Winter solstice campout at Colorado’s Rabbit Ears Pass, plus first impressions of the Asnes Nansen

Get psyched before your own next trip... fire your imagination and expand your horizons while discovering new telemark and backcountry skiing destinations from around the world. Our Trip Report Archive is packed with inspiring and informative words, photos and video, it’s a wonderful resource made possible by the contributions of thousands of enthusiastic members of our community. Come on in and get your stoke on…
Post Reply
User avatar
Ptarmigan
Posts: 15
Joined: Wed Nov 04, 2020 2:10 am
Location: Colorado
Occupation: Park ranger and artist on the side

Winter solstice campout at Colorado’s Rabbit Ears Pass, plus first impressions of the Asnes Nansen

Post by Ptarmigan » Mon Jan 11, 2021 12:09 am

With most of our vacations cancelled due to the pandemic in 2020, my husband and I turned to exploring remote backcountry areas for COVID-safe fun. Between July and October, we spent 23 nights in various wilderness areas of our home state of Colorado over many separate excursions. After a particularly cold but successful backpacking trip in the end of October (temperatures dropped into the single digits), we were inspired to plan one final trip for the year: a two-night winter solstice campout.

Fast forward to December 20 and there we were on the Hogan Park Trail at Rabbit Ears Pass in Colorado with 60-pound packs and our brand new Asnes Nansen skis. We couldn’t have dreamed of better weather: daytime temperatures were to be in the 30s with overnight lows around 20 degrees--quite warm for December in the Colorado Rockies!

Image

Though the Hogan Park Trail travels a difficult 7.5 miles from Rabbit Ears Pass to Steamboat Ski Area, our plan was to only ski the beginning section which journeys over easy rolling hills through meadows and forests. After a few miles, we would set up camp, spend the following day touring around for fun and return to the trailhead the third day. A big snowstorm was forecasted to arrive on the final afternoon so we wanted to make sure we were back to the car before it rolled in.

As we weren’t sure how it would feel to ski with heavy packs, we opted to put our Asnes X-Skins on right away and leave them on for the entire ski in. The last thing we wanted to do was lose traction on the uphills and slide backwards and fall with such heavy loads.

Image

Other skiers had already travelled the trail and our Nansens slid beautifully on the packed surface. I was pleasantly surprised by how wonderful the kick and glide was even with heavy packs and skins.

Image

Image

One tricky thing was the deep trench of the trail, narrow and quite hardened, which didn’t leave much space for snowplowing. It was also challenging to leave the trail to make one’s own downhill turns as the snow wasn’t deep enough to cover the minefield of boulders and fallen logs hiding under the surface.

Image

I made it down most of the hills with an odd combination of creating friction between the sides of my boots and the edge of the ski track, micro-snowplowing and side-stepping. Maintaining my center of gravity while traveling downhill with a heavy pack was also hard and the slightest bobble sent me off balance. A few times I fell and flailed around like an upside-down turtle until I could wiggle out of my pack.

Image

Image

As evening approached, we noted an area that would be good for setting up camp about 500 feet off the main trail, out of sight, and along the edge of a tree grove that created a natural windbreak.

This is where the going got tough. This year, Colorado’s snowpack has consisted of a deep layer of sugary snow at the ground level covered by dense wind slab on top, and the state has had dangerous avalanche conditions as a result. Though we were far from any avalanche-prone terrain, this same snowpack made for very tricky travel, even in flat areas. Once we left the packed-down trail, we broke through the wind slab and wallowed in the crystals below. In some places it felt bottomless and thoughts of getting sucked completely under filled my imagination (though I knew that was impossible). Progress was ridiculously slow at times, and I wondered if we were experiencing the dreaded “pool cover syndrome” that is sometimes described with soft, round-flex skis such as the Nansen. As we tried to make progress up the slight incline, not only did we sink in up to our knees (or deeper), it felt like the tips and tails of our skis were higher than the middle section. I could see our camping spot ahead, but it felt like I was traveling in place and couldn’t get there. Every time I would make a foot of progress forward, I would sink in and slide a foot back.



We ended up ditching our packs for the last couple hundred feet and skiing to camp without them. Without the packs, we floated better on the snow. We skied back and forth on that final stretch of snow to consolidate it, went back to retrieve our packs, and then made it to camp with few problems.

