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You know when the stars align just right and something legendary is born? Well let us just say Pete and Rich were meant to be in Telluride.

Initially the Telluride trip evolved from my drive of wanting to compete in the Subaru Freeride Series. As my ‘mentor,’ naturally Rich was in. Just beyond the boundary lines of the resort lies an iconic split in an enticing mountain that is known as the San Joaquin Couloir.

Day 1-To Hell We Ride

We awoke to a winter wonderland. The town of Steamboat was blanketed with a foot or two of that classic Champagne powder. It is days like this that set the hook and keep you coming back. Rich and I were planning to start our six-hour journey to Telluride in the afternoon. But first, there was work to be done on our turf…

It was hard to end the day early but Telluride had been getting the same storm and it was time to embark on a mission that would exceed far beyond our expectations.

Day 1-For Real

Today was day one of the competition, the qualifiers. We awoke on the couches of a friend’s condo, geared up, made a stop at the Rev for some eggs benny with smoked salmon (little did we know this would become a daily tradition), got registered, and hopped on the lift to make our way to the comp zone. It was a perfect blue bird day and Telluride had just received a few feet of snow, couldn’t ask for better conditions. As we made our way up the lifts, my mind was blown. I had not been to Telluride for fifteen years, but this felt like my first time here and I was in love. You always hear of the beautiful San Juans with Telluride nestled away in a box canyon enclosed by staggering 4,000’ peaks. This is a unique aspect to the town, but the views you gain as you rise in elevation are of legends. Mountain Wilson off in the distance, massive jagged peaks in every other direction. Big lines and touring options that make the avid backcountry pursuer’s mind flood with ideas, excitement, and a hint of fear. In relation to the Rocky Mountains, the San Juan’s are the young bucks with impressive jagged summits untainted by erosion. On top of everything, it is all coated with the purest white snow contrasted with deep blue skies. I was in heaven.

Arriving at the comp zone, it was time to focus. A few of us hiked to the top of the zone and scouted lines. The main area of the zone was a fun looking shark-toothed ridge that sporadically made its way down the mountain like a dragon’s tail. The zone featured one large fin-shaped ridge after another, erupting out of the ground. However, given the style of the competition, the athletes scouted out the zone, pack out lips, and rode the terrain the previous day. This creates an interesting dynamic, as the entire comp zone was tracked out. Given the situation, we took a few laps to keep the legs warm and awaited the announcers starting call. Two buddies and I were near the end of the list of forty athletes. This was somewhat fortunate and unfortunate. You get to see what other athletes are doing and what works with the terrain. But as time ticks along, so do athletes’ tracks and the good snow dissipates.

A great friend of mine, Stew, and myself were now at the top of the starting line. His line consisted of big fast turns down to a major cliff that had been completely “owning” everybody. He skied hard, sent the cliff, and became a plume of tomahawking powder below. After a few more athletes, I was up. I skied down along the top of the zone until I reached my entry point. My plan was to make a few turns into a little straight-line chute, hug hard right to get up and over a hump, then make a few fast turns to the major cliff at the bottom.

Unfortunately, I anticipated the exit of the chute incorrectly and was not able to get over the hump to complete my line. This docked my score and I did not advance to the next round. Little did I know this was part of the bigger plan for us. There were far more important options for our next three days than stressfully awaiting one chance to ride for glory. By this point, it was the afternoon so we skied around the Gold hill chutes and ended the day at Allred’s with beers, truffle fries, and some lobster bisque. (Note-this would become another daily tradition, to the point that the servers came to ask us for the daily lowdown on what was good)

Apres-ski is a dangerous lifestyle simply because it is too much damn fun. You ski your a$$ off all day, end the afternoon with stunning views and good food, relax in spas, eat exotic dinners, then hit the town! It takes stamina and endurance, but that’s nothing some powder turns, Moscow Mules and five mangos drinks can’t take care of, right? Right.

Day 2-Game On

8 a.m. wake up, skies are blue, air is crisp, and we are feeling fueled from the night. After a shower and the familiar smoked salmon eggs benny at the Rev, we made our way to the top of Revelation Lift to get a glimpse of San Joaquin and to follow Rich’s intuition of Bear Canyon based on Siam Dave’s beta. Looking back, the trip really seemed to begin once we entered Allred’s the day before. It was as if once we had entered the “James Bond” style elevator, walked into the restaurant and took in the view of the San Juans towering over the town, we were transferred from the B squad to A squad. This was both of our first time dropping into Bear Canyon and I would highly advise you not to do so unless you are equipped with avi gear and know what you are doing because these lines are big, scary and dangerous. Of course there may be larger terrain in other parts of the world, but Telluride’s side-country definitely deserves the utmost respect. One wrong turn and you are seriously cliffed-out or in a massive avalanche path, with no way out. Trigger a slide in the wrong area and you will have a thousand foot ride to the bottom over exposed cliffs and rocks. As I previously mentioned, the stars had aligned for us and we had relatively stable conditions, though by our last day the spring sun’s heat turned the light powder into heavy snow and things were beginning to move, but let’s focus on day two. We established our safe zone, set up to film, and dropped in to a super fun line.

