Ski the Flatirons! Pair Descends Boulder’s Iconic Landmark

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Austin Porzak skiing the East Face Gully on the First Flatiron. Photo by Daniel Sohner.

2/4/15 - After more than a week of steady snowfall, Alex Krull and Austin Porzak skied the right side of the First Flatiron, the landmark slab formation above Boulder, Colorado, on March 1. The two men skied the East Face Gully, also known as the Silk Road when it forms as an ice climb, with an average angle of around 45 degrees and thin snow over bare rock slabs. They were belayed for three 60-meter sections at the top of the route, and then unroped to ski the lower east face. The full descent totaled about 750 to 800 feet. The entire First Flatiron, which is about 1,000 feet high, is likely never coated with enough snow for a ski descent.

“I started to look for this line years ago after I skied the 1911 Gully on the Third Flatiron,” Porzak said. “Every time it would snow I would go check it out and see how much snow would accumulate on the routes. The Silk Road sometimes would look more like a very steep snow climb for a day or two before it would get warm and then freeze at night and turn into the ice climb.”

Near the top of the East Face Gully on the First Flatiron. Photo courtesy of Austin Porzak.

Porzak, the son of well-known Colorado mountaineer Glenn Porzak, attempted the descent once before a couple of years ago, in early December. But after skiing the first 200 feet with the snow “blowing out” under his skis, he climbed back out.

The two skiers started by climbing up the right side of the First Flatiron and then over the North Arête to access the top of the gully. “Directly off the top of the ridge you are faced with very steep skiing—I would guess it’s in the mid–60 degree range—with tons of exposure below you. You can make a few turns here, then you hit the crux of the route: a very steep, icy section. Once past that you hit the best part of the route, below the famous icicle that forms [allowing ice-climbing access to the upper face]. It was super-deep here, so the ice under the snow was well covered and I got to make some amazing turns and even got a few face shots.”

Krull and Porzak descended with no rappels but sidestepped a few icy or rocky rollovers.  

Yeah, you'd want to be belayed. Photo courtesy of Austin Porzak.