Colorado’s Top Five Best Backcountry Ski Areas

From the sprawling ranges of Rocky Mountain National Park to the icy granite

pinnacles of the Indian Peaks Wilderness and the jagged ridges of the Gore Range,

Colorado is a backcountry skier’s paradise. From mellow, low angled, cruisy hills to

thrilling steep couloir drops, the backcountry of the Centennial State offers an area

for every taste and every level. These are five of our favorite backcountry ski areas.

Indian Peaks Wilderness

Deep granite cirques, rocky buttresses, and sprawling slopes make the Indian Peaks,

just an hour west of Boulder, a beloved spring ski destination. There are plenty of

opportunities for great ski mountaineering, especially on peaks such as Mt.

Audubon, which features moderate couloirs on its north and south faces ending at

Blue Lake. The windblown summit means that avalanche-danger is mostly

mitigated, even if it takes careful consideration like any other peak. Mt. Audubon’s

Crooked Couloir starts at a 35-degree angle and quickly steepens leading to the

shores of the lake in the granite bowl. Another peak, Mt. St. Vrain offers an easy

climb on skins to the summit and a fun downhill across three summits on

windblown terrain at an angle of 25 to 30 degrees.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of North America’s most classic backcountry

ski destinations. Highlights include peaks such as the East Face of Flattop Mountain,

the Hidden Valley Backcountry Area, and the Dragontail Couloir, one of Colorado’s

most classic descents; make the Rockies prime for an excellent ski day. Set between

Hallett’s Peak and Notchtop, Flattop Mountain follows a fun easy to follow skin track

and a low-angle (30-degree) descent down the East Face. It’s a great beginner to

moderate introduction to ski mountaineering in the Rockies. The former ski area of

Hidden Valley now features exciting drops with low avalanche danger, with angles

of up to 38-degrees in deep, powdery snow. Crossing Trail Ridge Road, the skin

track heads to expert terrain, while the descents underneath the road are tuned for

beginner to intermediate skiers and snowboarders. The Tyndall Gorge above

Emerald Lake offers exciting alpine ascents and steep descents, especially on the

famed Dragontail Couloir, a 1500-foot narrow drop into the Emerald Lake basin.

The Couloir is as fun to climb as it is to descent, however snow accumulation at the

top creates a moderate avalanche danger. On days when the snow is soft, it’s

possible to start from the summit of Flattop Mountain and drop all the way down to

Emerald Lake.

Tenmile Range

Those looking to ski their first Colorado 14er should look towards the East Ridge of

Quandary Peak in the Tenmile Range. With an easy ascent and descent on a wide

snowfield, the climb and descent is fun against a spectacular alpine backdrop. The

climb to the top is relatively low-angle and the descent involves coming down the

wide East Slope into a bowl, which drives all the way down to the tree line. Since the

summit, ridge, and East Face are all very exposed, the snow becomes very deep

powder on cloudless days. While the skiing on Quandary and the other peaks of the

Tenmile Range is fun, be wary of high avalanche danger due to the large amounts of

snow that the peaks receive.

Berthoud Pass

Just outside of Winter Park with a mesmerizing view of the Continental Divide,

Berthoud Pass is one of Colorado’s most iconic backcountry areas. A former resort,

Berthoud is one of the newer backcountry areas that offer drops from 11,000-feet

on moderate to expert terrain. The pass will see over 500-inches of snow annually,

and take storms from the east and the west, giving the snow a pristine feel. The skin

tracks follow the path of old ski lifts and the drops follow long, steep, and exposed

lines. Because of the steep lines and large amounts of snowfall, there is high

avalanche danger and much caution must be taken. There are a tremendous amount

of options here and many bring skiers right into Winter Park where they can get a

shuttle back to the car.

The Gore Range

At the heart of Summit County, the Gore Range is nearly Alaska-esque in nature,

featuring serrated summits, rocky ridges, and tough ascents and descents that will

challenge the best of backcountry skiers. Those who venture into this wild range

will find deep un-carved bowls, drainages, and wide-open basins with miles upon

miles of an alpine playground. Down below, short skin trails lead to magnificent

drops between fir and spruce, while higher up, steep climbs lead to thin couloirs

leading to a series of cirques and basins. For those looking for a wild adventure in an

alpine paradise, the Gore Range is relatively unexplored and has near-endless

possibilities.

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