Commando Run - Vail
From November 12-14 2003, I skied the Commando Run from Vail Pass to Vail Village.  Rounding up friends from Vail to do any type of multi-day trip can be a challenge, so I found myself doing it solo.  The first step was hitching a ride up to the pass.  After about an hour of waiting in the dark, I had a girl offer to take me to East Vail.  After impressing her with the details of my trip, she offered to take me up to the Pass.  I stopped at the Vail Pass rest area for some water and to don the gaitors, and hit the trail around 9:30 with calm winds and a thin snowpack.  The packed trail ended about halfway to Shrine Pass and snaked around bare spots and downed logs littered everywhere.  As I reached Shrine Pass, snowmobile tracks were everywhere, despite the low snow.  I started up Lime Creek Road to Bowmanís Shortcut trail and donned my skins.  About 50 yards later, I looked at my ski and noticed my skin was missing.  I turned around and spent the next 30 minutes looking for it.  I skied a tenth of a mile down the trail and found nothing.  I skied back up using my pole as a probe this time, nothing.  I took one more lap, and still, nothing.  In disappointment, I was ready to continue with one skin, which so far worked fine.  If I ran into problems, I could wrap parachute cord around my ski.  As I took my next step, I turned around and decided to look one more time.  500 feet down the trail, my pole made a thud.  Yes!  The skin was buried a few inches down curled in a ball.  A rivet had popped on the tail clip.  I threw the thing in my pack and headed on.  The climb up to the ridge was brutal.  Fifteen to 24 inches of snow and downed trees made the going slow and arduous.  Finally, at 1:55am with some snow falling, I reached the ridge on a knob overlooking I-70 and the Gore Range, and set up camp.

The next day—or I guess I should say later that day—with a few new inches of the white stuff, was sunny and warm, although the forecast called for snow all day.  I enjoyed breakfast in bed with a Pop Tart and gorp and skied off at the crack of 11.  The temperatures were in the 40s and the skiing over the soft snow with cold temp wax was slow going.  Every several steps I would need to whack my skis against a tree or my pole to clear 10-20 pounds of glop caked on my bases.  Later on in the day, I could see a dark horizon ahead, with snow coming.  As I descended towards Two Elk Pass, darkness was upon the land, along with the arrival of the snow.  I set up camp right outside the Vail ski boundary behind a tree protected from the wind and heavy snow.

The next day I found several inches of new snow on the ground with quite a bit of wind and more snow falling.  After reaching the summit of Benchmark, I started down the ridge towards Mushroom Bowl.  After ten minutes of poling down the ridge I stopped.  Why am I taking this route?  Iíll be poling all the way to Vail Village for the next eight hours.  I turned around, climbed back up to the summit, and skied along China Wall past Two Elk Restaurant to Highline.  After poling half way down the double black diamond run, I took a left and skied Rogerís Run.  Unfortunately, I was wearing leather tele boots, and an old pair of rock skis.  What should have been a nice run down was instead a struggle to avoid rocks and stay upright, using my poles as a crutch.  I reached the bottom of Rogerís after making a handful of good turns and continued down to the catwalk and past a bunch of Ski Club Vail kids launching kickers they built on Logchute.  After more miles of untracked catwalks, I reached Vail Village, drank a gallon of water, took the bus home, and celebrated the trip with my roommates at the bar across the street.

The trip was quite brutal but well worth it.  I was likely the first one to ski it this season, and the untracked snow was slow going.  Last year, four attempts to ski it failed (all due to too much new snow!), and with a couple days of nothing to do in mid May, I had finally skied it for the first time, over two days.

On another note, on my third ski tour of the season this past week to the top of Beaver Creek, I saw the Northern Lights for the first time in at least a decade.  At 10:46 a small white patch appeared over the Flat Tops from my perspective, and grew to a long feathery trail within twenty minutes.  My goal of camping on the summit at 12,150 feet to see the Leonids meteor shower was dashed because of the steadily increasing wind, so I camped on the top of the start mound for the World Cup Downhill, this time on AT gear.  The ski down Grouse Mountainís Bald Eagle was totally untracked and the lower pitch was stable and perfect.  Iím glad winter is finally here!