Homewaters and Headwaters: Why “boilerplate” can be brilliant
March 23, 2017
Have you ever heard of skiing conditions mentioned as being "boilerplate"?
It refers to a very hard-packed surface created by the combination of no new fresh snow, days of brilliant sunshine compacting snow into ice, and compression caused by many previous travelers on foot, snowshoe and skis.
Boilerplate is hard and fast, a challenge to cut an edge into, the exact opposite of the soft, powdery snow preferred by most skiers and boarders.
But it was boilerplate galore on a mid-March day in Rocky Mountain National Park, along the time-honored route connecting Bear, Nymph, Dream and Emerald lakes. My early-morning ascent was no problem, as my climbing skins gave a good grip every step of the way.
I actually covered the 1.8 miles to Emerald more easily than I would have hiking the trail in August thanks to skiing straight across Dream Lake rather than following the meandering summer trail up, down, and around Dream's north shoreline.
I had a couple things on my mind while I was skiing uphill:
» A lifetime of loving this drainage in every season of the year.
» An overlook near Dream Lake where we scattered Mom's ashes.
» The beautiful greenback cutthroat trout currently trapped under Dream's ice that will rise to a fly this summer.
» The ever-closer spectacle of Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain, rimming the Continental Divide, backing up the westward view of each lake.
How to deal with the metallic hardness of the boilerplate on the descent to the trailhead at Bear Lake?
The solution was time.
Arriving at Emerald Lake at 9 a.m. allowed me the luxury of hanging out and letting that rising sun soften the icy surface instead of stripping off skins and immediately heading back downhill, taking the time to fully reflect upon the enormity and grandeur of this power-spot and our long family history of savoring this favorite place.
To the north-northwest, the spires and palisades of rock rising to Flattop Mountain drew my attention. Two couloirs, deep and steep gullies filled with snow, called to me. They are called Dragon's Tooth and Dragon's Tail.
Expert backcountry skiers, far more skilled and daring than myself, ski down these 45-degree ramps. I honestly do not aspire to such challenges, but I greatly respect those who can and do traverse this route.
Check it out online (enter "skiing Dragon's Tooth in RMNP") and get a feel for how outrageous this descent really is, how a 45-degree slope looks and feels like a free-fall, how talented and undeterred by one's impending mortality one must be to attempt and succeed at such a descent.
There were no daredevils to observe on this sunny morning, but there were tracks on both couloirs from previous days. Just thinking about it gave me enough of a thrill, living vicariously (and safely) through the exploits of others.
And the moments spent day-dreaming of adventure were a fine investment of time.
When I did finally point my telemark skis downhill, there was an inch or so of soft snow atop the boilerplate, enough to easily carve an edge and find a bit of slush to slow down to a safe speed.
Home in Greeley, I visited with a longtime ski companion.
"How was it?" he asked.
"Boilerplate," I replied. "Perfect."
Tom Adams is a retired educator living in Greeley and working as a fly-fishing guide in the wilds of Rocky Mountain National Park. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.