out and we knew we were getting close to the slide path.

Ascending through the trees

When we set out from the trailhead it was cloudy and snowing, and we hoped the clouds would clear.  As we neared treeline the clouds were still hanging around, and they were creating a surreal misty effect as we looked back towards town.  It was really a cool scene to witness.  As we started up the slide path I followed Jon’s route and we were careful to travel one at a time.  Neither one of us trust this Colorado snowpack and for good reason.  No matter what the conditions I think Jon and I both have a healthy respect for what the snow here can do.

Jon traversing the slide path. I wait from a safe zone.

Eventually we came to some rocks below the false summmit.  We transitioned, throwing the skis on our back and began some fun rock scrambling.

Jon booting it through the rocks

Eventually we crested and it was a gentle rolling hike up to the summit.  I was impressed when the Silver came into view.  It is just a masssive line of snow, begging to be skied.  It’s no wonder it’s been dubbed one of the top 50 classic ski descents in North America.

The Silver Couloir comes into view

Once at the top we traversed across the ridge some and looked into the massive bowl to the south of Buffalo.  There were some gnarly lines that emptied into some cliffs.  Exciting stuff for sure, but not on the menu for this day.

Gnarly lines in the bowl

Jon and I began to worry that the snow was warming fast, so we put the skis on and headed down for the descent.  I was expecting some crusty, wind-buffed conditions, but much to our surprise the snow was soft!  After the first few turns we both had huge smiles beaming because we knew we had 2000 feet ahead of us of pristine powder.

The descent did not disappoint.  I found myself in disbelief that it could be this good.  I have to admit I was constantly checking behind me to see if the snow was intact.  I kept having flashbacks of Yale and the “glitch.”  But the snow held stable indeed, and Buffalo granted us a wonderful gift.  This was one for the books.

As we neared the bottom we high-fived and reveled in what a great descent we just experienced.  Jon was stoked and wanted to do it again.  I was getting tired from not eating breakfast.  We still had to traverse out, but due to a wrong turn ended up hiking for longer than was anticipated.  As we rounded a ridge on our hike out we looked behind us for a fantastic view of our tracks in the couloir.  There were 3 skiers coming down following our tracks and we would later find out they were from the CAIC.  Keep up the good work guys!

Looking back at our tracks

We ended up hiking below the trailhead from which we started, but luckily there was a free bus that took us right back to our car.  With the trip over, we headed to Chipotle for a burrito, our tracks visible from town.  Buffalo was definitely one of the top descents I’ve managed so far, and it wont soon be forgotten!

Buffalo’s head from Chipotle in Silverthorne, The Silver Couloir is on the right, the bowl on the left.


Author: ToblerX

Husband, Father and fun-lover. I love to ski, climb, hike and preferably all of them together!

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