| Powder to the People
Mountain: Quandary Peak
Route: East Ridge (Standard)
RT Elevation: 3,450'
RT Distance: 6.75 Miles
Travel time: 4 hours up, ~1 hour down!
Jordan = jmc5040
Andy = GoPackGo
Nick = MonGoose
Will no affiliation
When I first moved to Colorado five years ago, my notion of skiing was limited to green and blue groomers at the resort. After a few seasons of the Epic Pass, I worked my way onto black diamond runs and eventually into hike-in terrain such as A-Basin's Upper East Wall. The allure of skiing out of bounds appealed to me, so I purchased a touring setup, bought some avy gear, completed Level 1 training and started spending more time in the backcountry. Each year I would spend 10-15 days at the resort and 2-3 in the backcountry. Of course skiing was just something to fill my time until summer came around, when I could get back to my real passions: fly fishing, kayaking and climbing the 14ers. Then a few years ago something changed, I became intrigued by the idea of skiing a 14er. In December, I attended a talk by Chris Davenport at Bent Gate where he presented the premier showing of his ski the 14ers video (Available Here), a feat which he accomplished in less than one year. I was very inspired by Chris, along with the other members of this site who are close to completing ski descents of all the peaks. I set a goal for myself that this winter/spring I would ski my very first 14er.
A good approach to life.
The general consensus is that Quandary Peak's East Ridge (a Class 1 hike in the summer) is the easiest 14er ski route. The slope angles of the route are less than 30 degrees and can be viewed (HERE). This winter the conditions haven't been very good and our snowpack remains below average, but a late string of April snow storms has provided enough coverage for Quandary. After watching the forecast for some time, Jordan and I met up with Andy and Will, as I set out in search for my first 14er ski descent.
We left the lower trailhead around 6:45am and started skinning straight from the parking lot. Skinning through the trees was pleasant and the weather was beautiful as we watched the sun rise across the valley. It was a cool, clear morning and we knew we were in for a nice day.
Sunrise along the route of Quandary Peak.
Skinning up through the trees.
Andy surveys the lower bowl.
The terrain became a little steeper as we skinned up the lower bowl. I was feeling pretty good and we were moving at a steady pace.
This photo has absolutely no relation to my trip report.
Ascending the lower bowl.
We regrouped on the false summit and surveyed the remaining 1,200' to the summit. The ridge was pretty rocky but there was enough of a snowpacked trail and at times cornice to keep the skis on. The final pitch was fairly steep and began to push the limits of my skinning capabilities. I found this last stretch to be exhausting.
The group re-gathers (waits for me to catch up) before the final push to the summit.
Only 1,200' to the top and just enough snow to keep the skis on.
Just in case you were wondering, we're going up there.
When hiking in the summer, you can slow down your pace and take smaller steps to keep your heart rate down. Unfortunately while skinning, it's difficult to do the equivalent as I felt slow lunges were far more tiring than quick ones. The wind was also howling and almost knocked me over on a few occasions and other times it knocked me back a few feet. But I was close, so close to reaching the summit and I only had a few hundred feet left to go. It's that time when you ask yourself, "why am I doing this?" because you realize that you're not going anywhere fast and you just try to accept being uncomfortable. All that really matters is the next step or in this case, the next stride.
Jordan rocking the splitboard on the final ascent.
I watched Jordan disappear over the horizon just ahead of me and I knew the summit was very close. As I reached the top of the peak, I skated over to the summit and was greeted by a beautiful spring view.
If I had brought my 1970's film camera, the photograph would probably look like this.
I reached the summit around 10:45am where the rest of the group was waiting for me. It was sunny and windy up on top while the wind gusts lived up to the forecasted 45mph. We pulled the skins off of our skis, Jordan re-united his splitboard as we took a few photos and ate a quick lunch. Nothing feels as good as the summit, expect for maybe the cold beer in the parking lot.
Obligatory summit shot: Nick, Jordan, Will and Andy
Andy is ready to let it rip.
Jordan re-unites his splitboard.
I did it!!! So, which way are we going down?
Do you know what it feels like to snowplow (pizza wedge) 3,400' down a mountain? I do. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration but let's just say that conditions were variable. The upper bowl was still pretty solid and the wind loaded slope made it tough to ski. I spent most of the upper bowl in the back seat (weight on my heels) trying to avoid the shark fins (jagged rocks) that swarmed the bowl. I kept waiting for an unseen rock to reach up, grab my ski, and rip an edge off (yes, that's happened before) but as I got further into the bowl, the coverage improved slightly. I traversed over to the ridge and watched the remaining members of the group ski down.
Skiing the shark infested upper bowl.
We followed the ridge down to the lower bowl where the conditions were much improved and the snow had softened up nicely. This was the sweet spot on the mountain at this time of the day. Unlike the upper bowl, I felt comfortable enough to really open it up and carve some nice turns. When we reached the bottom of the lower bowl our group decided to continue down the drainage towards McCullough Road instead of following the trail back to the trailhead. This in hindsight was a good decision as it provided some additional favorable skiing.
That's me, shredding the lower bowl. (photo by Jordan)
When we dropped down in the trees the weather had really warmed up and things started to get sloppy. We picked our way through the trees keeping the angle low to avoid getting caught in any wet slides. As we traversed across the top of a hill, I looked down and watched basketball size chunks of snow crumbling down the hillside in a wet-loose slide. It wasn't a huge (about 150' long) but I wouldn't have wanted to get caught in it. We skied down gentler terrain through the trees and I skate skied over to get a photo (I really don't want to make a career being an avalanche photographer).
Wet and loose.
When we got back to the road, we put on our skins on, followed the road up the hill and then skied back to the trailhead around 12:30. The parking lot looked like one of those mud volleyball games you'd see on a college campus (how I miss those days).
The East Ridge is displayed in green and our approximate ski decent in red. (Modified from 14ers.com)
I did it, I skied my first 14er!
I thoroughly enjoyed the day on Quandary Peak and I am actually looking forward to skiing my second 14er, in the year 2026. The two biggest accomplishments for me were keeping my skis on the entire way (between skinning and skiing) and most importantly, not falling. Although I'm not ready to jump on the Dreamin' of Winter bandwagon just yet, I have gained a new found respect for the serious skiers who are in pursuit of skiing all the 14ers. Being close to finishing the 14ers, it was a very strange feeling to be a complete newbie again and reminded me of climbing my very first peak.
Note: Special thanks to Ofori for lending me his Nikon P7000 for this trip while my Canon G12 is being repaired. All Quandary ski photos, unless otherwise noted, are © Nicholas Gianoutsos, 2013.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):