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A Skier Attempts a Bike-Ski-Climb Trifecta in the Desert

I have had two obsessions my entire life: skiing and the desert. Skiing consumed my life throughout high school. The desert was more elusive and prompted less challenge and progression than skiing. Regardless of objective or intensity, the desert was always rewarding and rejuvenating, it always had been. In 2017, toward the end of my overly ski-focused, year I turned to the desert for one last adventure, an attempt to combine skiing and the desert.

The desert trifecta is my ultimate adventure meal: ski, bike, climb, a constant romp from alpine to desert floor. I’ve attempted the monstrous buffet twice now. The first attempt was supposed to be long and pure. We would leave the car early and not touch pavement for the rest of the day as we travelled from Utah’s Abajo mountains to the Big Indian Creek valley. Cresting Shay Mountain with the sun, we delighted in a handful of ski turns before beginning the oak brush dive to the red valley floor.

Romping through oak brush with skis on and biking over a dozen miles left the body and mind satisfied but the adventure incomplete. Will and I arrived at the car near sundown devoid of willpower or time to climb south six shooter. We downed a six pack of coke, a box of samoas and fell asleep in the car for 11 hours.

This March, I returned to the desert with skis and bike in tow. This time Sam and I had humble hopes of completing the trifecta. The Abajos had a deep snowpack this year but we only had one car so any mission would inherently involve much more biking. We tampered our ambition and decided to attempt a much shorter ski and bike segment involving many miles on Highway 211 and less washboard travel. We would be able to stop at the car on the way back from skiing and resupply before heading to King of Pain in the Bridger jacks. It would be a less pure but hopefully more successful attempt, a research probe of sorts.

As we transitioned from bikes to skis at the top of a bumpy 4x4 road I realized I had left our snack bag on the tailgate, today we would probe both the feasibility of adventure and the depths of our gas tanks. A couple hundred muddy vertical feet led to a solid enough snow line to transition to skis. Another spout of oak brush battle and bonk avoidance found us on a prominent ridge with no desire to summit Shay Mountain.

We enjoyed a series of comically desperate turns and oak brush stiff arms before tracing our steps back to the bikes. Riding through the busy valley that afternoon and prompting many head turns seemed to be our greatest reward. Skis and bikes aren’t the average sight on Indian Creek’s Highway 211. On the tailgate of Sam’s Odyssey we devoured our new favorite recovery snack; bears on a log. Thank goodness for Haribo, Jiff, Chiquita and sand. There was no reluctance when we decided to abandon the climb attempt for that day and so the trifecta remained incomplete.

For a moment I thought the trifecta dream was dead, the oak brush battle had once again completely depleted me, but the next morning my mom came out from Durango and we drove into the Abajos well above the oak brush line. Looking out over Canyonlands National Park and the sprawling cedar mesas we toured into the alpine. As we harvested turn after turn of crust and corn, the red desert floor below us, I found new hope for the desert trifecta. Perhaps we just need to tour higher, bike farther, and keep searching for the elusive path through the Abajo’s oak brush skirt in order to bring this saga to close. —Bryce Gordon