Date Climbed: 5/16/20
Elevation: 13,898 ft
Another one of my bucket-list peaks, Horseshoe Mountain had been in my mind for years now, having first seen it while climbing Mount Sherman. The Boudoir Couloir was a local classic, funny name and all. Its slope is relatively moderate, with one narrow section.
With out Russia trip cancelled due to travel restrictions associated with Covid, Heather wanted to get on some snow climbs. Early that Saturday morning, I jumped out of bed, realizing I had slept 30 minutes past my alarm. Thankfully, Heather was still awake and I rushed to the truck with all my gear in tow. Although I was late, Heather was gracious about it and we continued up 285 headed for Fairplay. Luckily, the roads were clear and we made good time getting to the trailhead.
We would definitely not be alone, as the trailhead was already packed with cars and many skiers aiming for the same objective. The day was already warm, but the wind was keeping the snow cool enough. We prepared our gear and took off down the road. Our pace was moderate, but the snow held up, and so we made good progress. Just as we topped the ridge between the Sherman and Horseshoe drainage, the couloir came into view, along with a few groups of about 9 skiers.
We wanted to make sure we didn’t miss our window of safety, so we kept a strong pace, slowly catching up to the skiers far ahead of us. After a few transitions between snow and dirt, the snow finally became continuous and we took the path of least resistance up to the base of the couloir. By the time we arrived at the bottom, we had just caught up to the first group of skiers. We began sharing plans and what we had noticed with the snowpack. With such a large group of us, the bootpack would be excellent and require much less effort than a pristine slope would. As we all began to transition, the first group departed, breaking the initial trail, followed by another group of three. We were the last to depart, with the first group a couple hundred feet above. I kept a moderate pace, aiming to catch up to the first group to help break trail at about the half-way point.
After passing a few of the climbers, myself and another skier broke the last few hundred feet to the top, finding soft facets and powder (surprisingly)!
The skiing would be variable in the middle, but soft at the entrance and bottom, or so I thought. The wind was very strong in the couloir and especially on the summit. With skis strapped to my back, it was like wearing two giant wind sails, pulling me off balance with every strong gust.
To my delight, there was an old mining shelter at the summit, offering us protection from the wind as we enjoyed the views and prepared for the ski back down. Not only did we have our nice little shelter, but we had our own entertainment in the form of one of the skier’s dogs, Summit. By the time we had all gathered together at the top, I had eaten and drank my fill, so I took a casual walk over to the true summit and took a few photos.
Once back at the shelter, I put the skis on and discussed our plans with Heather. The skiers would descend first, followed by Heather as she was glissading back down. We planned to meet about two-thirds of the way down, which would allow me to be available in case of an emergency, but also give me enough room to gather speed to get across the flat basin on the way back to the trailhead.
After the first group had successfully descended, they stopped half way across the basin and waited for us. I went a little ways down and took a few pictures of Heather as she came down to join me. I then continued down to our agreed meeting point, getting in some excellent turns. The snow was surprisingly soft and powdery near the top, but also fairly icy near the bottom, probably due to the wind. Once Heather had caught up, I took off down the slope, quickly reaching the group of skiers who had kindly waited for us.
After exchanging information, they went on ahead as Heather made her way toward us. From here, we did a sort of leap-frog, where I would ski ahead and wait for Heather as she moved along in her snowshoes. Once on the last bit of dry ground between us and the truck, we oriented ourselves and agreed on how to get back to the truck. I then took off ahead, skiing the rest of the road back down to the truck where I could finally take my ski boots off and let my feet recover from the past two days. Although windy, the day was still fairly comfortable and I sat back and relaxed at the truck while waiting for my partner to get back. About half an hour later, she arrived and we were once again on the road home.