Featured Trip: The Sky Way


Steve Mammano

“It’s done … I don’t think I can move my arm,” said Brett Davis as he sat in a snowbank on the side of the road in La Plata Canyon. AJ Verkouw, Davis’ partner on the trip, did a quick roadside assessment and decided it was time to get to the emergency room, fast. Their worst fears would be confirmed when the doctors told Davis he had suffered a punctured lung, a fractured scapula and had broken three ribs.

“The original goal of the trip was to do a fully human-powered adventure on fat bikes with winter camping gear, technical mountaineering gear and skis across 230 miles of the San Juan Skyway over two weeks where we would ski as many of the classic big mountain lines as we could,” Verkouw said while sitting in his Salt Lake City home. Verkouw, a Spring 2019 University of Utah master’s graduate had linked up with his former mentor Brett Davis to complete this adventure this past March. The trip would be extremely physically grueling, with heavy bikes and the longest day over 70 miles — not to mention the tens of thousands of vertical feet that were planned to be accomplished while backcountry skiing amongst the bike rides.

The physical training before the trip had to match what they would face. Verkouw spent well over 100 hours doing interval training on a stationary bike to prepare his legs and followed the training plan of an Ironman. He even did not wear bike shorts while on the stationary bike in order to train for many hours on the saddle. “I have always been pretty average at everything, but I seem to be pretty good at suffering,” he said. The pair of adventurers are both experienced outdoorsmen and are known among their peers for accomplishing difficult, large tasks in the outdoors.

A week preceding the trip, there was a historic avalanche cycle where they were planning to go. The odds were not stacked in their favor as multiple feet of snow fell and an avalanche crossed the road at Red Mountain Pass, burying their route under 60 feet of snow. They adjusted their path to hit this section towards the end, going on hope that it would be open by the time they got to it. When they set out in mid-March, they had changed their expectations from skiing huge lines to skiing lower angle, deep snow.

They began pedaling from Durango, Colorado with high levels of excitement and mid-levels of nervousness. An old schoolhouse near La Plata built out as a cabin was the first base camp for the trip. Everything was going great and the stoke was high as fresh snow began to fall by the foot. The first ski lines of the trip were taken from Parrot Peak in some of the deepest snow that Verkouw and Davis had ever skied. Smiles were huge as deep turns were made on many laps down the peak.

The next day, Verkouw turned 31, and friends from Durango met the duo for some celebratory tacos and group skiing before the biking continued along the San Juan Highway. The weather was great that morning for skiing, but soon after they began biking in the afternoon, snow began to fall. The roads started to become slick with a thin layer of slippery snow and ice. The tail-heavy bikes began to fishtail and slide down the road. All of a sudden, Davis’s bike began to swerve out of control and he fell hard on the pavement before he could unclip his foot from the pedal. He hit the ground with force on his left side since he was unable to brace himself by putting his leg out. This ended their adventure, for now. Before Verkouw had even met Davis in the emergency room later that day, he received a text message from Davis saying, “What is your schedule for May looking like?”

While the team was not able to try again that season due to a long recovery, they already have the trip scheduled again for the spring of 2020. Spirits are still high and the dream of completing this route is still very much alive. Verkouw says he will do nothing different to prepare for the trip next time, except maybe wear bike shorts on the stationary bike. The team would like to thank Salsa Bicycles, Backcountry Experience, 45 NRTH, Bedrock Bags and Dynafit for making their trip possible.