Driven by the healing effects of being outside, Laura and Nicky are setting out to ride all 54 of Colorado’s famous 14ers. Two years in, they’re about halfway there. Big and technical with unpredictable conditions, these mountains inspire and challenge. They aren’t for the faint-hearted. But then again, that’s what they say about love.
There are 54 14ers in Colorado. Snowboarding all of them is quite the endeavor. What inspired you to tackle a project of this scope?
LAURA: It came about pretty randomly actually. Nicky and I had just met a week or two prior to attempting Maroon Peak in May 2016. We walked up Maroon Creek Road, which was still closed for the winter, and then skinned up to Crater Lake near dusk in a snowstorm. It was an awesome spring snow storm and snowed 6 or more inches that night. The next day was cloudy and we weren’t sure how the snow would set up, so we decided to wait the weather out in the tent. That was sort of our first date. We talked all day about our lives and the experiences that shaped us and led us to that tent that day. We ate salami and cheese and made pour over coffee for each other. We skinned to the lake in the clouds and got water for dinner. Then we had our first kiss in our down bags and soon they were zipped together.
We had to bail on that first attempt due to snow conditions, but Nicky and I returned for a successful summit a couple of days later. Growing up in Aspen, the Maroon Bells are the most iconic mountains around. I had just met this rad, cute, super funny, and carefree dude and together we had climbed up Maroon Peak made out on top and then rode safely down together. I just fell in love and I wanted more. And I think he did too.
Next, we looked at North Maroon Peak—considered even more difficult and demanding. We scouted the line one day and happened to watch Chris Davenport (one of the most accomplished professional big mountain skiers and mountaineers) ski the line. We saw him later in the parking lot and asked him for some beta. I had met Dav from the snow industry years before. I asked him if he knew any women who have snowboarded the Maroon Bells before. He didn’t. I asked him about the other 14ers and the whole idea of snowboarding them. He was super encouraging and said he didn’t think any female snowboarders had done much of them. I think that's really when the seed got planted in my head. I was just like dang! If not me now, then who when?!
We rode North Maroon a week or so later, and it was the craziest mountaineering snowboarding I had ever done. It was steep, exposed and icy. It was just wild! On the top of that mountain I told Nicky “I love you.” It was only a few weeks into our relationship, but when you’re on top of a crazy mountain doing something that puts you on the edge of your comfort level it just pushes everything forward. Everything moves at a faster pace. There is no room for you to not take advantage of every opportunity in every moment. We fell in love in this really intense, quick way. There wasn’t any debating on top of North Maroon. I loved Nicky. I wanted to shred all the 14ers with him and make out on top of them all too.
NICKY: Well, I think Laura summed that one up nicely. And here we are two years later, ticking away at our 14er list.
Quite the love story! You’re embarking on a project that requires intense physical activity, teamwork and goal setting with a partner. What’s it been like doing this together?
NICKY: It’s been incredible. There is no better way to get to know someone and fall in love like chasing mountains. Definitely romantic in a certain way. The early morning sunrises, the sunsets, not to mention the hot springs in between all the summits. Spending so much time together in such a small space with all our gear is definitely challenging. I’m someone who likes to spread out so that can be tough for Laura. We have hiccups like any other relationship, but the mountains have bonded us together. I think other couples know how it feels to share the outdoors with their partner, and we are both grateful for that. We stay healthy and take it one step at a time. I think that is important, so we don’t get too bogged down by the amount of 14ers we have left.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
LAURA: Snow conditions have been hard for us this past year. We are hoping for a big winter and a good long spring this year. Also, just getting out of our sleeping bags. It sucks.
NICKY: When you’re trying to ski as many peaks as you can in a season, a lot of the time you end up skiing on snow that is not the most desirable. I think Little Bear epitomized that. Luckily, we were up at Lake Como while a nice storm came and filled up the hourglass, the crux. The harsh winds, however, made the snow very variable. One minute you think you are home free on nice powder and the next your lighter touring skis start to get thrown in one direction or another, with steep rocks everywhere. Not to mention the ice. All in all, it wasn’t that bad, but it’s sometimes frustrating when you can’t open it up and make fast sweeping turns like you see in the movies.
What has surprised you during this journey?
Laura: I am really surprised about how much crazy terrain there is all over Colorado. A lot of it is just really hard to get to. But every time we are on a peak or on our way to one, I just see so many lines that I would love to go get. It’s endless terrain.
There’s a big mental health component to Shred the 14ers. How can time spent in nature heal us? How have you experienced the therapeutic qualities of nature?
LAURA: For both of us, nature is a dose of much needed mental health medicine. I deal with a mild depression fed by lack of exercise and not enough time in nature. As soon as I am outside—and especially when I am out skinning in the mountains—I am filled with life, air, positivity and happiness. I have never come down from a mountain and felt depressed. It just lifts me up and I want to share that with people who need it.
NICKY: I’ve never experienced serious depression, but my overall wellness really depends on exercise and the spirit of the outdoors. I get anxiety sometimes and quickly know that I haven’t been getting out there enough.
We love a good story. Of the peaks you’ve bagged so far, have there been some that have been more memorable than others?
LAURA: Going to the Chicago Basin on the Durango-Silverton train was so cool. In order to get to the basin, you have to take a train into this valley where you get dropped off on the side of the tracks near a bridge. From there, we hiked about 6 miles into our base camp which was about a mile and a half below the basin. From our camp, we skinned up this section of rock that wasn’t quite covered with snow and was overflowing with water. Just waterfalls everywhere. It was super hard to navigate, but also fun. It really put the adventure into our approach. We got into the basin where North and South Elous are and above that there is another basin where Sunlight and Windom are. The first day we got past the waterfall section and into the first basin and this storm was just looming over our heads. As soon as we had eyes on our final approach of Elous, the clouds just dropped on us and the summit started to show through.
You’re dealing with pretty diverse conditions during a season, from frigid January temps to warmer spring skiing. What’s your go-to gear for an everchanging landscape?
LAURA: The key to comfort in the backcountry is layering. I have two basic base layers I will choose depending on the season. In the winter, I’m reaching for Merino 250 and when spring rolls around I start using the lighter weight Merino 150 base layer. Right around May in the high country, I usually use a Merino 150 Tee as a base layer. On top of my base layers, I love the Smartloft 60 Jacket! It’s the best layer and works great as a touring top because it breathes so well, but also keeps you warm right where you want it. Then on top of that I maybe have a puffy in my backpack and a shell.
NICKY: Layering is so important. In Colorado, especially, there are sudden changes in weather that are difficult to predict. Not to mention the temperature drop in going so high in elevation. My Smartwool® insulated midlayer (Men’s Smartloft 120 Jacket) and a solid shell are most important to me. The insulated midlayer leaves the back open for breathing and has front insulation for the wind. Under this layer I usually wear a Merino 150 Tee. I run a little hotter than Laura, so I don’t always bring my puffy to save weight and space for my camera gear.
What are you most excited about as winter approaches?
LAURA: I’m really excited to start ticking off more peaks with Nicky. During the summer, we don’t get to get out together as much because our work schedules are so different. Getting out in the backcountry and on top of mountains with him is really exciting.
NICKY: I can’t wait for two months of freetime in the spring. No work and no obligations. Just Laura, the open road and these beautiful peaks.
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