Pinheads: In it Together04/26/2021 02:23PM ● By Barclay Idsal
Daryl Newcomb, unofficial founder of The Niner, skis fresh powder one early morning in Steamboat Springs.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Nine a.m.
For most, this is just another number on the clock. But to select, powder-inclined Steamboat locals, the nine o’clock hour is what they love most about The ‘Boat. The time marks the meeting of the locally beloved “pinheads,” an unofficial group of like-minded ski bums whose name pays homage to antiquated pin bindings that birthed the backcountry ski touring movement. Although similar groups exist in places like Jackson, Aspen or Sun Valley, Steamboat Springs’ homegrown powder hounds are all ski and zero ego.
The objective of this crew is clear: meet at the top of Thunderhead Express at 9 a.m. and make as many powder turns as humanly possible during the next two hours. If a job or lack thereof permits, an afternoon backcountry tour with whoever is willing to hoof it for a few more turns is typically in order.
When Steamboat’s trademark powder isn’t available within the boundaries or the surrounding backcountry, the corduroy-laden Bashor Bowl suffices before a short après break at one of the many go-to lookouts on the mountain (or The Stoker Bar). But unlike other ski-related fraternities whose notoriety lies in exclusivity and secrecy, e.g. The Jackson Hole Air Force, “The Niner” isn’t hiding anywhere.
Representing various ages, occupations and especially tele/Alpine touring equipment, the majority of these men and women aren’t dropping the biggest cliffs in Fish Creek Canyon the second the snow starts falling. They are, however, skiing more powder than most of us, on everything from throwback skinny ski, 3-pin setups to modern AT equipment.
Daryl Newcomb, the unofficial flag bearer of this loosely organized, non-resort-sanctioned group, says The Niner is reflective of the mountains themselves. “The Niner doesn’t put on any airs,” says Newcomb, while at the same time admitting, “for some, particularly those with egos, The Niner is too low-key.” The same could arguably be said about Steamboat as a whole.
And even though what these locals do isn’t easy – they log thousands of feet of untracked vert each winter, some with setups older than most high school seniors – you won’t catch them bragging about it. For those with backcountry experience, a decent transition time, and the desire to ski untracked, Newcomb’s philosophy is simple: “Everybody is welcome.”
“The Niner came about from people not showing up after making ski plans the night before,” Newcomb says. “Instead, if you make it, we’ll see you at Thunderhead.”
Last winter, new pinheads included Steamboat newcomers Will Weisman and Karla Kopinski. Weisman, an employee of the U.S. Forest Service, and Kopinski, a dental hygienist, were preparing for a backcountry tour when pinheads Charlie Noble, Todd Mattias and Newcomb noticed them putting on their skins below the standard transition spot and asked them if they’d like to join their group.
Weisman says that introduction was the perfect break from his background as a professional ski instructor. The Niner offered him a chance to explore Steamboat’s untamed backcountry without having to think about technique all the time. After the chance meeting, Weisman and Kopinski found themselves attending the 9 a.m. lineup regularly. Kopinski is happy to say Newcomb was right about the snow and, despite lower than average snowfall in 2018, she says, “We still skied a lot of powder up high.”That’s what it means to be a pinhead. Newcomb says the main draw is still skiing untracked powder. “We have a shared understanding of why we’re out there, and that’s special to Steamboat,” Newcomb says.