Trails and entrails on the Minturn Mile
Sitting neck deep in the most rotten snow in the Rockies, the irrefutable truth was forced through my skull faster than the crud crammed down my pants. Reality’s cold sting trickled down my spine as I realized that my ass, once again, had been kicked.The struggle began in the stale, over-baked snowpack and treacherous tree wells surrounding the west slope of Ptarmigan Ridge, where, in the face of global warming on this January day, I managed more or less to link a series of incongruent tele turns through the shadows along the banks of South Game Creek.There I encountered the glazed track that would prove to be my undoing, my skis skipping erratically across the narrow, icy run like baby gazelles attempting in vain to escape a pack of hungry hyenas. Jumping and bucking wildly in their fit of desperation, my boards ran as fast as they were able.My skis, however, are not quite so agile as gazelles, lacking too in instinct as they leapt over a small stream and darted not back to the safety of the trail, but defiantly toward the deep cover of breakable crust and sugar snow surrounding the creek bed. It was there, alone and without ceremony some 10 feet below that trail, that the tush-whooping was made complete.Blinded by disillusion and goggle fog, I eventually dug out of the bottomless sugar bowl and groped my way home to Minturn.I know what you’re thinking: Dude, it’s only the Minturn Mile. Backcountry lite. Piece-o-cake. You suck.And while that very well may be the case, after 10 years and probably 100 trips down the drainage, somehow the Mile still manages to get the best of me at least once every season.Were I a poet, this might serve as my ode to the Minturn Mile. But since I’ve struggled with iambic pentameter longer even than I have with stem christies, let this column suffice in giving our local backcountry commuter cruiser its propers.Since our introduction, I’ve had something of a love-hate relationship with the Mile. I fell hard the first time I discovered Minturn’s own ski-in, chill-out route, and even harder on the second, when I managed to hook a tip around a tree during a fatefully foggy luge run and nearly dislocate my knee.While that hateful ski day still lingers with the dull, throbbing pain of a distant Mariah Carey ballad, I ultimately re-learned to love the luge through the benefit of a snowboard, smearing butta-smooth turns down the tree-lined mini-pipe to the Saloon with no more fear of margarita salt in my wounds.A broken snowboard binding in a mandatory-skate portion of the luge that once again tossed me toward the creek bottom served as a reminder that our relationship shouldn’t be taken for granted, however. And routine squabbles now that I’ve removed the training heels from my skis help me keep my New Year’s helmet resolution.But like any relationship that stands the test of time, I’ve learned a lot about my Minturn mistress through the years. I know her quirks and understand that she deserves my respect. Despite her flaws, it’s her beauty that keeps me coming back. And I always leave satisfied.The Mile is among a few backcountry routes in Colorado where you can safely travel without a beacon and shovel. Almost always it promises a small stash of untracked snow and a cold drink at the end of a long day. Parking in Minturn is free.But don’t make her out to be more than she is. Experience has taught me that the road to Minturn will always be rocky, and smooth rides are few and far between. To the untrained eye, she’s a master of deception.No matter how good the snow is before or after the season, remember the Mile is always a one-way route, ill-suited for travel to the other side of Vail Mountain. That’s another lesson I learned the hard way. Twice.And during ski season, an uphill jaunt is just plain stupid.My friend Karm Trygg claims to have completed the multi-mile tour from top to bottom in 15 minutes on one occasion, and he’s no small man. If you’re fool enough to step in front of that raging bull, you should know that he and a friend managed to drag an 800-pound cow down the trail last fall. But if you’ve met Karm, you’ve probably heard that story already.You probably heard too that it was his carcass that packed down the runout before the season began this year, enabling the rest of us to slide down a slim base of snow and elk entrails to the Saloon on opening day for the first time in my history anyway.Karm was kind enough to wait as I dug out of the crud earlier this week, then offer up an elkburger as an antidote for my ass-handing. We had a laugh and he promised not to tell anyone about the incident if I put his name in the newspaper.For the last time, Karm, I don’t buy into that kind of extortion. But when it comes to the Minturn Mile, I’m a dedicated subscriber.When he’s not hunting or skiing, Karm Trygg is a top-notch tile setter who can be reached at 378-3854 or firstname.lastname@example.org.