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First Tracks
posted: 01/07/2002
by Rick Kahl

Everyone knows Jackson has huge vertical and toe-curling steeps. Squaw is famous for the precipitous Palisades and KT22. But areas across the country have been opening white-knuckle terrain of their own, much of it still undiscovered. This means you can find pockets of adventure in unlikely places -- and have it pretty much to yourself.

February 17, 2001: Friday of Washington's birthday weekend. It's a bluebird day with temps in the low 30's. A foot of new snow has fallen during the week, and Winter Park is filling up for the holiday. The lift lines are at least five minutes long for major lifts, even the express quads.

I'm with writer Susan Reifer (work, work, work), and we head for Vasquez Cirque, Winter Park's most far-out terrain, in both spirit and geography. The Cirque has only been open for a few years; evidently the word is not out. Even though it's just a five-minute snowmobile tow from the top of the lift, this mile-long stretch of 35- to 45-degree bowls and chutes is nearly deserted. It's shockingly quiet. We pass a few other skiers as we traverse out to D chute, which is trackless. We hop in and the snow's soft. We free-fall from turn to turn, each one a bit faster than the last.

It feels as remote as if we'd hiked for hours to get here. There are only three other skiers within view, and they're at the other end of the Cirque. A long way off, across the valley, is the back side of Winter Park. We have the entire mountainside to ourselves.

This may be the year to make a different move, to discover your own pocket of adventure.

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