Coloradans on a quest to find the never-ending winter
July 15, 2007
Most serious ski enthusiasts never want the ski season to end. But, alas, summer arrives each year and they are stuck with only memories of the snow-covered slopes as boating, hiking and biking replace the thrill of executing those perfect turns in champagne powder.
For some hardcore skiers, the off-season blues are too much to endure. They simply can’t wait all those long months for their next ski fix, so they go to great lengths – and distances – to keep the magic going.
Some travel to far-away places like New Zealand, Australia, Chile or Argentina, where winter is in full blast during Colorado’s summer. They may go for short vacations or take jobs for the entire ski season, returning to Steamboat only when the ski mountain reopens. Others who don’t want to go that far will head to high places in Colorado and surrounding states, hiking many miles to find enough snow to make a quick run.
For Steamboat resident Rob Bringuel, it’s an annual challenge. He has never left the country to achieve his goal of skiing at least once every month of the year, but he has traveled to locations in Colorado and California to ski permanent snowfields.
“I try to ski Independence Pass up Highway 82 between Leadville and Aspen every Memorial Day,” Bringuel said. “It’s one of the permanent snowfields where the snow never melts.”
Bringuel meets friends from the Aspen side of the pass when it opens each Memorial Day to enjoy a couple of days camping and skiing. Rollins Pass outside of Winter Park is another of Bringuel’s summer trips where he skis on Sky Scraper, another permanent snowfield. Skiing is possible there until September, but the conditions are better earlier in the summer. Bringuel says he hopes to continue this tradition because many of the permanent snowfields shrink in size every year.
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Montezuma Basin behind the Maroon Bells mountains is another favorite spot for Bringuel’s off-season jaunts. This permanent snowfield is about a quarter-mile long between Taylor and Pearl passes toward Crested Butte. It connects two 14’ers – Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak.
“It’s great because you can drive up about 12,000 feet and then hike up 2,000 feet to the top of the 14’ers,” Bringuel said.
All of that just to ski down.
“Even if it’s just a few turns, it’s worth it,” he said.
Bringuel also has trekked to California to take on the Sierras, where the snow is much different from what falls in Colorado.
“They call it ‘Sierra cement’ because it is heavier, wetter and more dense, especially in the spring,” he said. “There’s less post-holing (hiking in which your boots break through the surface of the snow) in the Sierras.”
Bringuel recently achieved his goal of skiing every month for three consecutive years. He had done it previously and then took several years off.
“I’m just crazy, I guess. I love skiing,” he said. “It’s great skiing in the spring when the weather is warmer and the snow conditions are corn-like or creamy velvet. It’s very pleasant – second best to skiing powder. I love the whole aspect of skiing, but I especially love it when it gets warm and you can hike out early with friends and dogs, ski until about noon and then take your skis off and sit back and relax with a beer.”
Bringuel also loves that it’s good exercise, away from the maddening crowds, and – if you already have the equipment – cheap. He has skied many of Colorado’s 14’ers, including Mount Elbert – the highest peak in Colorado and third highest in the United States. He just hopes global warming won’t put an end to his late-season escapades.
“September and October are the hardest months to find snow, and it seems to get harder every year,” he said.
Phippsburg resident Tim Fink is another skier who finds skiing hard to give up just because it’s summer. He has been a ski instructor at the Steamboat Ski Area for more than 20 years and also has a passion for skiing every month of the year. In the past, he would move to New Zealand each summer and teach skiing for three to five months.
“The last time I was in New Zealand was in 1994, and I skied 284 days that year,” he said. In 2004, the year of his 40th birthday, Fink skied at least once every month of the year without leaving the country.
“It’s just my love of skiing,” said Fink, who has skied since he was 8.
A native of northern Indiana who has lived in the Yampa Valley for half of his life, Fink said he learned to ski in Michigan, where his parents took him as a child.
“The parents would snowmobile all day and they would drop us kids off at the ski hill,” he recalled. “My favorite place to ski was an area about as high as the Headwall lift. I went every chance I got.”
Fink sopped going to New Zealand about 10 years ago when he got married and bought a home.
“I quit going because of the exchange rate – it made it hard to pay the mortgage,” he said.
But never fear – the mortgage will soon be paid off. And Fink already has plans.
“I’m going to Argentina,” he said. “I’ve already got a job there.”
Like Fink and Bringuel, Steamboat resident Kris Hagenbuch hates to see the winter end. Since he put on his first pair of skis, Hagenbuch has never wanted to stop. He learned to ski in his home state of Michigan when he was 10, and after graduating from college, he moved to Steamboat, where he has continued to feed his champagne powder hunger since 1978.
“I try to ski at least once a month every year,” he said. “Once, I did it 72 months in a row.”
When the snow melts in Steamboat, Hagenbuch heads west, usually to Mount Rainer in Washington. He’s also traveled to Argentina and Chile to ski during Yampa Valley summers.
“We go when it’s winter there, usually in August, and ski in the high Alpine terrain,” said Hagenbuch, whose wife, Julie, also is an avid skier.
One of the greatest thrills for Hagenbuch is skiing by full moon, usually at about 5,000 feet on a 14,000-foot peak.
He also fears global warming will one day put an end to year-round skiing. “It’s getting harder and harder to find areas where you can ski all year.”
But until that time, he and other passionate Routt County skiers will continue to scour the Earth in their search for the never-ending winter.
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