We set up our tent, began melting snow and making dinner, and enjoyed a wonderful night in the wintry backcountry.

Image

Image

Image

Image

The following day went day touring in the area around camp with much lighter loads. Our Nansens traveled like a dream on the consolidated ski track and performed wonderfully through untracked areas as well. We also skied down an open gentle slope and they turned beautifully.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

While traveling off-trail, we sunk a few times but it didn’t happen often. It seemed like the trouble we had getting to camp the night before was related to skiing in highly unconsolidated snow while carrying the big packs. I am 145 pounds while dressed in winter layers and purchased 190 cm Nansen skis. That is the perfect size for my weight plus a daypack, but probably not ideal for a heavy overnight pack. My guess is that we just exceeded the capabilities of our skis in those particular conditions.

Fortunately, we plan to use our Nansens mostly for day trips with light loads. When we do use them for winter camping, we understand that there may be some limitations. I also think the snow conditions were unusually difficult. I look forward to testing out our Nansens on additional winter camping trips with heavy loads to get more of a feel for how they do in a variety of snow types. We may eventually get a sled to help remedy the situation as well.

That evening, we did some fun transceiver practice in the meadow next to camp and then enjoyed a short ski tour under the stars after dinner. It was a magical experience with snow crystals sparkling like glitter under the moonlight.

Image

Image

Image

We woke up to a spectacular blue sky and balmy temperatures on the third morning, but these conditions were short lived. Clouds from the incoming storm were piling up to the west and ushering in cold winds. Hoping to capture one final moment from this delightful trip, I pulled out my sketchbook and painted the meadow view from camp before we packed up and headed out.

Image

Image

Image

The storm arrived exactly on schedule and one-half mile from the trailhead we were surrounded by a magnificent snow squall that created a perfect finale to our solstice trip. We arrived back at the car grateful for the incredible moments spent in nature and eager for the next adventures on our Nansen skis.

Image

Image

Image

Stephen
Posts: 235
Joined: Thu Aug 06, 2020 12:49 am
Ski style: Aspirational
Favorite Skis: Either the last ones I skied, or the ones I should have skied.
Favorite boots: Alfa Guard Advance

Re: Winter solstice campout at Colorado’s Rabbit Ears Pass, plus first impressions of the Asnes Nansen

Post by Stephen » Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:34 am

What a fantastic write up and pictures!
Brings back great memories of time spent up there myself when I lived in the area.
Hope you get many more like that.





User avatar
Roelant
Posts: 186
Joined: Wed May 15, 2019 6:33 am
Location: Subarctic European Taiga
Ski style: Backcountry in the wild, cross country on trails
Favorite Skis: Nansen, FT62, Combat NATO
Favorite boots: Crispi Bre, Scarpa T4
Occupation: Ion Counter

Re: Winter solstice campout at Colorado’s Rabbit Ears Pass, plus first impressions of the Asnes Nansen

Post by Roelant » Mon Jan 11, 2021 3:12 pm

Amazing write up and pictures.
Regarding the sinking, there are some snow conditions where no XC ski will really provide sufficient float. The tip is less loaded than the underfoot area, and if the snow is fluffy enough the tip will want to rise on top. Wider skis offer a bit more flotation of course.
The problem you faced could perhaps be partially alleviated with full length skins to provide you with the traction to move forward.
I hope you have many more trips like this (with pictures please :))





User avatar
martin2007
Posts: 95
Joined: Wed Dec 07, 2016 6:23 pm
Location: Ontario/Colorado

Re: Winter solstice campout at Colorado’s Rabbit Ears Pass, plus first impressions of the Asnes Nansen

Post by martin2007 » Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:37 pm

Wow, did your pictures ever make me miss my winters in Colorado! I've day-tripped up in Rabbit Ear's pass, but never camped. Thanks for sharing.





User avatar
mikesee
Posts: 44
Joined: Wed Dec 02, 2020 12:46 pm

Re: Winter solstice campout at Colorado’s Rabbit Ears Pass, plus first impressions of the Asnes Nansen

Post by mikesee » Mon Jan 11, 2021 5:29 pm

Neat trip -- thanks for sharing.

But mother-of-god ditch ~half of your weight before heading out next time!





