February 2016 was one for the history books in Aspen, Colorado—HQ for Corbeaux Clothing. 40” of cold Colorado powder blanketed Aspen between January 31 and February 3, creating some of the most heralded powder skiing Aspen locals have seen this decade. Four consecutive days of knee-deep snow made for prime sending conditions, and it seemed like everyone was getting after it in Aspen.
Then, it went high pressure. Blue skies and unseasonably warm temperatures baked the cushy snowpack. Normally, people would freak as conditions shift drastically from all-time powder to spring-like slush. However, Corbeaux emissary TJ David made lemonade with the lemons dealt and proceeded to tick off backcountry lines throughout mid to late February that rarely get skied in a season, let alone mid winter.
David led the charge throughout February, from huck fest early in the month right through the perfect high-alpine conditions that closed out on Leap Year. We caught up with TJ David to learn more about the epic month he had in Aspen.
Check out our interview and photos from Corbeaux’s TJ David…
CORBEAUX: Give us a quick recap of your month—the good, the bad, the all time.
TJ DAVID: This month has been really fun and productive for many reasons. We finished up January with a succession of big storms here in Aspen and as you can imagine, the resort and sidecountry flourished early month because of all the snow that accumulated. For me this culminated in some incredible days and I was fortunate to work with a visiting photographer, Liam Doran, on an editorial piece for Aka Skidor, a glossy European ski mag. We just recently had several images from that cycle end up in publication.
A lot of people associate the lack of snow around Aspen during our annual periods of high pressure as a drag. Days spent with their faces engulfed in Instagram powder envy watching friends who are fortunate to be in other parts of the world getting crushed. But, there is also a pretty core group of skiers here in Aspen who see the opportunity that exists in weeks without snow—those guys know who they are so I don’t have to name names. And, they keep their zones pretty secret, just like the rest of us, but they serve to inspire…
El Nino never really turned back on after the storms early in the month, and the weather stayed relatively consistent and conditions started looking pretty good up high if you were willing to work for it. This month really started off gradually in that sense.
How did you prep for the skinning and climbing?
The last couple of seasons I really didn’t get out and use the high-pressure periods to explore our mountains much. I usually wait until late April and sometimes even May. However, this season I was a little more determined and I spent the first couple weeks of February skinning laps on Aspen, Buttermilk and Highlands to get my legs in better shape while I waited for things to green light deeper in the mountains. Lots of workouts skinning and without giving away too much beta, there are a couple nice zones in the Castle Creek area that we were able to get into early, safely, and gave us an opportunity to see what was going on above 13,000 feet, and also feel the incredible freedom that accompanies alpine touring.
What lines did you tick off this month when the backcountry avy forecast settled down?
While a lot of guys really like to get after the more easily accessible east facing terrain of Highlands Ridge, I’m just not that comfortable jumping into those lines this time of year so I stuck to some areas I knew from past springs and went out with familiar partners like Adam Moszynski, Patrick Westfeldt and a few others. Every tour really accompanied a mixed bag of conditions, from breakable crust, wintery powder, refrozen, chalk, and even my most recent tour, we skied South/South East facing corn, which is unusual for February.
Did you have a hit list for lines you wanted to tick off?
I really didn’t have a specific list of lines for this February. Things just sorted happened in a progression based on successes and failures in previous outings and based on beta from friends and partners. I like to ski in areas I’m familiar with and in terrain I know when it’s early in the season. For one, this helps eliminate any uncertainty when it comes to avoiding trigger points, convexities and areas where it is likely to still trigger an avalanche. I prefer to travel in terrain where I know the approach and exit, and can formulate a game plan with my partners before leaving the parking lot.
When getting into the alpine in Colorado this early in the season, there is an element of uncertainty about the snowpack, even when CAIC is saying everything is green, the terrain is complex and there are many areas where it’s important to be safe. Being familiar with specific zones is important and that’s why Adam and I chose to ski the NW face of North Hayden as one of our bigger lines of February. From there it was really a continual and gradual progression that culminated in my recent ascent and descent of the “BS Couloir” on Cathedral Peak.
Tell us about that aesthetic line—“BS Couloir.”
The “BS Couloir” is a line I have skied twice before in previous seasons, along with a majority of the other couloirs in that area. We chose that one because of familiarity as well as accessibility, terrain features and we knew if things didn’t look or feel right we would have a variety of other options for less committed and more low-angle skiing. This time of year when you leave your truck to head out on a 7 or 8 hour day in the mountains, even when things are apparently “green lighted” you know there is a very strong chance you’re just going out for a very long walk in the mountains. It doesn’t hurt to choose a really beautiful location for this reason as well and because skiing a steep line is always secondary to getting home safe this mentality was held from the moment we left our truck to the moment we got back.
Packy [Patrick Westefeldt] and I were both fortunate to find some great consolidated winter snow in the “BS” and things were more or less how we had envisioned it before setting out. The cramponing was easy and the climb was straight forward. A series of aggressive ski cuts solidified our belief that conditions were safe and we enjoyed mostly good, wintery snow top to bottom.
That experience will certainly be a February line that I’ll look back on, happy I capitalized during a period of high-pressure, but even more so grateful for the beautiful day, good snow, safe climb, fun ski and awesome shared experience with a good friend.
For more info from Corbeaux emissary TJ David, check out his website, blog, photography, videos and storytelling at tjdavidski.com.