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Board Test Week’s Peaks and Valleys

Despite the early wake up after three full days of testing boards, rumors of snowfall and significant amounts of cold-brew coffee fueled Monday morning’s stoke on the fourth day of Board Test Week. Twelve testers piled 18 splitboards into the sides of a decked-out snowcat before hopping in for the ride to meet up with the Irwin Guides’ team. Any evidence of the previous night’s celebration vanished as caffeine kicked in and testers set goals for the day and bumped hip-hop.

The quiver of the day lined up at the Irwin Guides’ cabin. [Photo] Will Sardinsky

At Irwin, guides Ross and Mike laid out a game plan for the day—skin to an expansive, east-facing ridgeline with plentiful shred options, bang out a few hot laps, break for a quick feast to fuel the afternoon, then make our way to south and southwest aspects as the sun warmed the snow.

“Well, the Death Star is out again,” Ross remarked as we bootpacked a ridge under the intense, high-elevation sun. Being Colorado, though, it didn’t last long, and clouds rolled in one by one while testers kicked up slashes along rock fins, ollied tree gaps, laid smooth carves and sent Billy-goat chutes.

Testers touring up to the day’s first ridge. [Photo] Will Sardinsky

Before the last testers dropped, what looked like a potential snowstorm crept in over the far peaks. The light became flat, and our Board Test Week director Drew Zieff—fondly nicknamed Commander in Zieff—took a digger. “The first turns were some of the best of the season,” he said. “Then I tried to butter a three off a cornice, over-rotated due to an unexpected crust layer and dislocated my shoulder.”

“Luckily the Irwin Guides were nothing short of phenomenal,” Zieff said. “Exactly the sort of professional folks you want to trust your life to in the backcountry.”

Irwin Guide Ross helps Zieff with his dislocated shoulder. [Photo] Will Sardinsky

Seeing our commander howling as they attempted to reset his shoulder led to a low-energy lunch, the drab skies only adding to the somber mood. Then the guides came up with an alternate plan to scope another ridge and earn some laps to make up for lost review time.

After lunch, tester Chris Cloyd chose to ride Rossignol’s Sushi, a 145-cm, stub-tailed surfboard.

Drew Huemmler & Dustin Eldridge drop off the ridge. [Photo] Will Sardinsky

“Our day at Irwin presented what I would call ‘charitably variable’ conditions,” he said. Even so, Cloyd was impressed by the Sushi’s performance despite a lack of soft snow. “I was hoping for some corn slashes, and was pretty tentative on our first lap given the lack of consistent, rippable snow,” he said. “The Sushi’s heavy camber underfoot and stiffer tail outperformed all of my expectations, and the versatility of the board supported hard riding all day.”

On the last two laps, the Irwin Guides found a wide range of conditions (read: refrozen slush, wind crust and mank) for one last super-crew session mobbing through trees, training rollers and sending rock gaps.

Seeking the highs at Board Test Week. [Photo] Will Sardinsky

“Many people expect perfect powder when skiing with outfitters, and if that were always the case there’d probably be a lot more world-class guides out there,” Scotty Prior said, reflecting on the day. “We didn’t find perfect powder but learned that it’s not how you handle the peaks but rather how you handle the valleys that can really make or break a day.”

[Photo] Will Sardinsky

While we cracked our stashed beers on the cat ride out, the morning’s energy returned in full force. Later, we rallied to load cars with boards and steamy boots, starved from a full day spent pushing gear to its limit in variable conditions, and made our way to the Brick, a favorite Crested Butte pizza joint, where we met our slinged-up Commander in Zieff.

“After getting my shoulder popped back in, it was awesome to meet back up with the test crew for a bite at the Brick. It’s honestly been a spectacular week that I wouldn’t do differently,” he said, “despite the injury.”

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