Telluride Helitrax

 

Sunny skies bake white sharp peaks, an ocean of billowing white foothills unravel from the highest points, snow burying the creeks, the meadows, and the old mining roads that scatter these parts.  The steady hum of the helicopter permeates from within it, only broken by the loud melodic thuds that the blades make against the air as it turns.  Speed (our guide) surveys the mountains with our pilot, we circle a peak twice then descend for the landing.  I look to my friend Raj, unsure about the expressions on his face, joy, terror, probably a combination of the two, he sees me looking at him and he asks me.

“Is the red light on?!”

“Yeah!!” I say in return, signaling that his helmet camera is rolling.

The pilot raises and lowers the chopper in quick succession to flatten the snow beneath it to create a more stable platform for the beginning of our expedition.  Speed unloads the gear, and opens the door.  A torment of wind, noise, and snow particles fill the cabin as we squeeze out one by one.  We huddle around our gear and Speed shows the pilot a thumbs up and after another torrent of icy particles the helicopter is gone..  Silence falls among us, the soft wind plays amongst the peak, a dull whisper, haunting and exhilarating.  We are alone in the middle of nowhere.

Speed looks at us to survey our expressions, we all let out screams of excitement.

“Alright boys, strap your shit on, you can ski on either side of me, meet me at the bottom of the hill.”

I throw my skis down and click in my boots.  I was the first ready and without comment or concern left down the hill towards Speed.

Telluride sits in the southeastern portion of Colorado, a region I have been told by opinionated locals to be the most beautiful range of the state.  I can’t argue and assume this to be true even though this is my inaugural tour.  Driving into the area through twisty mountain passes, my crew and I were lulled to the beauty of the first Colorado sunset we had seen.  Colors so deep and rich that I felt the sky was speaking to me personally..  We parked the car and hardly spoke, our eyes transfixed upwards, the air dry and cold, I stood shivering without any desire to return to the warmth of the car.  I’ll remember that feeling forever, familiar, forgotten, almost like uncovering a photo album from your childhood.  You think to yourself, oh yeah, this is when life was beautiful, silly, and amazing.

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The snow crumbles beneath my skis, this being a layer of corn we are pushing through, spring snow that has already been warmed and melted during the day, to be rehardened at night.  I haven’t skied on this before, and it feels unsteady at first although not disconcertingly so, the large powder skis stabilize my overexaggerated turns when I nervously gain speed on the steep mountainside.  I reach Speed and eagerly look to see in his face any hint of approval.  He smiles at me, “Not so bad huh?”  I agree and look back to my friends Raj, Chris and Brandon.  Eventually they all queue up behind me, and we stare at Speed awaiting our next plan of action.

It started really as such an innocuous pursuit, invited on the annual ski trip my friends had decided to begin I figured what the hell.  The year was 2006, and I couldn’t even afford the plane ticket to Salt Lake City, no less the ski rental, lift tickets, and lessons I would need to be able to navigate the bunny hills in relative safety.  Not to mention I was a big fella, that fell hard often.

I remember taking the first chair lift up a mountain, to take on the green runs which were markedly more advanced than the bunny hill I was practicing on, Sunshine chair lift in the Alta ski resort. I hadn’t learned to turn very well, I could just pizza slice and french fry (braking by twisting the front of the skis together and pushing out the rear of the skis to create a wedge), an exhausting method that worked so long as you weren’t going all too fast.  Well, I fucked up, ended up neglecting the instructors recommendation to passively meander to and fro on my way down, I had the first realization of the speed rush that awaited.  I ended up hauling major ass down the mountain, completely out of control, doing my best to edge through the turns and nearly colliding into a few individuals.  I was so proud, I had arrived.

It was a freakin blast though, I will admit.  Maybe not that first painful day, oh who am I kidding, week.  But the years and ski trips that followed progressed saw the direction of my interest in skiing refine from the minute specimens in raw ore to a bar of solid love.  The idea of things are usually far more terrifying than the reality of them, yet had you mentioned that to me before I were to take a helicopter to the untouched snowfields and mountains of some of the regions near Telluride, Colorado, I might have tried to persuade you that this was indeed an exception to that idea.  This does however open doors, and present the subconscious to think again to overlooked regions of possibility.

So, when it really comes down to it, do you trust in your own ability to overcome challenges as they present themselves?  Has life lead you to a place where you second guess your ability, or does it instead present that subtle self confidence within that says what the fuck, let’s be a yes man today, and cross the problem bridges as they come.  I have been on the mountains for nearly ten years, each year presenting a new theme to my practice, my first blue run, encountering moguls, black diamonds, trees, powder, demo skis, double blacks, and then back country.  Now the time has come for me to graduate the land of chairlifts, and instead receive the mountains as nature had intended, quiet, lonely white rolling clouds settled up against sharp rocky features.  No rating system anymore, no grooming, no external assistance, just a guide, a pair of powder skis, and my pals.