where to backcountry ski in colorado


San Juan County, Rocky Mountain National Park and Summit County have banned or discouraged non-residents from visiting. Please consider your impact on small mountain towns that have limited resources to fight COVID-19 before heading into the backcountry.

Coloradans like to keep their secret pow stashes secret, but here are a few suggestions to get beginners started.

This is meant to be used as a general guide only. If you plan on venturing out to one of these locations, please conduct further research to identify driving directions, routes, avalanche danger, etc.

Click here to suggest a backcountry touring location.

Loveland Pass

Experience Level: Beginner, Intermediate

Ascent Range: 0-500 ft

Descent Range: -300-1500 ft

Trail types: Boot Pack, Skin Tracks

Ride Straight Back to Parking Lot: Hitchhike

Loveland Pass is one of the hotspots for backcountry access near the Front Range. For many, this zone is one of the first true backcountry experiences for skiers and riders. You will often find people looking to hitch a ride up the pass at the switch-backs. With close proximity to I-70, this area draws in the Denverites looking for an early morning or afternoon cruise or those not wanting to pay the astronomical lift prices. You can drop off straight off the road from the summit parking lot or hike to more challenging terrain. Hikes can range anywhere from 5 minutes to two hours.

The great thing about Loveland Pass is that the ridges get so windblown that most of the hikes can be done on foot without AT, tele, or splitboard setup. Additionally, with the frequent foot traffic, you may be lucky enough to have your path already set on the ridges. It’s actually pretty rare to see anyone skinning at Loveland Pass except to access Borland Foley and SFB on the outside reaches of the zone.

Route Suggestion #1: Drop off the summit parking lot or cut hard skiers left and get to the Ironing Board. These runs all funnel back to the switchback where you can easily hitch hike to the summit.

Route Suggestion #2: If you are looking to take a few quick laps in the afternoon, you can approach the Corner Pocket terrain by hiking from the summit parking lot. Drop in either just below the cornice, or head further up for a longer more sustained run including Shockleys 2 and 3. The Corner Pocket area consists of upper alpine tundra and funnels into an easy-going above tree line exit toward the switch back. It’s a convenient spot having road access at both the top and bottom. Once ridden, hitch a ride back from the east bound traffic heading back from Abasin and Keystone.

Safety Tip: There have been many avalanche deaths on Loveland Pass. To avoid most of the avalanche prone terrain, don’t hike. Drop off into the Mainline from the summit parking lot to minimize your risk of avalanche terrain. Always best to ride with avy gear, a partner, and snowpack knowledge. While there are a lot of people that don’t ride with gear, don’t be a lemming.

Source: Weston

Berthoud Pass

Experience Level: Beginner, Intermediate

Ascent Range: 0-500 ft

Descent Range: -300-1000 ft

Trail types: Boot Pack/Skin

Ride Straight Back to Parking Lot: Hitch Hike

Beloved by the Colorado locals, Berthoud Pass is the go-to for a weekend backcountry session due its vast terrain. Once a fully functioning ski resort from 1937 to 2001, the now backcountry terrain has been stripped of chairlifts, lodges, and returned to its primitive state. There is no shortage of technical runs and powder to be had in these parts. The glades are known to be a haven for backcountry aficionados on powder days. With 500 inches of fresh snow annually, it’s fair to say there are many clean canvas days.

Similar to Loveland Pass, Berthoud Pass is frequented so much by non free-heelers with out AT, teles, splits, or snowshoes, that there are quite a few boot packs from the summit that allow access to nearly half of the terrain available. With no mandatory investment in new skis or splitboards, it’s a great place to build your backcountry experience. But please be mindful not to bootpack on a fresh/soft skin track (if its frozen in, go for it).

Route Suggestion #1: If you are new to the backcountry, there are some runs on the east and west sides perfect to get a handle on the landscape. Just below the former lift lines, straight forward runs await at relatively low angle.

