Classic Route Time in Telluride
Some of the most classic backcountry ski mountaineering routes in the Telluride area just got hit this week. Yesterday, my team of three got Ballard Peak in this golden window. The peak gets skied maybe once a season- last year my buddy Erik Larson, a Telluride ski patroller, and I did it in mid-January. This year, due to the heavy snowfall, that first chance finally arrived in mid-February.
The route is comprised of a four hour approach with a skin and ski both over and under multiple summits, with an original departure point from the Telluride Gold Hill backcountry access gate at just over 12,000ft. When we arrived at the summit of Ballard at about 1:30pm, we were graced with powder the entire 4,500ft down.
From the summit of Ballard, you descend from almost 13,000ft straight down into the town of Telluride at 8,750ft via a series of traverses, cliffbands, couloirs, and bowls. And, after a spectacular day up high, you get the glorious satisfaction of seeing your tracks on the face of the beautiful peak hovering above you when you head back to work.
The past two days have been the first true opportunity all season for attempting the more serious exposed routes higher altitudes in the area. The evaluation to "go" comes down to a delicate balance of the right temperatures, snow stability, and wind effect.
A group of eight of us headed out the gate first thing in the morning and then splintered into three different teams to hit the various classics. Peter Inglis, a legendary ski mountaineer and Denali guide, and his partner Josh Geeter skied the Eleven couloirs- you have to see it to believe it. The Elevens are an ultra classic and only get skied once every couple of years by a handful of people.
Each team made it out safe and sound, and without any rappels, due to the lucky circumstance that most of these technical chutes have filled in nicely so far this year. All of our groups encountered excellent snow conditions and a great powder ski, which is typically a roll of the dice and can be extremely unlikely when conditions are safe.
As another big storm rolls into the San Juans today, we are all anxiously awaiting our next opening.
The photos above and below are of the route and my ski partners Lance McDonald and Steve Root on our adventure to and from Ballard.