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One Family’s Unique Colorado Ski Country Adventure

J.B. Bissell J.B. Bissell

By R.Scott Rappold

Danger: Cliffs.

J.B. Bissell paused to contemplate. Were he and his two boys in over their heads?

Though he grew up skiing in Colorado, hed never been to Wolf Creek, a southern Colorado resort legendary for its deep powder they get 450 inches a year and extreme hike-to terrain. To the uninitiated skier who has hiked and traversed on the windswept Knife Ridge, the dizzyingly steep runs can appear barely skiable, if not downright dangerous.

But they had come all this way, so why not? They felt their way down, traversed around the sketchy parts, and hit some sweet cliff jumps. One section was so steep that after Bissell somersaulted out of both skis, he told his kids to take theirs off and crawl down.

Then Bissell learned a harsh lesson about the Wolf Creek powder: One of his boys skis had vanished in the snow. After an hour of searching, they gave up and went down for lunch.

J.B. Bissell J.B. Bissell

That was back in early December. By late April, Bissell and his boys Dade, 13, and Roan, 12, had fulfilled a dream of skiing every single ski area in Colorado, from the mega-mountains of the Aspen area to tiny hills like Echo Mountain.

Most skiers, for financial or geographical reasons, spend their winters skiing the same few mountains. For Bissell, it was about stepping out of that comfort zone and showing his boys what Colorado really has to offer.

When youre skiing black runs and double blacks, part of the fun is that adrenaline rush. You kind of lose sight of that when you ski the same place all the time, said Bissell. I love skiing the chutes at Steamboat, but because Ive skied it so much I kind of know what Im getting into.

The Plan

Bissell, a writer in the Denver area, had long wanted to write about skiing every hill in Colorado. But he could never sell the story.

This winter, he bought Roan the Colorado Ski Country USA 6th Grade Passport, which for $115 provides four days at 20 different ski areas. This was the year.

I thought, This would be something that would be really good to do with the boys, said Bissell. This was the best winter to do it, in terms of timing, and how old they are.

The main rule was that the kids couldnt miss any school. That wasnt much of a problem as they began to whittle away at the I-70 corridor and Front Range ski areas. Their Rocky Mountain Super Passes provided the skiing at Copper Mountain, Winter Park, Steamboat, Eldora and Crested Butte. He made good use of his GEMS Card, also sold by Colorado Ski Country USA, which provides 2-for-1 discounts at eight of Colorados nostalgicand less ritzy ski areas.

His dentist, a ski patroller at Loveland, hooked him up with a ticket there. A lawyer he knows in Glenwood Springs got him a ticket at Sunlight Mountain.

The Driving

Take a trip from Denver to the San Juan Mountains and youll realize just how big this state is.

Most of the trips were not planned far in advance, so they could chase the best snow. But this one had to be on a holiday weekend. It did not disappoint. Hitting Telluride, Purgatory and Silverton in one long weekend 1,000 miles on the road – was exhausting but worth it.

It took two weekends to ski the four mountains of Aspen Snowmass. They hit Powderhorn and Sunlight in another long road trip. Same for Cooper, Crested Butte and Monarch. Life on such a schedule was basically ski, sleep, drive, ski again. Time only permitted one day at each area, providing just a taste of what they had to offer. But the kids never complained.

It was a great adventure for them and they never did get sick of it, said Bissell.Dade agrees. The official family line was their favorite day was wherever they were at that day, but Silverton Mountain was in a league of its own. Rustic and forbidding, with just one chair lift and some of the gnarliest in-bounds terrain in Colorado, Dade easily picked that as his favorite.

It was difficult but at the same time the people that work there were great. They were fun to hang out with, said Dade.

He was asked if the winter, exploring new mountains, made him a better skier.

Yes. I had to be more aware of where I was skiing and what I was doing, the 13-year-old said.

A Ski is Found

Every skier knows that awkwardness of skiing a completely new mountain, so he would ask someone who looked like a local, or maybe a liftie, for the best advice. Then they would get a trail map and aim for what looked like the toughest terrain. Which led them to the aforementioned Knife Ridge at Wolf Creek.

After Dade managed to ski to the lodge for lunch on one ski, dad and a friend went back out to look for the ski. As he wrote in his blog:

Thirty minutes ticked by walking our search grid, not poking around Glory Hole and then I heard Tedford shout, Thats it! I quit! I looked up and a lone ski was hurtling toward me (this time, Im fairly certain he was throwing it at me, and again, thats fair). This mountain tried to steal from us, J, and we just kicked its ass.

Im not sure we kicked its ass, but I am positive we had an adventure, and man, thats what this is all about.

Bissellblogged about their unique Colorado Ski Country adventure all the way. Click here to read about it.