spring skiing

Local Tyler Simmons, right, has been spending his spring backcountry skiing. One of his favorite spots is the Vermilion and Golden Horn Combination Lineup. (Courtesy photo)

After a winter that blew Telluride’s socks off with near-record snowfall and access to ski trails that haven’t been open in years, springtime has continued to keep locals on their toes and in their boots. The snow might be melted in town, but the backcountry and nearby resorts offer a haven of adventure to powder hounds.

Tyler Simmons — member of local band Porch Couch and director of sustainability and waste reduction for Bluegrass, Jazz and Blues & Brews festivals — has been popping into his skis almost daily to get into the backcountry. He loves planning his expeditions and uses GPS maps to strategize.

As temperatures rise, the angle of the sun is changing allowing for unreachable spots to open up at higher elevations. Recognizing that he ascends at about 1-2 mph, Simmons moves with precision in order to reach the peak at the right time for optimal conditions.

Some of Simmons’ dream lines have included the Vermilion and Golden Horn Combination Lineup found above Trout Lake and Mt. Emma, which he accesses by hiking up the Judd Wiebe and Liberty Bell trails into the Sneffels Range. The latter, he said, takes so much effort that not many people do it.

When Simmons is skiing, he describes a sort-of focused intensity that drives him forward into some of what he considers the most gut-wrenching runs. “My thoughts are moving super quick, so I use mantras that get me through hairy spots by keeping my attention in the present moment,” he said. “Of course, it’s also important to look up, take a pause and appreciate the awesomeness of the place around you.”

Simmons’ backcountry treks aren’t the spring skiing spots locals are checking out. Many have found their snow fix at resorts that are still open. Max Finger, a local high schooler and member of the Telluride Ski Team, has been making weekly trips to other mountains to continue his mogul training.

“When I think of spring skiing,” Finger said with a smile, “I think of sunny days, T-shirts and a good time. Slushy snow is just as good as powder in my book.”

He described a recent powder day at Montana’s A-Basin that brought 14 inches to the mountain, allowing for all of the resort’s nine lifts to open.

Finger, who is ranked 11th nationally, is perhaps the smartest skier of them all as he has made a plan that will allow him to ski throughout the summer. In June, he plans to hit Beartooth Basin’s single-rope tow in Montana. In July, he’ll cruise on over to Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, North America’s largest ski resort, and in August he has his sights on Mount Hood, located 50 miles from Portland, Oregon. Finger will finish out his summer in the beautiful mountains of France and Switzerland before heading back to Telluride to start all over again.

Local acupuncturist Josh Geeter shared some of his backcountry gems. Geeter, who has lived here for 37 years, worked as a mountain guide and Lift 9 operator before opening his acupuncture business, Medicine Ranch, in 2002.

“For me,” he said, “skiing is not about conquering or teeth gnashing or the adrenaline rush, although I love all that, it’s about being artful and bringing love, intentionality, and fun to my movement.”

Geeter insisted that the most unique aspects of the San Juans, and something that makes these mountains so sacred, is that the geology repeats itself in different locations. For example, he said that if you are keen on skiing Upper Bear Creek, try Governor Basin for a similar vibe. Geeter suggested parkinf at Marshall Basin Gate off of Tomboy Road, ascending Marshal Basin to Virginius Pass, and from the top, ski a fresh line down the K-12 lookalike, Governor Basin. Hedge right, he added, to access the feature, colloquially known as “The Church,” and ski Holy Chute (a similar run to San Joaquin Couloir ... only steeper.)  

Additionally, Geeter suggested Red Mountain Pass area’s Battleship and Bear Mountain’s tree-line glades, which funnel skiers into a tight chute and calls for some “silly wiggling tight gully skiing.” For the avid mountaineer, Geeter recommended the Red Mountain to Telluride tour. He suggested following Black Bear Pass Road from the summit of Red Mountain to Trico (Tri-County) Peak. Depending on the conditions, one can drop down any of Trico’s sides and continue on to No-Name Peak to ski “The Slant.” From there, following Imogene Basin to the Finn Boys avalanche paths will drop the skier out next to the power plant just below Bridal Veil Falls and to the Idarado Mine.

Don’t be fooled by the cleared steps of our courthouse or the short-sleeved sun-soakers enjoying an Americano in front of Coffee Cowboy, Telluride’s favorite three-letter word is still on the lips of many locals.