Drinking beer atop mountains is easy in the winter. You can put climbing skins on skis and simply walk to the top. The bonus is that you get to ski down when you’re done. The minus, is that mountaintops are freaking windy and cold, which makes enjoying a tasty brew from a can a challenging endeavor in itself. Such was the case when myself, Adam Symonds and Eric Ghanem went on a backcountry ski trip to the Snorkeling Elk Yurt in the Tushar Mountains and completed a Summit Brew on Shelly Baldy Peak with a can of New Belgium Shift.
Shelly Baldy Peak is a 11,319 foot mountain that is basically ignored by everyone and their grandma. Visitors to the Tushars focus on Delano Peak, Belknap and Baldy. But I was immediately struck by Shelly Baldy’s wide powder bowls that looked so tasty from Big John Flat that I knew I had to summit her, drink from her top, then ski her perfect flanks.
The night before our summit day, I awoke to that sweet sound of snow sliding off the yurt’s roof, signaling a powder day. It was our final day of a trip that saw us summit and ski the Great White Whale and Delano Peak which I “Summit Brewed” last summer with a Uinta Skipping Stone. Our final objective was Shelly Baldy Peak. When we first got to the yurt, her proud, rocky face drew our eyes and our skis to her snowy base, but it wasn’t easy to get there. A series of ridges and drainages stood between the yurt and the mountain, which slowed travel time considerably (but provided opportunity to ski down each of the aforementioned ridges.)
It took four hours and just as many miles to traverse to Shelly Baldy’s foot. Once there, we had to make a decision – hike up a central, rocky ridge covered in wind-scoured rocks to the summit, or contour around on the summit ridge, which was surely being blasted by high winds that were visible from powder clouds being whipped up on the horizon. We chose the former option and took off our skis, strapped them to packs, and started hiking. Even there, the ever present, massive Tushar winds greeted us. But it didn’t take long to boot up the ridge and top out on a summit marked by three large cairns.
A fantastic view cut through the chill as Mount Baldy and Mount Belknap stunned us, towering to the west. To escape the arctic breeze, we hunkered down behind the rock piles and busted out the can of New Belgium Shift Lager. But it was so cold, we had to drink it fast as it turned into a beer Slurpee as soon as it left the safe aluminum confines. Luckily there were three of us to share the Shift, which was well earned as we put in a full-day’s work just getting to the mountain.
New Belgium Shift Pale Lager
New Belgium’s Shift Pale Lager is a fairly new brew from Colorado’s New Belgium, and is so named because brewery workers would have a beer after their work shift. It comes in a tallboy can and has a cool label of gears and chains that make me think more of bicycle shifting than wheels and cogs in a factory. The taste is a typical lager that is anything but typical as it’s loaded with hoppy goodness that’s just enough to give it some snap without being too bitter. In fact, they use Nelson Sauvin hops which give it a unique profile.
The nose is of malts that remind of dry grass and spices. Upon drinking, I noticed a jumpy, bubbly mouthfeel where the spicy taste hits first followed by the hops as it goes down. It has a crisp finish that is refreshing and satisfying. I rank it into the category of a good post-biking, lawn mowing beer. It wasn’t bad on a wind-blasted frozen peak either.
After enjoying our hoppy lager, the real fun began. The ski down was… interesting as Eric and I found wind-affected powder but Adam made close-and-personal contact with a buried rock that destroyed the edges of both skis. After much cursing and ski-throwing, we traversed the four miles back to the yurt, diverging here and there for powder turns in open meadows and even an aesthetic chute between a pair of red-rock towers that rose from the final ridge like rabbit ears. The snow was punchy and challenging, but that descent was the most thrilling of the trip.