User avatar
Woodserson
Posts: 2109
Joined: Wed Feb 11, 2015 11:25 am
Location: New Hampshire
Ski style: Bumps, trees, steeps and long woodsy XC tours
Favorite Skis: DH: Voile V6, Altai KOMs, XCD: Asnes FT62, XC: Nansen, E99, Bonna 1800
Favorite boots: T2Eco, T4, Rossignol BCX10
Occupation: Retro Rager-grouch. Flailmeister. E99 Nerd

Re: Winter solstice campout at Colorado’s Rabbit Ears Pass, plus first impressions of the Asnes Nansen

Post by Woodserson » Tue Jan 12, 2021 9:48 am

Fantastic write up and even better pictures! Thank you. I am really excited to see this, you guys are doing it up wonderfully. Thank you so much. So great, so great. OOOOooOOOOoooOOOoooo

The Nansen is a great ski for this kind of multi-faceted touring. You guys nailed it.

A few hints:

Please close your bindings when you are not in them, open bails are vulnerable. If a ski knocks over and you step on it with the bail open, you risk a cracked bail in the middle of nowhere, or whatever combination of open bail and hard obstruction. Open, close. Open, close.

Also, pulk. I use a Paris Expedition sled I bought at the local hardware store, with PVC pipes connected to the ski loops on one of my backpacks with a good hipbelt ( I keep my day essentials in the backpack- lunch, layer, ski wax). The whole thing is cheap and effortless and I'm not bogged down. You can go full-on skipulk.com or make your own.





User avatar
fisheater
Posts: 1180
Joined: Fri Feb 19, 2016 9:06 pm
Location: Oakland County, MI
Ski style: All my own, and age doesn't help
Favorite Skis: Gamme 54, Falketind 62, I hope to add a third soon
Favorite boots: Alpina Alaska, Alico Ski March
Occupation: Construction Manager

Re: Winter solstice campout at Colorado’s Rabbit Ears Pass, plus first impressions of the Asnes Nansen

Post by fisheater » Tue Jan 12, 2021 12:36 pm

Thank you for posting! The trip sounds fantastic! I enjoyed the story as written, the photos just made it come to life with images. I really liked your painting. This comes from a guy that doesn’t stop to take photos. Keep it up, so you don’t have to say,”If you could only see the pictures in my brain, it was 30 years ago I can see it clearly today!”.
I am curious if you up sized to a 3 person tent? I was also curious as to your sleeping bag and sleeping pad combo?
I doesn’t seem to me as though the skis were the problem. It seems to me that a pulk may be the better solution to your snow conditions. I looked up the Paris Sled that Woods was referencing. They are readily available. I also saw a couple of DIY videos of pulks made utilizing that sled. Who knew???
I wish you many adventures! I hope you will be generous enough, and find the time to share them with us.
Cheers





User avatar
RabbitEars
Posts: 12
Joined: Sat Jan 02, 2021 1:34 am
Location: Colorado
Ski style: XCd
Favorite Skis: Fischer S-Bound 98 in my limited Experience
Favorite boots: No Favorite So Far.

Re: Winter solstice campout at Colorado’s Rabbit Ears Pass, plus first impressions of the Asnes Nansen

Post by RabbitEars » Sat Jan 16, 2021 11:06 pm

Thanks for sharing your trip. last year I did the Hogan Park Route all the way to the back side of Steamboat Resort and down. Although it was personally rewarding trip as I had never skied that far before I did feel like I would have rather made an experience out of it like you.

Maybe I’ll see you out there one of these days.





User avatar
Ptarmigan
Posts: 15
Joined: Wed Nov 04, 2020 2:10 am
Location: Colorado
Occupation: Park ranger and artist on the side

Re: Winter solstice campout at Colorado’s Rabbit Ears Pass, plus first impressions of the Asnes Nansen

Post by Ptarmigan » Mon Jan 18, 2021 5:53 pm

A few hints:

Please close your bindings when you are not in them, open bails are vulnerable. If a ski knocks over and you step on it with the bail open, you risk a cracked bail in the middle of nowhere, or whatever combination of open bail and hard obstruction. Open, close. Open, close.

