Sep 222010
Authors: Anna Baldwin

At 10 p.m. last Friday all four of us were finally packed tight into the truck, ready to leave Fort Collins for the weekend. Our destination almost two hours away: St. Mary’s Glacier near Idaho Springs.

It didn’t matter to us that we’d arrive at the campsite past midnight. After a busy school week, we only cared about waking up in the mountains with snow being the first thing we see.

We drove the familiar route on Interstate 25, linking to Interstate 70 and then exiting to begin our trek on the sharp switchback roads leading to where we’d leave our vehicle.

After parking, a short hike stood between the car and setting up our tent and snuggling into our sleeping bags. We readied our belongings, everything we needed for two days camping and our skis and boots strapped to the front of our heavy packs.

We turned on our headlamps and started on the rocky path.

The nearly full moon lit the trail fairly well, even without using our lights. Anticipating the next two days, we were silent as we walked.

After more than a half-hour and one last steep incline, the ground leveled out and we spotted the glimmer of the stars against a large reservoir ahead of us. Behind it, but not visible in the dark, was the desired snow mass: St. Mary’s Glacier.

As I accompanied the three members of CSU’s Outdoor Club, my first glacier skiing experience began.

An old club

The Outdoor Club at CSU is one of the oldest clubs on campus. The Morgan Library archives houses three scrapbooks complied in the late 1940s and early 1950s with black and white photos and text from early excursions of the organization, formerly called “The Hiking Club.”

Just as the scrapbooks show, the main goals for the group still hold true: enjoying the outdoors with like-minded people during planned trips and events.

“Some people expect more of a guided experience,” said Peter Jaacks, a junior economics major and co-president of the club. “While there are group activities, it’s more about getting to know other people that like to do what you like to do and making connections.”

The Outdoor Club helps individuals progress in various outdoor activities, as well as help newcomers start out. Hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, ultimate Frisbee nights, glacier skiing and especially backcountry skiing are the focus.

Senior health and exercise science major David Holmberg is an active member and former president of the club. One of his main reasons for moving from Minnesota was because of what Colorado had to offer.

“It was important when I moved here to find people that were doing that (outdoor activities) kind of stuff regularly and people I could learn from,” Holmberg said. “The Outdoor Club really helped me progress.”

With help from older club mentors, Holmberg really got into backcountry skiing. Then a novice, he was able to go out every weekend to learn. Now he’s able to pass on his knowledge.

“Without the group, I doubt I would have had as many cool opportunities,” Holmberg said. “My whole experience at CSU would have been pretty different.”

The club uses a website calendar and an e-mail list to inform members of upcoming trips or events. Any member can lead a trip and inform the group by sending e-mails.

Often weekend-long excursions include camping, a 14,000-foot peak hike or 14er–– mountain biking, skiing or a combination. These trips are mostly contained in the mountains of Colorado with about a dozen participants.

“We like to pack our fall season with hiking trips and such, so we get people breaking into the club,” Jaacks said. “Because as soon as the snow starts falling, we all go skiing.”

“We always try to get people active. This year particularly we have a lot of beginner trips,” said Collin Jacobsen, a junior engineering major and co-president of the club. “And it’s a good community of people.”

Some of these trips include an introduction to climbing and an introduction to backcountry skiing.

Both Jacobsen and Jaacks progressed tremendously in backcountry skiing after joining the club by going on introductory trips. The Outdoor Club allows skiers to learn safe habits in the backcountry while learning to ski properly, Jacobsen said.

Earn your turns

Simply put, you hike for your turns. Backcountry skiing takes place on public lands outside of resorts, and there’s no lift taking you to the top. A skier begins a run from a point that took hours to get to.

Self-dependence is key, and skiers have to make decisions in unpredictable snow and weather conditions. Skiers wear skins –– a one-way fabric, much like carpet, that make it so skis glide uphill, not down –– on the bottom of their skis as they hike to the top of a mountain.

“When you’re starting out, it’s not as fun because you have to get in shape and understand how much work it is,” Jaacks said. “After this, it’s rewarding to look up at your run and know you didn’t ride a lift up there.”

Junior zoology major Jordan Diefenderfer did not hike or backcountry ski much before joining the club his freshmen year.

Now, he has hiked 17 14ers, leads his own club trips and backcountry skis year round in Colorado. Next month will be his 23rd consecutive month skiing in the state on glaciers or down 14ers.

“Sometimes you and the group are the only people on the mountain,” Diefenderfer said. “It’s a great feeling.”

A little more to it

The Outdoor Club offers an annual destination ski trip at the end of winter break with nearly 50 attendees. Past trips have been to Canada’s Whistler Blackcomb Resort, Montana’s Big Sky Resort and Telluride Resort.

The club sometimes stays indoors too, hosting various speakers mostly during the spring semester. Almost each week the club invites speakers to share expertise or experiences.

Every Wednesday night the group meets at Avogadro’s Number on Mason Street to strengthen connections, swap stories and enjoy each other’s company.

“We’re kind of unorganized, which helps us function better than we would otherwise,” Holmberg said. “You get out what you put into the club. People really benefit when they fight over the initial awkwardness and grow relationships.”

Winter in September

We cleared rocks from a small area, set up our tent and got in some night skiing before we turned in. Even with a full day of skiing the next day, we couldn’t wait to get on the glacier.

Three of us donned light ski gear, strapped our feet into our boots and began yet another hike uphill. When we got to the snow we stared disappointed. We were looking at frozen solid whiteness, almost perfectly resembling concrete.

There would be no skiing––a disappointment often met in the backcountry.

No worries, we’d get our fix when the sun has a chance to warm the surface of the glacier, readying it for the bottom of our skis.

Staff writer Anna Baldwin can be reached at

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