By the time I got word of a snowboarding trip in the Silverton area, plans were already in motion. Still riding off the excitement of last years’ trip, some friends were rallying a crew that would converge from as far as California and Vermont for four days of what we hoped to be some of the best snow riding we had experienced. Like last year, the snowfall this year was anything but consistent. Committing to a trip like this with no guarantees on what type of conditions we would encounter was making me anxious. I wanted to make the most of everything, given the epic location: a cabin positioned above treeline near 12,000 feet with snowmobile access to a collection of tree runs and powder fields.
Snowmobiles. Something that seems so easy when you watch. Just sit down, hit the throttle and go. Right? Not so much. None of us were safe from their stubborn handling and on multiple occasions we would listen to radio chatter over the walkie talkies between different riders, updating the rest of the team on the status of their half-buried sled. If we had spent any more time digging snowmobiles out of inconvenient locations, you would have sworn that was what the purpose of the trip. Sleds stuck in snow banks. Sleds stuck in tree branches. Runaway sleds stuck in waist deep powder, down hill of the trail. Sleds stuck in nothing but a flat white field.
Yes there were some hiccups in the flow of each day, but the reward for all this drudgery was the delight of riding that same bottomless powder, reserved just for us, all the way back down the mountain. The Bonnie Bell cabin, our home base for the trip was pretty far out there. I’d say it is closer to the middle of nowhere than it is to civilization, especially considering the access route, but we made it as close to home as possible. Stocked with all the food, beer, whiskey, guns and ammunition we could possibly need for a full week, we left our cars at the trailhead and were immediately thrown into the valley path that our guides kindly referred to as ‘the Gauntlet’. Good reason for the name? You better believe it. This active avalanche area was seemingly scarred by a new slide every week if not more. With proper timing, the risk of being caught in one was very low, but the trail for the snowmobiles was essentially cut into the snowy hillside. Any time an avalanche comes down over this trail, you can take the bold approach and try to ride over the hard, choppy deposit, or you make the sensible move and recut that part of the trail by shovel. A time consuming process indeed and one that you could almost count on.
The ride in set the tone for the trip. Within 10 minutes we had already pitched a sled off the trail and down into a creek bed, where it lay idling and unharmed at the bottom of the slope. Seemingly unfazed, one of the guides casually replied, “We’ll come back for it later. Let’s get you guys up to the cabin.” So a few of us triple up on sleds and we punch it up the rest of the trail. Welcome to Bonnie Bell. An alpine palace with everything you would hope for. A wood burning furnace, an incredible 360-degree view of other peaks, a respectable sized solar panel, a snowcat, a fleet of snowmobiles, gas lanterns, gas stove, and of course, no running water. Taking in the amenities as if it was just another hotel, we throw down our bags to claim beds.
Without a hint of desire to kick back we immediately set our sights on finding a zone to ride for the afternoon. We could have been distracted by the lure of shooting guns and drinking beer to ease into the trip, but our crew was ready to charge. The guides offer up a quick lap to feel out the snow and then introduce us to the area that would become our playground for part of every day we spent there.
The Bread and Butters was a tree zone so large that we never had a shortage of fresh turns. Snow was falling for probably half the time we were up there and some days our tracks would refill in less than a few hours. Didn’t we just ride here earlier? Impossible to tell. Our crew would stretch each day for all it was worth. Riding until well after the sun went out of view and all we had left was the glow off the clouds to guide us back. Nights consisted of the usual eating, drinking and lounging around until exhaustion claimed each of us one by one.
Being on the early riser schedule for work was turning to my advantage this time. Right as the sky was emerging from darkness each morning, I would wander outside to the top of the near hill and spend some time with the peaks. Pretty great trip to ride some of the best powder of my life and share with some of the best people I know.