Also, pulk. I use a Paris Expedition sled I bought at the local hardware store, with PVC pipes connected to the ski loops on one of my backpacks with a good hipbelt ( I keep my day essentials in the backpack- lunch, layer, ski wax). The whole thing is cheap and effortless and I'm not bogged down. You can go full-on skipulk.com or make your own.
Thanks, Woodserson! That is a great tip to make sure to close the bindings. I wouldn't have thought of that and plan to do it from now on.

I think we will eventually make a DIY pulk. My body runs super cold (and I have circulation disorder called Raynaud's Disease) so I have to bring a lot of layers and gear to stay warm and safe when winter camping. Not to mention that I enjoy carrying a few luxury items like a book (since one often goes into the tent super early in the winter darkness), photography supplies and sketching stuff. Carrying some items on a sled would make things much easier. I do wonder how pulks perform on trails where the ski tracks are deep and narrow from past skiers as was the case at Rabbit Ears Pass. Do pulks still follow along freely when they are wider then the worn in track? We also did a trail recently which involved sidehilling across a section (the trail was under the snow somewhere but it was completely covered by steep drifting) There was barely enough room my skis to bite into the hillside let alone a sled. I guess we would just have to plan a pulk-friendly tour if we planned to go that route.
I am curious if you up sized to a 3 person tent? I was also curious as to your sleeping bag and sleeping pad combo?
Glad you liked the post, Fisheater! To answer your question above. We used a 3-person tent. Honestly, that is what we already use for summer trips. 2-person tents have always felt too small for us (and they seem to be shrinking in size even more with everything going ultralight). My husband and I are very light sleepers and we need a little space between us for good night's rest. The extra weight is completely worth it for us. That said, we did get a winter version of our favorite 3-person summer tent so it would better withstand wind and snow. For 3-season use, we love our Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3, so for 4-season winter use we got the Big Agnes HV3 Expedition version of that. We have also had some luck using our floorless pyramid shelter (an older GoLight Shangri-La 3) for winter trips. It is wonderfully light, but after experiencing a few trips with severe winds and having to physically hold up the center pole with our arms for much of the night to avoid having the whole thing collapse, we appreciate the sturdiness of an actual 4-season free-standing tent.

For sleeping bags, we did something unconventional and actually brought two bags each. It would be ideal to get super warm down bags, but we just don't have the budget for it right now (especially after buying two sets of Asnes skis ha ha). And sometimes it is hard for me to justify spending a huge amount on an item I might only use a few times a year when I already have something that I can make do with (though certainly at the expense of added weight).

I get ridiculously cold at night (a 15 degree F bag is barely warm enough for me in the mountains in the middle of summer). I ended up bringing a 0 degree F synthetic bag and then putting my 15 degree F down bag inside it. It was so toasty! My husband did the same, though his synthetic bag isn't quite as warm as mine because he doesn't run as cold. We had to compress the heck out of the bags to fit them in our packs, but it worked! Realistically, if I were to get a single bag for Rocky Mountain winters, I would probably need one rated to -20 degrees F.

For pads, we each brought thin closed-cell foam pads for a bottom layer and then our ProLite Thermarests for on top. We would love to get one of the more ultralight modern pads like a NeoAir, but are holding off until manufacturers find a way to create them out of material that has less crinkle noise. Again, we are very light sleepers.

Anyway, it definitely wasn't the lightest system, but we stayed warm and had so much fun! Also, we knew we were only skiing in a few miles in fairly easy terrain so heavy packs were completely doable.

Hope this helps!
Thanks for sharing your trip. last year I did the Hogan Park Route all the way to the back side of Steamboat Resort and down. Although it was personally rewarding trip as I had never skied that far before I did feel like I would have rather made an experience out of it like you.
Congratulations on doing the entire Hogan Park Trail, RabbitEars! That doesn't sound like an easy route! We might like to try it someday, but definitely only with day packs. I have heard that some of the downhills are fairly serious. Also, we had some trouble finding the blue diamonds marking the route. We followed them successfully to near where we set up camp. However, the next day we wanted to explore a little farther on the Hogan Park Trail as a day tour. We gave up when we realized the ski track we were following was completely off route from that point forward. We never were able to find the blue diamonds after our campsite. We ended up just touring around off trail and creating our own day adventure. Maybe next time!





Post Reply