Here’s the latest news from from one of Western State Colorado University’s finest Mountain Sports Athletes…

Skiing is my passion and it is what brought me to Western, the vast expanse of the Elk Mountains promised me endless opportunities for my favorite type of adventuring: backcountry skiing.

With the passing of two winters now in the range I have to admit the mountains have shown me more joy than I ever believed possible, and have cultivated multiple friendships that will stand the test of time. People find bliss in many different places; and for me, my place is the mountains, on the East Face of Gothic Mountain and at the finish line of The Elk Mountain Grand Traverse. This year our range was blessed with epic amounts of snow and it kept my friends and I on ski’s, earning turns all the way into June.  I finished my season on the 5th with a very special descent of the Refrigerator Coliour on Ice Mountain, a remote peak that is home to sustained 50 degree slopes and near vertical rock.

The Refrigerator Couloir – Ice Mountain, CO

So, with the thinning of the snow pack and the blossoming of the Cottonwoods, I began to feel a bit out of place. Lost in a world without white, ecstatic about having just experienced the best and most progressive season of my life; I was stoked but I was not content. I longed for pow. And soon I would find it in a place that I had almost forgotten.

Pedaling along, the sage fly’s by my side in a blur, the colors of a lush high desert pallet; green’s, gold’s and grey’s are all vivid in there spring infancy. The clouds are breaking above my head and the sun is dropping into an orange sky that lies between the horizon line and cumulus above. Hartman Rocks and its miles of trails north of the power line are now open. I turn onto Rattlesnake stand up out of the saddle and begin to power through beautiful burning legs. Down the first rock moves and onward to a glorious re-acquaintance with my second favorite thing BROWN POW!

Mountain Sports Athlete Ellie Atkins Shredding Brown Pow

Riding your bike is fun, it is fun in the hills, it is fun in town, it is fun with friends and it is fun all by yourself. Last year in the dog days of summer it may have even saved my life. At home in the California heat, hanging drywall for cash, depressed, questioning, and in contempt, I forced myself out on a forty mile high country ride and somewhere between Coyote Flats and Baker Creek I found a new happy, healthy energy.  I came home that day, quit my job the next, traded in my burnt out steel hard tail for a new aluminum one, split for single track ridge riding in Lake Tahoe for a few days, came back to Bishop for a couple, and headed out to Moab and the La Sals just a week later.  Single track salvation! Soon I was at home in Gunnison, riding above tree line in the Elks, and through the sage again at Hartman’s.

This summer I chose to make Gunnison my home, avoiding the 100 degree temps in California and enjoying the splendors of life in the Elk Mountains with gratitude.   My mountain bike season began with the close of my ski season. The decreased objective hazard in the snowless hills has lent itself to daily exploration and long weekend epics, one of the most beautiful things about dirt is that it doesn’t develop depth hoar.

In late June I raced The Original Growler, a 64-mile cross-country race at Hartman Rocks on a single night’s notice. My co-worker and Mountain Sports teammate Alex passed his registration on to me because of a hurt knee and plans of an upcoming trans-America mountain bike tour, GO ALEX! The Growler was short enough for me to think I might be able to kind of race it but long enough to be seriously humbling. I flatted twice, had to hike about ten minutes to get another tube on my second, and cramped pretty darn bad at the Top of the World on lap 2. For off the couch racing, it was long, muddy, technical, and awesome! I was stoked to finish in six hours and forty something minutes, and can’t wait to try to go sub-six next year.  Hopefully better conditioned, and flat free.

Crested Butte’s Famous 401 Trail

As June drew on I knocked off a few new and obscure rides feeling liberated by the adventure of exploration and hard effort.  One ride took me on a long climb in the West Elks, up mining roads and down barely scratched in elk trail, another started right out of campus headed east to the Fossil Ridge, where Mule Deer were my only witnesses and the climbers at Taylor Canyons First Buttress must have thought I had just finished Doctors Park.

As my Legs started to get tired my head seemed to be hungry for a bit of fear, because I began a three week climbing bender with my buddy Elias in late June.  We were psyched on rock, making our way through the grades at Taylor, and even putting up a few of our very own on first ascents in the 5.10 range at a splitter crag I had found out on a long ride west of town.  Rock climbing is a funny sport for me, when I am motivated the fire burns hot and I cannot get enough, but somehow it dies out overnight. I grow tired of pushing myself through the fear and movement. Maybe it is too sedentary; to slow to reach the final destination. I prefer the movement of a bike, the feeling of covering tons of country, seeing many things, not having to stop at a belay. Unless of course it is in the mountains, mountain climbing is different.

Mountains Sports Athletes enjoying the classic Agate Creek Trail

June has become July and the high country riding is in full effect, wild flowers are chest deep on the 401 trail, and the alpine brown pow is being rejuvenated nearly daily with afternoon thunder storms.  Two weeks ago I went big and failed on an all dirt Crested Butte to Gunnison ride, it was to include, Trail 401, to Deer Creek, to Block and Tackle, to Reno, Flag, Bear, Doctors, to Forest Road 586, and finally descend Signal Ridge. I came up short at Harmels after ten hours, the climb up Forest Road 586 sounded heinous, I was out of food and decided it best to throw in the towel and ride the pavement home to Gunnison.

The Crested Butte Classic a 100 mile race came up a little less than a week later, and with the absence of an entry fee or really much organization at all it seemed like just my type of ride. A mellow scene and awesome course that included; Strand Hill to Teocali Ridge on lap one, Reno, Flag, Bear, Deadmans from town on lap two, and finished with Kebler Pass, the Dyke Trail, and Wagon Wheel back to Crested Butte.  A little nervous at the start because of my recent big effort, I was stoked to fly through lap one feeling great on the new Teocali re-routes. That trail is awesome and if you haven’t already ridden it you need to get out there! Lap two was really hard, the climb up Reno Divide seemed endless and I was alone for most of it not knowing if I was going fast and suffering or going slow and suffering.  My friend JP caught up to me at the bottom of the Flag Creek descent and we pushed each other through the rest of the lap, enjoying the best Bear Creek descent ever, filled with hollers of stoke and all. I dropped JP on the road back to Crested Butte, and set out for lap three all alone again. The Kebler climb went well, and I cleaned the entire Dyke Descent but had no hope of clearing the steep single track climbs by that time of day. I battled hard to keep up the cadence from Horse Park Ranch to the top of Kebler knowing the end was near. Finally I was descending Wagon Trail completely exhausted. I pulled into town in sixth place over all with a time of 10hrs 17mins. Cool!

Enjoying friends and fire between epic rides

Life in Gunni has continued on in its unique awesomeness the past week, I rode 401 with a great gang last Monday night and camped out at Emerald Lake afterwards. Hit Hartmans a few times throughout the week, once with my stellar co-worker Jefe who is pretty damn rad and showed me all sorts of new rocky lines! And yesterday we had a six-person Western Mountain Sports crew on Agate Creek, off of Monarch Pass, which is just one more Gunnison gem. While the thought of the rapidly approaching fall semester makes me shutter, I am getting more and more excited to race the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cycling Series with my Western teammates and hopefully enjoy another seamless transition into my favorite season come November! I’ll be itching for a change in pow!