Free The Snow Makes Descents At “Closed” Mountains

Earlier this week, riders and skiers from around the country enjoyed a little fresh powder under the full moon as descents were made by groups and individuals at Taos, Alta, Ajax and Mad River Glen. These are four of the last remaining ski areas in the country that continue to ban snowboards.

“We wanted to do something to draw attention to the bans,” says FTS coordinator Matt Kreitman. “The descents were made at night to point out these mountains are still living in darkness. At the same time they were done under the full moon in honor of the memory of Ernie Blake, the founder of Taos and a true winter sports hall-of-famer.”

Among the many colorful traditions Blake established at Taos was a regular full moon descent which he would lead himself. Blake’s personal vision which he successfully created at Taos, was a mountain of outstanding terrain that gave a warm welcome to anyone with skill, passion and respect for others. Free The Snow accuses Taos and all other “closed” mountains of betraying Blake’s legacy.

The descents are the first Free The Snow activity to take place simultaneously across the country. Numerous other events, activities and programs are planned in the coming weeks. Check out all the latest at

Mad River Glen, Vermont

Back East, as a storm began to roll in the early evening, we knew that the light of the full moon would not be shining upon us. Our descent of Mad River Glen would have to be powered by headlamps and brail riding.

After meeting up at Dan Sullivan’s place in the hills above Waitsfield to kick back and have a few beverages, we headed up to MRG and started hiking a little before 11:00. The night was almost balmy, with light snow and not a soul in sight to give us any hassles. After stopping for a couple whisky-tea breaks, we post-holed up the last portion of the mountain, topping out around 12:30. It had started to dump.

In no hurry, we hung out in the rustic lodge at the summit, had few more hits of whisky-tea and took some shots of Sully faux-unloading off the famed Mad River single chair, a much-revered throwback that serves some of the best tree riding in the East¿terrain that should be open to snowboarders.

Off the top, we dropped into Chute, a steep line under the single chair with rollers, small drops and plenty of berms for slashing. Riding by the headlamp in the middle of a storm was all about using ninja power to feel your way down the hill and react to anything farther than 10 feet out in front. With a couple high-powered headlamps, we managed to get a few shots of frontside “Freddy Kruggers”¿Sully’s terminology for powder slash turns.

From Chute, we cut across Broadway and finished off with Canyon. At the bottom, we took some more shots at the base of the mountain and packed up the rigs. Even without the moonlight, it was a super fun descent. It was a beautiful night, we had some powder turns and we rode Mad River top to bottom.

Our crew consisted of Dan Sullivan, Paul Maravetz, Tina Laufer, Stephen Cleary, Mike Riddell (photographer) and Josh Reid.

¿Josh Reid.

Taos, New Mexico

Snowboarding at Taos is more than just a small act of civil disobedience. It means taking on the Taos Ski Company who regularly issue public threats to sue any boarder on the ski area for trespass (even though the resort is located on public land), it means dodging the marshal of Taos Ski Valley, the enforcer for the incorporated town owned by the ski company, and it means avoiding the local Forest Service rangers who also appear to be controlled by the Ski Valley and have successfully cited and fined snowboarders who didn’t have the legal resources to fight back.

For this reason a discreet approach was chosen for last nights descent, with the primary objective of simply making a few turns at the ski area without attracting attention or further repercussions. It was decided only one boarder and a photographer should be involved. While ny volunteered, an experienced local rider was selected to represent Free The Snow.

The rider and photographer set out shortly after dark, parking a short distance from the ski area. After waiting a few minutes to ensure a clear coast, the two started hiking the edge of trail outside the boundary ropes.

In the distance the regular hum of a ski area at night could be heard with the engines and lights of the snow cats, and the occasional human voice floating through the air. Light was limited with the moon partially obscured by cloud.

After a short but strenuous hike our photographer stopped and maneuvered his gear to set up at the edge of the run while the boarder continued to hike above him. At a pre-arranged signal the snowboard strapped in, moved onto the slope, popped a flare and descended gradually towards the waiting lens.

A half dozen turns and a half role of film later the two were making their way back to safety. Mission stomped.

¿Taos Rider.

Ajax, Colorado

The full-moon ride on Ajax (Monday 12/11) was a great success! A group of eight Aspen locals ¿ including two skiers ¿ gathered to protest the Aspen Skiing Co.’s snowboard ban on Ajax (formerly Aspen Mountain) by hiking up and riding down the lower part of the mountain.

Though we had hoped to ride the entire mountain, the cloud cover and resulting lack of moonlight led us to change plans in the interest of safety. With all the snowmaking equipment in place and preparation underway for the 24 Hours of Aspen ski race this weekend, we were concerned about the safety of the riders and decided to keep to the lower part of the mountain, from Kleenex Corner down to the Gondola along the Little Nell run, which was all freshly groomed with powder edges ¿ sweet!

We were excited for the hike up, because the mountain crew was testing race course lighting equipment for 24 Hours and most of the lower mountain was bathed with spotlights. On the way up we were noticed by the grooming and snowmaking crews, but they weren’t at all concerned with our being there and this confirmed my feeling that the snowboard ban is an edict from top management and company ownership that really doesn’t reflect the sentiment of most mountain employees.

Though they shut down the lights just as we reached Kleenex Corner, there was enough light from the moon and the snowcat headlights to see our way down and we took turns ripping up powder and laying down arcs on the corduroy. Huge fun! The new snow from the day before kept things nice and soft and of course, SkiCo groomers really are the best.

The photo shoot at the Gondola was a very fun, cold event. Our eight riders ¿ split between men and women ¿ took off their shirts and painted the letters “FREE AJAX” on each other’s chests. By the time the photographer finished burning up his roll of film there were plenty of cold toes (and other bits).

Special thanks to Rodney at Alternative Edge, who let us use his snowboard shop as a staging area, and of course the dedicated boarders AND skiers who came out for the ride.

¿Mick McQuilton

ALTA, Utah

Alta has long been the favorite spot for local Utah snowboarders to start off the season. Once the chairs lurch into operation and the ski patrol meanders out of their dens the terrain is off limit. As an act of defiance we headed up to Alta the other night under a full moon. The snow was perfect.

Utah pow since the last storm left with two feet of fresh. After a few turns the Alta snow cats popped over the horizon and provided a little light while the moon ducked under another storm. The powder was deep and light while the fresh groomed was soft and crunchy. Perfect for snowboarding.

Unfortunately these kinds of conditions and Alta’s legendary terrain aren’t legally available to snowboarders, even though the land under that snow is Forest Service Land. That’s the point of Free the Snow, to “open minds, open mountains.” Hopefully full-moon descents will continue and the support for Free The Snow will build to a point that one day the long anticipated re-opening of Alta to Snowboarders will occur.

¿Brenner Adams full-moon descents will continue and the support for Free The Snow will build to a point that one day the long anticipated re-opening of Alta to Snowboarders will occur.

¿Brenner Adams