When the shot comes along to sleep on the top of a mountain pass in a truck camper with two of your buddies to get morning freshies, you gotta take it.
My buddy was back in Denver after spending the last six months in New Orleans sailing some of the stormiest seas life had thrown his way. Another ominous journey lay ahead, but for the next couple months he’d find some R & R on snowy land as he planned to ski bum in the back of his newly acquired truck and camper at ski resorts and backcountry spots across western states. With the recent close calls behind him and still more to come ahead, he knew he had to take the shots he had for the life he wanted when opportunities arise. Nothing was guaranteed.
He wanted to give her a test up on Berthoud Pass, a popular backcountry access point an hour or so east of the city off I-70 that sits ever so finely on the Continental Divide. His old roommate and childhood buddy and I were down for the mini-adventure out from the city light, weekend warriors game for an overnight BC-scouting party. The weather that Friday night was 40 miles-per-hour west winds and a windchill of negative 19, a precursor for a blustery and overcast Saturday.
This was kind of going to suck. Let’s go.
Two hours later at 10-ish P.M. we were parked on the pass in an empty parking lot, the three of us and a dog packed into the back of this tiny tin box camper, tossing beers and passing a joint, waiting for the heat to kick in. It was my first time sleeping out in a camper to ski, a rite of passage I was eager to do with these two friends. The only thing shielding us from the wind whipping around outside was a couple inches of tin, 700-fill down jacket, and a beer jacket courtesy of Stone IPA.
We were giddy for the snowy playground and we’d be hiking and skiing the next morning. Isolated in the natural world and inspired by the buzzy intimacy I felt like it was the right time to throw on the new album West Winds from Los Days.
Los Days is another collaboration in the musical brotherhood between musician, photographer and skateboarding legend Tommy Guerrero and Sacramento-based multi-instrumentalist Josh Lippi. Lippi and Guerrero have played for many years together, both in the heady groove of Guerrero’s live band and as a part of concrete funk-hunters Blktop Project, which includes other skater-musicians Ray Barbee, Chuck Treece and Matt Rodriguez.
This album pulls from the same sessions that spawned the duo’s debut, 2020’s Singing Sands. It was recorded in a single-room, solar-powered house called House of The Rising Son, in the desert heart of Wonder Valley, CA, where Lippi and Guerrero let the natural desert scenes imprint themselves as minimalist collages of sweltering guitar lines, sun-spackled keys and mysterious textures. We could use some of that southwest heat right about now.
“Tierra De Sombre” opened up dark and vast, like an Arizona canyon right before dawn starts to reveal itself. I couldn’t help but imagine a mysterious, desert traveler surveying the horizon at the start of a western epic. Then … the music faded into the background as we continued in our quiet revelry passing back and forth beers and laughter in the van way past the witching hour. I’d have to wait until the morning to really drift along with West Winds.
Somehow, after a gray forecast and night of bluster, we awoke to a bluebird day with almost no wind. We were expecting the worst and were gifted the best. We took it easy getting ready, happy on our luck and high on our own supply, and watched fellow weekend warriors gather in the parking lot for a perfect day on Berthoud.
Our route was up the easy, east-facing front side of the storied backcountry access spot. It had been a pioneering area for backcountry skiing in Colorado since the 30’s and during the time it was a fully operational resort from the 1940’s to 1980’s it boasted having the first double-seated chair-lift and being the first resort to allow snowboarders on lifts. It would also be the first time the three of us had been able to get up together, a small achievement in itself.
At the base I popped an edible in my mouth then we all popped our boots into our bindings, our skis and splitboards skinned and ready. Now all I had to do was put one foot in front of the other and enjoy the day, the perfect time to tune back into West Winds.
There were a handful of fresh inches on the ground and the air was crisp to cheeks, so much so I could feel the edges of my mustache crystallizing. “West Winds” lazily breezed through my ears, the drifting blues of the guitar matching the sauntering rhythm of sunlight passing through the tunnel of trees I was gliding through. A puff of snow fell from a nearby tree and drifted through the sun, sparkling with the song’s soft lumienet strings highlighting the edges of the melody. It was nice to start the day off on a tranquil high note.