This first section featured a few inches of pow and wide open, fun turns. I skied conservatively due to the unknown danger factor. Rule of thumb - live to ski another day. After regrouping and identifying the next section we repeated the process.

At this point, we were both ecstatic as we gazed upon what we just skied. The duration of each section, the great snow and stable conditions, our blood thick with mangos, and the fact that we still had substantial amounts of skiing to go. With a rough guesstimate of where to go, we found ourselves right where we wanted to be. A fun little couloir type line with some spicy, icy goodness along the way.

Finding ourselves on top of yet another line, with our backs to a beautiful red cliff face, we stood on a wide-open apron facing Bear Canyon’s notorious avalanche paths and the valley descending down to town. With more hoots and hollers, we skied this last section and found our way on the racetrack that takes you back to the chairlift from town. Being used to skiing Steamboat’s quick side-country laps and realizing we could basically chairlift lap this 4000-5000’ run was blowing my mind. From here we skied another variation of the line and then explored the gates further down the mountain that led to the Reggae canals of the canyon. By late afternoon the quads were burning, stomachs were in need of food, and Allred’s was just whispering its name into our ears. So we got in the gondi and happily gave into the temptation.

Day 3-Earning a Living

By now, we are seasoned pros. Our traditional wake up morning routine was in full effect. Blue skies and crisp air? Check. Shower? Check. Smoked salmon eggs benny at the Rev? Check. Fueled from the night before? Check. Today followed the same temptations as our previous day. A few top to bottom laps but with different area/line choice, a few new explorations into the Canyon. Additionally, we had hit the afterburner of Jedi savoir-faire by scoring unlimited beers in the VIP section of someone’s after party. It’s what we do.

Day 4-Last

The San Juan couloir and the surrounding area were calling. We had been eyeing big lines a bit deeper south than we had explored. With Rick in his film zone, I stood on top of another beautiful line that closely mimicked everything great about this area, perfect pitch, great snow, and no one out. We gave each other the go-ahead sign language and I dropped into a beauty.

Still there was something missing. The San Joaquin couloir standing prominent with the oceanic deep blue skies was just too much to miss. After traversing through an eastern aspect we found ourselves underneath the prize of Telluride, the San Joaquin. A stellar, perfect cliff-lined couloir that stares you down from all angles. Unfortunately Dave’s beta seemed to be correct, the crux of the couloir was not filled in with snow but ice and rock requiring a repel or a committed air which could likely trigger a slide. That information combined with the recent observations of moving snow left us feeling uneasy, so we respectfully skinned by silently as we bookmarked the possibilities. Thirty minutes later we were once again on top of a perfect powder 8 line. I have yet to go heli skiing but I can only imagine this would be the type of line they bag all day. A long, glacial-feeling run with a few more inches of soft snow left me sending echoing excitement down the valley. Before we dropped in, we noticed another party down below making their way towards us from a far. We regrouped at the bottom, put our skins back on, and started to make our way back for a second lap. Just as we started, we rounded a corner a safe distance away from a steep eastern facing slope, roughly fifty feet tall. The other party was on the opposing side making their way up to the top of the slope when we heard them cause the heart stopping WHOOMPH… A few seconds later, the eastern facing slope gave out and slid into a small terrain trap. This was a very small slope with no dangerous aftermath, but this was a signal from Mother Nature. We were still high up the valley, with plenty of exposed open terrain to get down. Things were moving, it was time to go.

We decided to take the safest route down into a familiar zone. After arriving at the bottom of this pitch, we turned back for a final farewell to the heavenly zone we had just fallen in love with. Rich had noticed something out of the ordinary on the slope we had just avoided. A massive slide had given out where the entire slope had ripped a good thousand feet. Intuition had served us well and we skied fast through our previous lines, watching and listening like hawks. As we approached the town, we passed an outside bar and heard someone calling us. We skied over and were asked if we were okay. These guys had just set off that massive slide and hoped no one was in the path. A solid reminder that if your intuition is telling you something, listen, it keeps you from heading down the wrong path. Had we skied the San Juan Couloir, I might not be writing this today.

We jumped back on the gondi for last call at Allred’s, and made our way back to the car to start the long journey home. My body was enervated, my face burnt, and my mind overwhelmed. Indeed the stars had aligned and the legend of Telluride grows.

The Telluride trip will be featured in the Ski FAQ 1.16.

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