Spring Vert: Aaron Rice tackles 14ers before heading south for summer


View of Mt. Tukuhnikivatz in the La Sals. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

If you are a ski bum in Utah when the season ends, there is only one thing to do—head to the desert. Spring is a hard time for winter diehards like me. Often, I don’t have the most solid plan for the summer—or the rest of life, for that matter. Usually the past five months my life has revolved around skiing all day, everyday. When the snow begins to melt it can be symbolic of the changes in my life, and a few days or weeks in the desert helps to make some sense of this seasonal upheaval.


Rice takes a sneak line in the La Sals. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

The past few years I have studiously made a spring desert trip to ease into summer. I spend my time climbing at Indian Creek for a month, mountain biking around Moab, or hiking around slot canyons in the San Rafael Swell. This year has been a bit different, however. I will keep skiing as much as possible until the snow dries up in the Northern Hemisphere and then head to South America to keep plugging away at my goal to ski 2.5-million vertical feet in 2016. Because of this year’s goal, the existential question of “What am I doing with my life?” is not as prevalent as it has been in years past. Additionally, I don’t have the time to take a week off and lounge around in the desert.

Still wanting to spend some time in the land of the red rocks, I decided to head south and spend some time in the La Sal range in Southeastern Utah. The La Sal Mountains are a stunning desert range that rises 8,000 feet above Moab. They are some of the taller mountains in Utah and house dozens of 2-to-3,000-foot runs with perfect spring corn.


A picnic at the Gold Basin Trailhead with a view of Canyonlands in the distance. [Photo] Aaron Rice

Springtime accessibility in the La Sals is incredible.. For this reason, I spent a week at the Gold Basin trailhead skiing classic descents off Mt. Tukuhnikivatz and Mellenthin. The only down side to the range is that nobody can pronounce the names of the peaks.


Jeff Wood on the East ridge of Mt. Tukuhnikivatz or “Tuk” for short. [Photo] Aaron Rice

Following my ski bum’s take on a week in the desert, I traveled a few hours east to the San Juan Mountains of Colorado to see what the Uncompahgre National Forest had to offer in the way of turns. While there, I was put in touch with a local who gave me directions to meet him at the Mt. Sneffels trailhead at 4:30 a.m. with a rope, harness, crampons and an axe. We climbed Mt. Sneffels and skied the north facing Snake Couloir in dense dry snow—in mid May. I felt like I was cheating by skiing an iconic 14er on my first day in Colorado.


A rappel is necessary to get into the Snake Couloir on Mt. Sneffels. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

While the melting snow of spring makes big vertical days harder, spending a few weeks in the high peaks of Colorado and Utah provided a prime opportunity to ski an iconic mountain and get a bit closer to my 2.5-million-vertical-foot goal.


Soft turns in the Snake Couloir on Mt. Sneffels. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

As Aaron Rice stacks up vertical all year long, he’ll be sharing his stories on backcountrymagazine.com under the tag and title 2Point5Mil. Find more about Rice at airandrice.com, through his Instagram feed, @airandrice, and on Snapchat at airandrice. You can also track his progress of monster touring days on Strava.

Speak Your Mind