I was soon swept into the sweet excitement of “Honey Colored Hills” as I turned the corner into the sunshine, with a clear path leading me up a powdery hill. There was pleasure all around, from the subtle bubbling bass fizzing below dreamy keys to the monstrous bosom of mountains across the valley revealing themselves for the first time to anticipating the soft rush under my feet as I eventually carved through this beautiful Cool Whip snow. Still had plenty of steps to go until that dream was realized, but it was gonna be alright with my friends by my side and Los Days in my head.
We were so thankful for the unexpected perfect day. Our limited sleep and camper-foolery made even these ideal conditions a little bit of a slog. We were huffin’ and puffin’ in a short time, sweating and shedding layers as we chugged upwards. “Ancestral Light” and it’s iridescent strands of melody wafting upwards towards infinity felt a little like the heat waves that must have been emanating off of me into the sky.
As I caught my breath at a water break my eyes wandered over the small expanse to the eastern slopes of the Berthoud ski area and I noticed a group of three making their way up a barely–snow-covered shoulder. Two people talking about their dog-sitter horror stories scurried by us. I could see a person further west of us just starting down a sweet little rolling line two hills over.
I had to smile thinking about how many dozens of us – DOZENS! – we’re out here soaking up the sunshine in the trees and snow. Ever since the 30’s people have just been drawn to this place like magnets to grit out the mostly mundane task of fighting gravity and friction on two pieces of plastic for hours going uphill, only to try and harness those two elements for one-and-a-half minutes of fun. What were we all doing up here?
I didn’t feel great, wasn’t going to feel great anytime soon, and probably wasn’t going to look great going down …
(At this point in my stoned thoughts the languid beauty of “Magnetic Expanse was humming around me, Guerrero and Lippi’s golden guitars rippling slowly through my prefrontal cortex. I wanted to ride it’s upward currents and look down on myself like one of the many vultures I’d seen up here before. Alas, it was not to be without me being winged, but the synergy of the moment and the music was the best stretch of the day)
… But damn if it wasn’t great!
There’s so much of my life dedicated to the necessities of work and day-to-day responsibilities. It’s only out in mountains like these, with friends that I have, doing things like backcountry skiing, where I feel like I’m really taking advantage of the unique wonders I have access to from my home in the Front Range. These are the days and moments that I’ll always try and make room for in the present, so I can try and hold onto them when they are nothing but vague, scattershot memories of the past.
I was in the middle of the pack, trekking a little too myself. I marinated on those wonderful thoughts as West Winds continued to sweep me through minimalistic soundscapes that felt carefree (“Floating Against the Night Sky”) and bittersweet(“Drafting Away”). Guerrero and Lippi infuse more texture and tones into this album than its predecessor, giving it a rich depth that is wonderful to dip your consciousness into.
I made it to my friend ahead of me and stopped to drink some water together. He had been on the Louisiana coast at sea level but a couple days before and now we were both sitting on top of the Continental Divide. Wild.
Our friend was a little below us. His horizons were starting to percolate with opportunity that he was starting to lean into and we were all happy to see how he’d take advantage of the months ahead of him.
As a group we were a little winded and after 40 minutes of West Winds we were still only half-ish way up. Time to take out the earbuds and enjoy the sound of snow squishing below my skins and labored breathing. I started to whistle the nostalgic melody of “Carro Del Sol” as we continued up the Divide, happy to be be there in that moment with those people, in that place, doing what we love.
None of us would have gotten to these points in our lives waiting for the ideal situations sitting on our asses. For this day, we all had to take advantage of the fact that we might not get the opportunity to screw around camping in the back of a truck and skiing together for the rest of the season. We were willing to embrace a little bit of suck to get the most out of our time together, and we were luckily gifted a perfect day to do it out in this incredible environment.
Similarly, Tommy Guerrero and Josh Lippi took the awful stagnation and dread of the pandemic and stole away to the desert for a couple days to create some beautiful music together. West Winds is a gorgeous conversation between two musicians vibing out on the landscape around them, letting the land inspire the rhythms of their art. After all, when the shot comes along to sleep in a modern shack in the California desert with one of your best buddies to play with guitars, knobs and electro-curios, you gotta take it.