Trip Report and Photography by NATIVE Ambassador Ryan Scavo.
Backcountry skiing in the southern San Juans is a special thing. While you can find deep powder just about anywhere in the Colorado mountains, the San Juans offer a level of solitude that is hard to beat. So, when I was invited to join a group of women on a backcountry skiing and yurt trip in my own backyard, I jumped at the opportunity.
Three weeks after the invite came in, I was loading up to meet a group of gals for the first time and skin into the Pass Creek Yurt. The week of, back-to-back storms laid our foundation and the weekend forecast called for clear skies and big smiles.
Sitting cozy along the Continental Divide, near Wolf Creek Ski Area—a resort known for “the most snow in Colorado”—the Pass Creek has spectacular views of the ridgeline above, valley below, and incredible tree skiing scattered between.
These photos tell a little bit of the story of 6 new friends and a couple of ultra-special bluebird powder days.
We kickstarted the trip at an elevation just over 9,000 feet and our destination was slightly above 10,200 feet. It’s not a major climb, but it is a fun tour with a great downhill section that ends right at the yurt’s front door. Best part? That late morning sun paired with crisp December air was the perfect combination of conditions for a sub-three hour tour.
Our trip leader was Mindy, a Colorado-based photographer, powder ripper, and all-around fun chick. Shortly after meeting for the first time in the trailhead parking lot, we started our ski day off on the right foot—by filling her water bladder with champagne and splitting up the last-minute 6-pack I brought into the rest of our packs.
Whether your an AT, tele, or split board kinda gal, “you gotta get up to get down” stands true. We were plagued by overly-sticky skin glue, broken skin straps, frozen bindings and more—but we got up…and we got down.
Amanda, Summit County-based interior designer, wasn’t short on good times and good-time stories. Shortly after I snapped this shot, I got tripped up on my own skis, landing me and all my camera gear in nearly two feet of untouched snow.
Late afternoons are meant for last-light lap sessions, tasty beverages and cozy fires. The Pass Creek Yurt made it all happen and then some. While half the gals lapped the trees, the rest of us settled in to start dinner and get the wood stove fired up.
Christi, San Luis Valley-based videographer/photographer, test drove her new splitboard on the trip. When she wasn’t filming like a boss, she was riding like one. Splitboarding is a different beast, but when the downhill is this sweet, it’s worth every step.
Speaking of those late day laps, Kat, our high-vis gal, was in full-send mode, indulging in end-of-day runs before the sun sank too low.
Backcountry dining is what you make it. While some love instant oats, bars, or jerky, others bring smoked salmon, capers, and fresh-baked sourdough loaves. Choose wisely.
The party was on repeat for our second day at the yurt. We woke up early to a stove needing stoking and bodies needing caffeine. It didn’t take long to pull ourselves together and get skinning knowing since we knew what was waiting for us.
What’s the best part about an overnight in a cozy yurt in the middle of nowhere? All the fresh powder you can imagine. Every few yards, I just remember thinking to myself, I could drop here; no, I could drop here; no, I should drop here. It’s hard to keep your eye on the prize (the top) when you’re passing such potential-filled terrain!
After a couple runs above our basecamp, Jonnah decided digging for kickers was a pretty good idea. She was right. It doesn’t take much to have fun in the San Juans. A shovel, good attitude and a willingness to get into it.
Sweat equity is one paycheck Jonnah cashes in on. The only other Colorado chick on a splitboard for this trip, Jonnah broke trail all weekend and had an incredibly contagious smile. This girl makes a mean kicker and hucks it just as solidly!
Behind the scenes, you’ll typically find me with a camera in hand and a big smile on my face. This shot was somewhere in between Jonnah smacking pines, sips of Tincup whiskey and sitting waist-deep in snow below the kicker. I’d do it all over again, too.
Kat dropping in and the lighting just right. Bluebird days can be fun in black and white—especially when the powder starts smacking you in the face.
Touring up steeps can be lung-busing. But when you make it, it’s always nice to see smiling faces and share some fist bumps or high fives (and maybe whiskey). The next thing I remember hearing is “dropping in 3, 2, 1…”.
Admittedly, the tour out of the yurt was a bit of a slog. The views were unreal for the first mile and a half, but shortly thereafter, it was an uphill, groomed trail from a nearby reservoir with blowing wind at times and beating sun at others. They say you can’t value the good unless you’ve experienced the bad, right?
Whether it’s an uphill slog or downhill powder session, you’ll probably see me smiling either way because I know I’m earning my turns and getting after it while the gettin’ is good!