The Commando Run
The Commando Run is a ski tour from Vail Pass to Vail which, according to the Falcon Winter Trails guidebook, is named for the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division soldiers who used the route for training in high altitude skiing combat and for the commando raids during world war II. An excellent history of the 10th Mountain Division can be found over on Lou Dawson's Wildsnow website.
For us it was an opportunity to spend a big day out on skis on what is considered to be one of the most challenging and best ski tours in Colorado. Pegged at 18 miles with 2,800 feet of ascent and 5,000 feet of descent it's fairly stiff. We decided to switch it up and swapped out the prescribed descent down the Vail ski area with the more adventurous Minturn Mile. The additional distance was more than compensated by ending up at the Minturn Saloon which functioned as a big fat carrot throughout the day.
Just before 8:30 a.m. the Flying Five Troop departed Vail Pass as a storm cleared leaving behind a few inches of cold fresh snow.
Headed west towards Shrine Pass:
The new snow was just enough to freshen up the surface but not enough to slow us down. In fact we were surprised at the cold temperatures on what was forecast to be a warmish spring day. We had every kind of weather during the trip - sun, snow, rain, and wind - but ultimately the conditions were excellent for fast travel, unlike my previous time on this route when we were bogged down in gloppy snow and searing heat.
After five miles or so we reached the ridge which gave us panaromic views of the Gore Range to our right and lofty fourteener Mount of the Holy Cross to our right. Trooper Malone catches a glimpse of the legendary mountain through the swirling clouds:
As we descended the north west flank of Battle Mountain we enjoyed some nice powdery turns. Here Trooper Tibboel is dwarfed by the old growth trees:
After our peaceful time wandering in the woods we entered the Vail ski area. It was like another planet and it was harsh. We plowed through the mass of seething humanity and beat a hasty exit into the Minturn Mile. Although a popular 'backcountry' run we found some nice untracked chalky snow and a dearth of spring breakers. Back in heaven Trooper Gingrich lays sweet telemark turns into the Game Creek drainage:
We traveled all the way down this valley with the evergreens on the left and aspens on the right until it ends high left of picture center in Minturn. As we progressed the snow conditions became more spring-like requiring surfing of snow bridges through beaver ponds, some rock hopping and removal of skis at one point. Yours truly, Trooper Driggers, practices her best snowplow on the narrow trail at the end of the renamed Mudturn Mile:
After 6 hours and 45 minutes and approximately 19 miles, we reach the end of the Commando Run. Trooper Gingrich is stoked:
As are the rest of the Flying Five with celebratory beers at the Minturn Saloon.
Job well done, my fine soldiers!