Eugene Buchanan: Hogan’s Heroes
I can almost hear Colonel Klink’s yell. I’m halfway through a 7-mile cross country ski trail on Hogan Park from Rabbit Ears Pass to the top of Steamboat Ski Area. With only 800 feet of elevation gain, and wide, flat meadows to traverse, this gives my mind plenty of time to wander. Mine just so happens to do so toward the goofy TV show bearing the trail’s name, one set in a bumbling German POW camp with the lovable and portly Schultz, easily bamboozled Klink and conniving Hogan.
I hadn’t skied the trail for 16 years, and the show’s heyday was another 16 before that. The last time was in 1998, just two years after the Morningside lift went in, which saves you the final climb.
Like Hogan sneaking out of camp, the timing seemed right to do it again: the mountain was skied out, the backcountry was shot from the season’s second crust layer and it was a beautiful day offering the much-needed visibility.
The first hurdle was figuring out our shuttle. Since you start at Rabbit Ears at end at the resort’s base, you have to either leave your car and drive back up or, like Hogan, connive someone into helping.
Let’s see, who could we get to shuttle? My daughter Brooke readily volunteered, but only because she had her permit but not a license and wanted to drive alone. Sorry, honey. Perhaps my friend Shelli, who was driving to Denver? Nope, she already left. Then the lightbulb flashed. My buddy Arnie, who had just gotten knee surgery and was laid-up, but not so laid-up that he couldn’t drive. Sitting home bored, he agreed for a six-pack.
Wingman Bob in place, next came the great gear debate. You want to go as light as possible, but not so light that you spaz out on the 3,000-foot descent. So despite all the new school AT and other gear on the market, the best set-up turned out to be our oldest: our ancient Tele gear, including jet-black Asolo Extreme leather boots and yellow, anorexic Tuas with pin-and-cable bindings, which I’ve kept, for some reason, for 20 years. Top this with equally old, knee-high purple gaiters straight out of the ’80s and I was good to go.
Starting at about 9,200 feet and finishing at 10,023 at the base of Morningside, the trail heads north just east of the Walton Peak parking lot. That’s where Arnie dropped us, leaving us with our next decision: wax. (Hint: skin it and you’ll likely never do the route again.) For that, we went with good ol’ Steamboat-style Extra Blue. Get it right and it’s like you’re moon-walking on a moving walkway, gliding 10 feet every stride.
The only place it didn’t truly shine was on the quick, 200-foot climb right out of the gate. A herring bone or two later, we emerged onto a pair of flat meadows before surviving a short, tree-lined descent to a sharp right across Fishhook Creek. Miss it and you’re wallowing in Walton Creek Canyon. Luckily, on a clear day the trail’s blue diamond markers are easy to see, picking up your spirits with each sighting. Just don’t tackle the trail in a white-out; it has as many landmarks as Bismarck, North Dakota.
The creek crossing leads to the longest climb of the tour and another descent that tests your skinny ski stripes (note: avoid the tree at the hairpin). A few moonwalking meadows later and you join Hogan Creek, at which point, Hallelujah!, you can finally to see the Morningside lift. Just don’t pop the Champagne cork yet; it’s farther away than it looks.
A few more meadow crossings and you’re almost there, but you also lose reference in the thick trees. Tracks veer this way and that and you’ll second-guess the proper route. The groveling soon ends, however, as you finally emerge from the woods into civilization (when we did, two ladies skiing the catwalk hooped and hollered at our garb).
Admittedly, we cut it a hair close. My watch read 2:55, with the lift closing at 3. One more pee stop and we would’ve faced a final few hundred foot climb to the top of Buddy’s Run. But we made it on and cracked a beer before trying to relearn how to ski down on skinny gear. Yes, it is as hard as it looks. Picking the easiest way down that wouldn’t completely compromise our manhood (no, we didn’t take Why Not), we eventually made it back to the car we had dropped off earlier and home, where the gaiters, boots and red bandanas could be stowed away again until next time.
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