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Climbing The East Wall

Forget About The Alps. Extreme Skiing Is An Hour From Park Hill

Story and Photos By Reid Neureiter

Special to the GPHN

Michael Schreiber follows David Fine up the East Wall ridgeline toward Little Lenawee Peak at Arapahoe Basin last April.

Many Park Hill skiers regularly visit the groomed runs of the mega-resorts of the Front Range. But they may secretly pine for the heroic terrain seen on the late Warren Miller’s ski films: the intense couloirs of the French Alps in Chamonix, the steep chutes of Silverton, or the breathtakingly steep avalanche-prone slopes of the Chugach range in Alaska – accessible only by helicopter.

Sadly, a lack of time, avalanche training or gear, courage – and yes, cash – prove significant obstacles for many wannabe ski adventurers. But for those with the stamina and willingness to hike for 30 minutes, Arapahoe Basin ski area, just 71 miles west of Park Hill, offers an accessible extreme steep skiing experience in the relatively safe patrolled environment of the ski area.

Rick Kornfeld descends the North Pole run on Arapahoe Basin’s East Wall last April, while David Fine looks on.

A-Basin’s East Wall ridge is an imposing bowl-shaped wall that towers above rest of the ski area, reaching a peak altitude of 13,204 feet at the summit of Lenawee Peak. The wall provides access to some of the steepest in-bounds skiing offered in Colorado. Accessing the terrain requires either a hike directly up the 45-degree face of the wall, called the “staircase,” or a 30 minute hike up and along the ridgeline, which gives access on the north side to narrow chutes called the First Notch, the Second Notch, or the slightly wider “North Pole” run.

The upper East Wall is usually open later in the spring, as snow conditions permit and after the Arapahoe Basin’ ski patrol has done the appropriate avalanche assessment. On a clear day, the views from the East Wall Ridge and “Little Lenawee Peak” (at 13,050 feet) are remarkable, with Keystone, Breckenridge and even the high plains of South Park visible in the distance.

Because the runs on the Upper East Wall face north and are well protected from the sun most of the day, they retain snow and offer excellent conditions even late in the season.

Last April, Park Hill residents and friends Mike Schreiber, David Fine, and Rick Kornfeld hiked the ridge and skied the North Pole run. For 57-year old Schreiber, a resident of Fairfax street who works as a manager of IT tools Service Management Team at Wipro Technologies, it was the first time hiking the East Wall ridgeline despite having grown up in Denver and been a skier since the age of 10.

“It definitely adds adventure to the normal ski day,” said Schreiber, explaining that it “was a little bit of work, but worth it. The views are awesome and it is just cool being up there. … Being on the knife edge gives a real alpine experience you don’t get at a normal ski area.”

Because of the steepness of the slope and the narrowness of the run, advanced ski ability is a necessity.

“You should be a very experienced skier, used to skiing black runs, to go up there,” Schreiber said. “There is no easy way down. The first few turns are tough, and if you fall, you will slide a long way down.”

Kornfeld, 53, is a criminal defense lawyer and a Dahlia street resident who has been skiing for 50 years. Kornfeld was the East Wall veteran of the group, having climbed and skied it “more times than he could count.”

“The East Wall is a unique experience since you have to boot pack in just to get there,” he said. “Like in Silverton or parts of Alta [in Utah], A-Basin forces you to earn your turns by ‘booting up’ the mountain. Thanks to the Ski Patrol, you don’t have to worry about avalanche danger. The East Wall is not as steep or long as the runs at Silverton, but you can’t beat the experience of that kind of skiing just over an hour from Park Hill.”

Kornfeld offers this advice for those interested in hiking the ridge for the first time: “Bring and drink water and snacks, strip down [layers] before you hike to avoid overheating, bring a baseball cap, light gloves and sunglasses to climb in, have a backpack to carry your stuff (and your skis), and be sure you’re in good cardio shape.”

Like Schreiber, Kornfeld cautions that the terrain is definitely not for everyone.

“To ski the East Wall, you should be a strong, confident off-piste skier who’s comfortable in all conditions and with multiple fall-lines,” he said. “You also should be comfortable with steeps and narrow chutes. People who don’t like heights or knife-edge ridges will not like the climb to the summit.”

But for those who dare, the experience is one they will not soon forget.

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