Silver Couloir- Buffalo Mountain

by Daniel Weiss March. 18, 2020 394 views

Date Skied: 3/15/20

Elevation: 12,777 ft

Partner: Brett

One of the much talked about 50 Classics of North America, Silver Couloir stands out as a beacon above the busy hub of Silverthorne-Frisco in the heart of Summit County. Although not technically demanding, it requires a *very* steep 3500 foot skin track and the line itself is prone to avalanches.

My first attempt ended before it even began, with a missed wakeup alarm, leaving me sitting in the parking lot at 5 AM, wondering why I woke up so early. Thankfully, I was able to to a quick turnaround, and the following day (Sunday) I was able to partner up with a great skier; Brett. With churches closing everywhere (sadly), I had no commitments, and so Sunday would be perfect.

Just at the sky began to glow orange to the East, I arrived at the trailhead and immediately began prepping the gear. The mood was grim; everyone was feeling the tension surrounding the outbreak of the COVID-19. Ski areas were shut down, making backcountry trailheads more crowded than usual. Already, the parking was starting to fill up. Soon Brett arrived, and we began the gentle approach mile.

Looking Over Frisco, Coin Slot on the peak to the right.

Looking Over Frisco, Coin Slot on the peak to the right.

After a gentle warm up, the uphill skin track became very aggressive. With an icy, sun affected snow crust, a slip here and there, turned into a balancing act, slowly weighting each ski and hoping the skins would bite. Eventually, enough was enough, and I pulled out the hitherto unused ski crampons, which worked to great affect, although our speed was still slow as my partner did not have any. As we slowly rose above the valley floor, it became increasingly apparent that we had chosen a beautiful day to get out, and the view became better, and better.

Topping out above the trees

Topping out above the trees

As our pace picked up a bit with the slowly relenting angle, we managed a few stops to take pictures and sip on water.

Soon, we stood above the ridge and took in the stunning views.

On the ridge

On the ridge

Although we were now above our intended ski line, we decided to poke around the summit and see if it was worth the effort. Although summitting would have been nice, we reached a point at which the risk outweighed the reward given our objective. A quick glance at our watches told us our time would be better used hitting the couloir while it was primed and ready to go rather than wasting too much time on the ridge.

Looking across the Gores toward Red Buffalo Pass

Looking across the Gores toward Red Buffalo Pass

Our intention was to dig a snowpit to investigate for weak layers, however a few turns above the consequential terrain told us enough info: speed was a better option for safety. The wind loading was minimal. Taking a conservative line, and going one at a time from safe-point to safe-point, we made a plan at each leg and stuck to it.

Better with every turn

Better with every turn

With only one sketchy bit of snow at the very top, the rest of the line went beautifully. Our conversation consisted of "this is awesome," "this is a great view," and "I see why this is a classic!" The line was long, sustain, and powdery, with turns just steep enough to keep you focused, but mellow enough to open up the speed a bit.

Looking down the line

Looking down the line

Nearing the bottom half

Nearing the bottom half

Once we reached the bottom of the chute, we stayed right as early as possible in order to keep as much elevation as possible. unfortunately, our luck ran out, and we were forced to switch back to touring mode and gain the last 1000 feet back to the car. Thankfully, the slog was short-lived, and all we could do was reminisce on the great line we'd just experienced. Once back at the truck, the effects of the ski closures were obvious: the trailhead was overloaded with skiers and boarders, all aiming for Buffalo Mountain (albeit, with a very late start). The mood was relaxed and jovial as we shed our layers and gear. Another off the list! Hopefully things can return to normal soon, so that travel can be more predictable. With Elbrus coming soon, all I could do is pray that the borders would remain open.

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