A winter overnight


Oct 30, 2016
A couple of friends and I have been getting at it pretty regularly, ski touring around Colorado this winter. One of our group had never been winter camping, so we decided to do a camping overnight in one of the local wilderness areas on the front range with the secondary objective of skiing something in the vicinity the next morning.

I've been out in the winter before, but on snow shoes and without any avalanche gear. Just thinking through all the extras that going in with a skiing objective would entail, it became obvious that a pulk would be needed. I could get most everything into a 90L expedition duffle I've been using for years since buying it for a horse pack trip out in the West Elk Wilderness before we even moved to CO, toss my avy pack in the sled as well, and then wear a small backpack with the 'extras' in it while towing everything in on skis.

This worked out pretty well. I followed the directions here: https://www.rei.com/blog/snowsports/diy-make-your-own-pulk-sled though I skipped (and later regretted skipping) the bit about installing the removable rudder/fin.


I brought the snow shoes along because a) I could only imagine the slapstick comedy that would come from trying to set up a tent on skis and b) I fully expected to be waist deep in snow if I tried to walk around in boots.

Thursday, on top of raising conditions to Considerable state wide, CAIC issued a special advisory running through the weekend. A healthy dumping of new snow from a three day storm on top of the snow that had been rotting in the sun for the last 6 weeks or so made pretty much every aspect at every elevation ripe to slide. We had an original objective we immediately ruled out and hoped to make turns on a gentler slope of a local 13er instead. I could see driving up that the thing was so wind blasted it wasn't going to go, but hoped we'd be able to find something in the area once we got back there.


We skied in and found a spot to set up camp, making observations along the way. The entire zone seemed to be a menu of two items: wind scoured or wind loaded.


We found a good area protected from the wind and got to work. This was the part I remembered about going out in the winter. Everything takes 10 times as long, and there is always something to be done. I spent the better part of the first hour just walking in circles trying to smash the snow down so we wouldn't be post-holing every time we moved.

We got the tents set up and started digging 'kitchen' and 'living room' areas.



Turning snow in to water. It got cold enough that the water would ice over in the time it took to swap out gas cannisters.


The sleds came in handy for towing mounds of beetle kill back, and sawing it up was a great way to stay warm. I'm not much for camp fires but it helped stave off the cold for a little bit, but as it was we couldn't make it to sunset. Unsurprisingly as soon as the trees blocked the direct sun the temperature cratered and we dove in to our tents. The mercury flirted with 0 degrees at the lowest, but we're well geared so it wasn't bad at all inside.



Moving through the area and digging around made it obvious that skiing anything worth skiing would be suicidal. A slab of new snow sat on top a thick unconsolidated layer of sugar facets. Even my snow shoes would occasionally punch through, dropping me down to knee depth in sugar. Some times you don't really have to think too hard before arriving at 'no go'.

Sun rise the next day brought high winds but quickly warming temps, so we loaded up and skied back out. Mostly downhill and without the fins/rudders the sled kept going off to the side or trying to get ahead of me. I'll have to doctor it up for next time, but overall it performed really well and cost me maybe $50 plus time which is a fraction of what even the cheapest pulks run that I saw online.

So - a quick trip, pretty much the textbook definition of Type 2 fun, and no skiing to be had. Still worth it though. There are more than a few places we'd like to go that are too far to skin in a day and won't allow snowmobile access, so now we know what will be involved in getting to them with all the gear and we know that we can hack it.
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Ah, the tediousness of doing things in the snow and near 0d! Love it.

I have seen those plans for a pulk on REI, so it is cool to see it worked out.
Melting down snow is also a pain, but it sure is one way to use up some partial fuel canisters if you have any.
The way your boots are (I assume) drying in the 5th picture makes it look like you biffed it headfirst into the snow by your tent. Gives me a chuckle every time I see it on the the homepage.
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