Route Suggestion #2: For the days of lethargy, you can drop straight from the summit parking lot into Hells Half Acre toward Winter Park or ride Half Pipe on the Empire side without hiking.

Source: Weston | Check out additional routes/info on Berthoud Pass here.

Hidden Valley

Experience Level: Beginner, Intermediate

Ascent Range: 2,000 ft

Descent Range: -500 ft

Trail types: Skin Tracks

Ride Straight Back to Parking Lot: Yes

Following the Hidden Valley Resort shutting down after 36 years of operation, an open powder field remains for backcountry riding. Just west of Estes Park in the Rocky Mountain National Park, Hidden Valley consists of 1,200 skiable acres. The most popular areas for newcomers are below tree line and have slope angles between 20-30 degrees, which are generally safe from avalanche danger.

Hidden Valley is a great option for those wanting to avoid the I-70 corridor during the weekends. Only 30-40 minutes outside of Boulder, RNMP offers an endless amount of beginner zones and butt puckering ski-mountaineering routes.

Route Suggestion #1: Lower T-Bar, Aspen, and Juniper runs are great introductions to the backcountry with low slope angle and wide terrain. These runs are north facing and typically carry better snow due to less sunlight hitting these north facing slopes.

Route Suggestion #2: Traverse into the east facing upper bowls for more challenging terrain. But be prepared with the right knowledge and gear, as the slope angle is greater as is the avalanche risk.

Source: Weston

Geneva Basin

Experience Level: Beginner, Intermediate

Ascent Range: 1,993 ft

Descent Range: -38 ft

Trail types: Skin Tracks / Un-groomed Single Track Snowmobile Road

Ride Straight Back to Parking Lot: Yes/Cross the empty parking lot

If you’re trying to avoid I-70 and going through the PRB (People’s Republic of Boulder), Geneva Basin is the backcountry zone for you! On the backside of Guanella Pass, the now abandoned ski resort features a ski patrol hut at the base where you can find old trail maps. Geneva Basin is an oasis for low-angle powder turns. There is a ton of terrain to be tracked here.

Geneva Basin is accessed from Highway 285. It is not well marked and can be easily overlooked so be sure to lock in your destination into Google Maps before you get out of service. However, more recently the road closure has been moved further out making it a solid 4-6 mile skin to reach the resort.

Route Suggestion: Follow the access road to the lookers left. There is another road to the lookers right, but it is private road that accesses some cabins and homes. Although the lady down this road is super nice and will likely offer you some beta and tea instead of pulling a shotgun screaming “git-off-me-land”, its best not to go this route as the approach to the top of the resort on this route is much more difficult.

Source: Weston

Independence Pass/Green Mountain

Experience Level: Beginner/Intermediate

Ascent Range: 2,100 ft

Trail types: Boot Pack/Skin

Route Suggestion: This is the easiest ski on Green Mountain and a good learner's tour, but due to trees and sun exposure, it may go out of condition quickly in spring. (With snowmobile access via the Independence Pass road, this might be a good place for winter powder.) Drive to Upper Green Mountain Trailhead (as described in the section introduction). When you end up on the road next to Green Mountain you'll notice that most of Green Mountain is a long ridge broken by a ribs, shoulders and avalanche paths, with one wooded shoulder dropping to the valley at the westerly end of the terrain you're studying. This is the first part of your destination.

But the crux of this route (and others on Green's north face) is crossing the Roaring Fork River. Snow bridges may exist during heavy snow years, and long-legged people can sometimes find a jump route. Fishing waders are another option. Whatever your method, after you cross the creek, head up the glades and open areas. Use an old mining road when appropriate. Trend right (W) and continue to timberline. Once above timberline you can climb directly to the ridge above, or take a climbing traverse W at about 11,900 feet to reach a large saddle (12,000 feet). From here head up an attractive low-angled snow shoulder to one of Green Mountain's summits (12,690 feet). If you want the real top, take the ridge from here W and S to the highpoint (12,791 feet). Descend your ascent route.

Source: Backcountry Skiing Colorado

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