The Cross Couloir: Lessons Learned from an Attempted Bike to Ski Mission
The idea of a bike to ski mission is oh so sexy; ripping down a soft spring couloir in shades, skiing back to your two-wheeled chariot, and then riding off into the sunset like a boss. Being an adventure seeking skier myself, this has long been a fantasy of mine and so naturally I jumped at the opportunity to make it a reality. While it wasn’t quite as glorious as I envisioned, my first bike to ski attempt was a fantastic learning experience and an even better adventure.
Bike: Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt Skis: DPS Alchemist Wailer 106 w/Atomic Backland bindings
Skiing the Cross Couloir is a slog of a mission this time of year as Tigiwon Road is closed to motorized usage May 1st - June 20th. With the added approach the trip is close to 30 miles with 9k feet of ascent. All in all this trip is one with a very low effort to turns ratio, just the way my roommate Jack and I like it. In our first year of exploring the backcountry together, we have tried to just go for it in the name of adventure, and this mission was no different. Our plan was to bike up Tigiwon until we reached snow, skin the rest of the way up and eventually camp atop Half Moon pass at 11,600 ft., then wake up in the morning and make turns in Colorado’s most historical couloir.
We set out at 6:00pm on a Sunday night with high levels of stoke and roughly three hours of light to progress towards our goal. Right off the bat Tigiwon road showed its menace with its relentlessly consistent pitch. Our packs were heavy and awkward as we painstakingly peddled our way through blossoming aspens, waterfalls, and breathtaking vistas. After roughly six miles spent creeping towards winter, we gleefully ditched our bikes as we finally reached what we thought was consistent snow. However, as it turned out, the last 2.5 miles of the road were the most grueling. We spent the days remaining light hiking through mud and skinning through immensely rotten snow. Needless to say we were tired by the time we reached the Half Moon campground at just after 9:00pm and were more than happy to set up camp 1300 ft below our goal.
Views like this make the effort worth it
After a restless night, we awoke to clear skies and were on the trail by 5:30am with much lighter packs and much faster snow. Less than an hour later we stood atop half moon pass where I unfortunately turned to Jack and broke the news that I didn’t have the legs to ski the cross- I simply was not feeling strong. Instead, I convinced him to pull an audible and go ski Notch Mountain. After a brief glance at CalTopo and a discussion of our observations from the ascent, it was decided to go for an east shot off the summit. We transitioned in to crampons and proceeded to bootpack Notch’s North face. 1200 ft later we were on the summit ridge, and before we knew it we stood on top of Notch’s summit with a great descent ahead of us.
Jack and Tom enjoying the summit of Notch Mountain with the famous Cross Couloir visible in the background
After eating lunch at 13,237 feet, we transitioned to skis around 10:00am and proceeded with our descent. We skied 2000 ft of 30 degree corn, and then another 1000 ft of adventurous trees before linking up with the Fall Creek trail that brought us right back to camp. We fired up a steaming cup of tea, packed up quickly, and made for home. At 12:35pm we were at our bikes, and at 1:00pm we were back at the car. What took a monumental two hour effort to ascend, was much easier on the return leg. Our bikes served their purpose as it made coming down Tigiwon road an absolute breeze. Bikes, if utilized correctly, can certainly be an effective tool in your mountaineering mission. However, in order to utilize that weapon it comes down to, you guessed it- having the correct gear.
Jack Riiiiiiipin with the glorious Gore Range in the background
For these types of missions finding the lightest weight camping gear, climbing tools, outerwear, skis, boots, etc. is crucial as the pounds add up quickly. For Jack and I, it was our camping gear and water supply that weighed us down. We would have saved significant weight if we had brought a water purification system (we both carried 3-4 liters of water in our packs) and a lightweight tent. In addition to the weight, the distribution is super important; not only were our packs heavy, they were also awkward. Investing in a bike ski carry system would have paid dividends for us as we got deeper into the mission! Finally, our planning/timing could have been better. We misjudged the amount of time it would take to complete Tigiwon Road which put us behind the 8 ball early. Having good beta on route conditions will allow you to choose the correct moment to transition to skis. At the end of the day we weren’t able to achieve our goal of skiing the cross, but we were able to cover an impressive distance and experience a few firsts along the way! Needless to say, this won’t be my last bike to ski mission.
- Accumula Collaborator