Journey Lines: Splitboard mountaineer Josh Jespersen transitions from seeking vert to finding community in his new project

In 2017, splitboarder Josh Jespersen became the first person to climb and ski all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks—dubbed 14ers—during a single ski season. Jespersen, a splitboard-mountaineer and Navy SEAL, has traveled the world and seen many foreign and inspiring mountain ranges. But his 138 days spent learning the ins and outs of Colorado’s mountains—from the remote peaks of the San Juans to the behemoths of the Front Range—gave him a deep appreciation for the playground just outside his door in Golden, Colo. And what started as a year-long adventure has grown into a project he calls “Journey Lines,” a mission to further explore the mountains of his own backyard. To document some of his exploration, Jespersen recounts the highlights of his recent descents around Aspen, Colo. and the role community plays in understanding and learning about the backcountry and sense of place in ski destinations around the U.S. —Louise Lintilhac

Jespersen’s group tours through Montezuma Basin. [Photo] Josh Jespersen

To really find the backcountry goods in a new zone, insider knowledge pays off; you need to immerse yourself in a group of skiers and riders who call a place home. And, Aspen, one town on my checklist of places to explore close to home, is a place where the locals prove a stereotype wrong. A visitor might assume the Aspen community to be reserved and cliquish, but in my experience exploring the town’s surrounding Elk Mountains, I’ve found that reputation to be perpetuated by outsiders. Instead, I’ve encountered attitudes that are resourceful and affable, like the texts I received last May when planning and setting out for a mission on North Maroon Peak, a few miles outside of town.

Aspen Local: “Hey, insider info says that the road out to North Maroon opens tomorrow afternoon, Josh.” 

Me: “No Shit? I called the ranger district and they said the 15th.”

Aspen Local: “I have a friend in town who works the road—but keep that info on the DL.” 

Me: “On my way!”

With that tip, my buddy Ricke Schuler and I drive up Maroon Creek Road, south of Aspen Highlands Ski Resort, on a crisp night under a perfectly starry sky. After a couple of hours of sleep and some leftovers for breakfast, we start our approach toward our day’s objective, to ski the daunting north face of 14,014-foot North Maroon Peak.

The summit of North Maroon sports a jagged view. [Photo] Josh Jespersen

We climb out of the valley, and, as we make our way above treeline, we catch a glimpse of the line we’ve chosen as our descent route—it weaves through cliff bands and boasts snow benches stacked one atop another. To navigate this zone, we have to connect these pockets of skiable areas with a series of traverses.

Halfway up the line, we start to realize that the freeze cycle from the night before, which initially seemed promising, is now creating issues with the skiability of the face. We slow our pace to try to let corn form, and it’s after noon by the time we find ourselves on the summit of North Maroon Peak, waiting for conditions to turn in our favor.

But we’re losing daylight, so we decided to attempt the descent on teeth-chattering snow. Committing to a line in these conditions hones my concentration on making every turn count, as loosing an edge on this face will send me careening over multiple cliff bands. Ricke and I aren’t afraid to test ourselves though, and bringing my focus to such a micro level while working from edge to edge is exhilarating. I try to strike a balance between setting a hard edge and letting my board slide just enough while being hyper aware of tiny snow density changes. Being in this flow state on these technical faces—looking back at what I’ve just achieved—always leaves me wide-eyed and humbled.

Ricke Schuler navigates a punky zone Jespersen nicknamed “Punk Rock Band.’ {Photo] Josh Jespersen

After finishing our lap on North Maroon Peak and making our way back to town, we meet up with Jason Lee Beavers, 56, a professed cowboy from Amarillo, Texas who moved to Aspen more than 30 years ago to work on a ranch. He learned to ski, climb and snowboard in his spare time and now operates a gardening business during the summer and takes winters off to ski.

I first met Beavers a month earlier when he poured my friends and I a few complimentary beers at the Aspen Brewing Company after completing the Trooper Traverse, a classic high route from Leadville to Aspen first completed in 1944 by the 10th Mountain Division.

Walking into his home is like walking into the Aspen Snowboard Hall of Fame. Framed photos of all the major Elks Range peaks, signed books with personal notes from Chris Davenport and a snowboard quiver older than Travis Rice litter his flat.

Matt Lanning skis the northeast flank of Pyramid Peak. [Photo] Josh Jespersen

Meeting someone decades into a life as a ski bum gives us a sense of what it means to be a part of this tightknit mountain town. From being penniless living in old shacks, to run-ins with Hunter S. Thompson, to tragedy in the mountains, Beavers takes us on a personal history journey that leaves Schuler and I with the feeling that we’ve just traveled through time.

Rickie Schuler (right) Jason Lee Beavers (center) and Josh Jespersen (left) soak in the apres skinning sun. [Photo] Josh Jespersen

Backcountry skiing isn’t taken lightly in the Roaring Fork Valley, a place where the locals exude a reverence for the surrounding tall peaks and harrowing lines, and where ski mountaineers and ski bums like Beavers have upheld the precepts of mountain etiquette. In my travels to this community and when exploring these peaks, I make sure to honor those traditions and the people who work hard to pass on that legacy for generations to come. And experiencing this sense of deep history and community in a town that often gets a bad rap as an elitist tourist destination makes me excited to explore other areas close to home whose true character, for one reason or another, may be overlooked.

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  1. Between January 22, 2006 and January 19, 2007, Aspen’s Chris Davenport completed a remarkable journey. He skied all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks within one year.

  2. It’s “lose” not “loose”. Very different meanings. While the writer should know that, the editor absolutely should catch and correct that.

    And Jespersen didn’t nickname that rip ck band; it’s a long time local moniker.

    He is right on, though, in his view of the Roaring Fork community being welcoming.

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