Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs When the chance to ski North Routt County on Independence Day finally arrived, it exceeded all of my expectations.
Who could have ever imagined it would be possible to ski a 24-gate slalom course near the top of Hahn’s Peak on the Fourth of July? Thanks to Dave Mark and the North Routt skiing community, I spent the most memorable July Fourth I’ve had in the Colorado Rockies.
True, I could have just purchased a lift ticket at A-Basin during the weekend. But that would not have been the same.
Standing at the top of the racecourse on the north side of Hahn’s Peak on Monday, I felt like I’d been transported to Oregon’s Mount Hood.
But this wasn’t the Cascade Range; it was North Routt County, and I was about to take part in the first and last Hahn’s Peak Fourth of July Invitational Slalom Race.
Why the last?
Because we may never again in our lifetimes see the kind of July skiing available in the high country this year.
I was determined to ski this past holiday weekend, but I never dreamed it would be the rush I experienced above timberline on the local landmark. Hahn’s Peak, with its perfectly conical shape, looks like an old volcano. The erosion of a lava plug created the shape of the peak, which is named after a gold prospector.
Hahn’s Peak, in the vicinity of Steamboat Lake, is visible from many locations in Steamboat. If you’ve never hiked to the 10,800-foot summit, it’s not as daunting as it appears from Hahn’s Peak Village.
I trekked up Forest Service Trail 1158, accessed from a rough road opposite the hamlet of Columbine, with my Telemark boots in my backpack and skis strapped to my pack in an A-frame. The hike took about 75 minutes.
When I first spied tiny skiers running the gates above me, I let out a shout.
The course, which I estimated at about 250 meters long, was laid out on a wide swath of solid snowpack just west of the north flank of the mountain. If you’ve climbed the peak before, it was about 20 meters to the east of the trail that winds through the talus above treeline.
Dave Mark, who is a true mountain man, had lugged his own heavy pack and the slalom poles up the north side of the peak. He even brought a drill to place the slalom poles firmly in the snow.
I was a little intimidated by the race field, which included a 1998 Olympian and some people who felt it necessary to wear shin guards. Officially, I had never run a racecourse on Telemark gear, but I realized I was going to lose face if I didn’t jump into the fray. And for the record, I got tossed off balance by a rut on a mildly steep pitch about halfway down the course, went down on my hip and bounced up to finish the first run. I didn’t race the second run so I could take photographs.
The race was run in one field including men and women, and there were some very strong women in the field of 16. Linus Vaitkus, who competed for Lithuania at the Winter Olympics in Nagano in ’98, whipped the field by a combined 8.5 seconds. Chris Hagenbuch was a strong second, with Nathan Reynolds not far behind in third. Tim Magill recovered from a tough first run to grab fourth.
I’ll never forget July 4, 2011, on Hahn’s Peak. And I’ll never forget a piece of wisdom that Ray Heid imparted to me.
After Heid, 74 and a heck of a Telemark skier, finished his race, I asked him when his birthday was coming up. He said, “I’ll turn 75 on Oct. 4, but I’ve been celebrating my 75th birthday since Winter Carnival (in February). I figure that’s when I was conceived — during Winter Carnival.”
But here’s the good part: Ray asked me, “Tom, how old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”
Well Ray, I figure I’d be 23 years old right about now.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com