Earlier this winter, we set our sights on skiing up to Fairview Curve inside of Rocky Mountain National Park. Fairview Curve is a lookout point along Trail Ridge Road, which is the main road inside of the park leading up to the Alpine Center. Last winter, we snowshoed up to Fairview Curve, and it had been a very challenging trek. But we were eager to make the journey with our skis this time. And last weekend, we did it!
Our Fairview Curve Nordic Adventure began around noon on Sunday. The temperature was only ten degrees, but the sun was shining in a clear blue sky. And after about fifteen minutes in, I (Stella) had already begun to shed some clothing layers. When we had started out, there were already fresh tracks set in the snow from skiers who had been out earlier that day. And over the course of the next hour, we saw those skiers making their way back down to the parking lot.
Some people had only skied about 1 mile up, while one couple had skied 3 miles up Trail Ridge Road. Once we had reached that 3-mile point where they had stopped, we still had about 1½ miles left to reach Fairview Curve. And because no one had ventured past that 3-mile point, we would have to break trail through the steepest part of the trek. I remember staring up at the trail, carefully eyeing the deep snow ahead of us, and hesitating for a few minutes.
I often have two opposing wills battling within me for power: one will wants to be lazy and head back for a hot shower, a good meal and snuggle under a blanket with a book. However, my other will wants to push hard and challenge myself, and not be content with mediocrity. To be honest, I think both of my wills win an equal number of fights, but that day, the latter of my wills won out as I drove my poles into the snow to get my body moving again.
As usual, I am in front breaking the initial trail, while Larry is packing it down behind me. Like breaking trail on snowshoes, every step seemed to take forever, although we both noted that it was easier on skies. On skies, you glide more through the snow versus stomping down into it – very different kinetics. But even though it was easier on skies, it was still difficult because the snow was so heavy and deep, in addition to the steepness of the trail. I did a lot of self-talk to motivate myself to keep going, in addition to glancing behind me to ensure Larry hadn’t fallen off the trail somewhere.
There were two points when I had fallen through pockets of deep snow and I just sat there for a few seconds trying to figure out the best way to stand back up. When I break trail, my eyes are always cognizant of areas that look like potential sinkholes. But sometimes it is difficult to tell. And, there have been several instances where I have been know to be a little too adventurous for my own good and have literally disappeared into snow mounds.
Anyway, once my eyes had beheld the telltale marker of Fairview Curve (a brown bear-proof garbage can), I picked up my pace to reach it, and then turned around to watch Larry slowly make his way up there. Now, after all of the hard work to make it up to Fairview Curve, I was eager to ski back down. That is supposed to be the most fun part of all! Just keep the skis in the tracks and enjoy the ride. Easy, right? Well, yes and no. Skiing back down is not difficult from a workout standpoint; however, there are a few things that can go wrong.
First, there is little room for error. If your skis get out of control, you can find yourself gliding off the side of the cliff and becoming a colorful splat of paint on the pine trees. And second, there was only Larry and I to pack down the last 1½ miles of the trail, so the tracks were pretty rough and gouged. Meaning, that it would be very easy for the tips of our skies to get stuck outside of the tracks, thus causing us to fall. And falling on skis in snow that deep is not fun.
Halfway back down, the temperature had already noticeably begun to drop. And I must have become careless, because at one point, I had leaned back slightly when I went to push off on my other ski, causing me to fall backwards in an awkward position. In the video, you can see me skiing along and then suddenly falling over. We still laugh about that. Once back on my feet, we continued our journey down to the Tahoe, eager to get out of the growing cold. Naturally, the journey back down took significantly less time than the trek going up.
If you are debating over whether to snowshoe or ski on Trail Ridge Road, there are few things to consider. First, doing it on snowshoes can be fairly simple as long as the trail is already packed down. If it is not, breaking trail will be exhausting, depending upon how deep the snow is and how far you want to go. Second, doing it on skies can be a ton of fun, but also can include a small element of risk going back down in some areas, so I suggest that you have a little bit of skiing experience under your belt first.
The Fairview Curve Nordic Adventure was so much fun and I am glad that we had pushed ourselves to achieve our goal. Next time, we aspire to ski further up Trail Ridge Road to Milner’s Pass (the continental divide), which is a little over 2 miles beyond Fairview Curve. However, we leave next week for another trip to Jackson Hole, so this will have to wait until March.