Ski Descent of James Peak

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Trip Report
Colorado, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Mar 1, 2009
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Ski Descent of James Peak
Created On: Mar 2, 2009
Last Edited On: Mar 3, 2009


Trip Report taken from my website

The day’s objective was to climb (as a party of 4) to the summit of James Peak (13,294 ft) via St. Mary’s Glacier and ski back down in one continuous line. In an effort to lighten my load and speed up my ascent time, I decided to travel via a very light telemark setup that I had recently acquired. Although I had never skied tele before, I considered the 60% weight savings on my feet (vs. my burly AT setup) to be well worth the tradeoff on a relatively mellow ski descent.

St. Mary's Glacier

After a short hike to St. Mary’s Glacier, the wind began to howl and increased in speed and violence. About three fourths of the way up the glacier, I saw two skiers descending. When they reached me, they stopped and told me that they were bailing on their summit attempt due to very high winds. Seemingly underdressed with no balaclavas, their faces were bright red from the blowing snow. After a very brief conversation, they wished me safety and success and I continued up the glacier.

Ascending St. Mary s Glacier

Pair on St. Mary s Glacier

James Peak Climb

Upon reaching the top of the glacier, the wind subsided considerably and I rejoined the rest of my party. From the top of the glacier, we skinned an uneventful couple of miles across a flat windblown snowfield that was littered with protruding rocks and verglas). After the long and boring trudge across the snowfield, we reached the base of James Peak. The next 500 vertical feet gave us the least reward for the most effort. A false summit gave way to the final summit push along a corniced ridge to the top of James Peak. This final section passed surprisingly quickly and before I knew it we were standing on the summit. From the summit, we enjoyed a quick bite to eat and an incredible view across the continental divide. Mt. Bancroft lurked closely to the climbers left, begging to be climbed on a future trip.

The Long Snowfield

Skirting the Cornice

Final Ridge

Further Along the Ridge

Almost to the Summit of James Peak

Skiing from the Summit

Following our brief rest at the summit, I ripped off my skins, folded them up and tossed them into my pack ). With skins removed and heels liberated, my skis became substantially less compliant (no surprise). The next thousand vertical feet were comprised of alternating snow waves and troughs. The waves were topped with a thin crust and the troughs were filled with shallow powder. Where snow was lacking, verglas and rocks presented themselves in abundance as obstacles to be avoided or reckoned with. Having never skied tele before, my instincts told me to ski alpine style and approach tele-turns with caution. This worked quite well and I eventually worked up the courage to attempt a few tele-turns. Given the awful snow conditions, my first tele-turns were more difficult and less controlled than anticipated. I decided to save the majority of my virgin tele-turns for another day with better snow conditions.

Taking off the Skins

Back Down St. Mary's Glacier

After skiing back down to the long snowfield (now more exposed from several hours of sun and wind), I slowly progressed to the top of St. Mary’s Glacier. The snow on the glacier was very smooth and lacked any of the rocks, verglas and snow waves that were found throughout the rest of the trip. Delighted at the possibility of a few good turns, I charged down the glacier (last photo) and took my skis off for the first time (since the summit) at the foot of the glacier. 50 yards later, I put my skis back on and skied back down to the trailhead. According to my GPS, our round trip distance was 8.26 miles. While the snow wasn’t ideal, the trip was still very enjoyable and I was able to scout out a future winter attempt of a technical route on Mt. Bancroft.

Charging Down St. Mary s Glacier



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