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Sky Chutes

By Ann Driggers

SKY Chutes Over Copper.jpg

Without fail, every one of the many times I have driven I70 over Vail Pass, as I round the corner past Copper ski area, my eyes lock onto the Sky Chutes. An improbable feat of nature, the three couloirs etch the word SKY onto the west side of the Ten Mile Range. Reportedly these chutes are classic ski lines and in my driving daydreams I have skied them many times. But never for real. Until this weekend. My husband, Chad and I were staying with friends in Breckenridge and I quickly found an excuse to forgo the $92 ice skating ticket. Save money and go ski the sky? It was a no-brainer for me, though I was unable to persuade anyone else to join me. No matter… The weather was forecast to be very warm and sunny, so I was eager to be up and out early on, and now I could make my own schedule. Despite the chutes westerly aspect and the snowpack being relatively consolidated, the previous day’s avalanche report of wet slides in the area had me a tad worried. As the sun rose, I crossed the Tenmile Creek and climbed directly into the base of the S chute. For the most part it was broad and flat, and about 50 feet wide as it snaked its way upwards through dark lodge pole forest. The slope angle was a mild 30 degrees, allowing me to skin all the way, though I was definitely loving my secret weapon, ski crampons.

Climbing S Chute.jpg

I took my time, climbing slowly and steadily at a pace befitting of someone who was playing air hockey interspersed with tequila shots just eight hours earlier. I stopped frequently and watched the sun’s rays slowly creep down the side of Copper Mountain. After climbing 2,500 feet I ran out of snow and reached the windblown and grassy ridge. Despite my rather laxidasical pace the sun had yet to penetrate the inner shadows of the S chute and the snow was icy. I was way ahead of the schedule for corn skiing. Time was needed for the chute to transform into the buttery snow I had dreamed of. I decided to wait. I found a comfy snow seat sheltered by a stunted tree and had a snack. I looked at the incredible views south over Tennessee Pass. I called my mum in England to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day (not the same Sunday as in the US). Luckily she didn’t answer the phone. She may have said “You are where?!” and “I’d rather hear about your adventures AFTER them and not during!” I waited some more. I called Chad. They were cooking bacon and eggs. That sounded rather good. My resolve to stay put began to crumble. My breakfast-less stomach started to grumble.

Top of S Chute.jpg

I clicked into my skis and headed down, skiing the south facing side of the chute where the sun had lightly softened the snow. In just a matter of minutes I was back at the creek. I briefly entertained the idea of climbing up the adjacent K chute, but decided to leave it for another day. After all I need something else to dream about next time I drive over Vail Pass.

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