Backcountry Skiing Loveland Pass Colorado by Rob Writz

In a Denver Post Article, MacKenzie Ryan labelled Loveland Pass as “one of the best worst-kept secrets in backcountry skiing.” Skiers and snowboarders have cemented Loveland Pass’s reputation as a backcountry destination by driving up and skiing down for nearly one hundred years. Explorers went deeper into the basins surrounding the Pass, leading to mechanical rope tows in the 1930s. Loveland Ski Area opened on the north side of the pass in 1936, and Arapahoe Basin began operations on the south side in 1946. In the 1980s and 1990s, snowboarders pioneered jumps on descents like Main Line and Ironing Board long before terrain parks existed at ski resorts. Fast forward to today, and you can find a full terrain park here, including kickers and rails. Many Front Range and Summit County sliders had their first backcountry experience at Loveland Pass.

Cresting the Continental Divide at 11990 feet Loveland Pass is between Arapahoe Basin and Loveland Ski Areas
Cresting the Continental Divide at 11990 feet Loveland Pass is between Arapahoe Basin and Loveland Ski Areas

Most folks view the Loveland Pass backcountry as simply the drop-in terrain at the top of the Pass. This backcountry ski guidebook presents the opportunity to go beyond the hustle and bustle of Loveland Pass. From Watrous Gulch to Porcupine Gulch, we follow US Highway 6 as it climbs dramatically to 11,990 feet; providing trailhead access to glacial valleys holding a lifetime of winter backcountry exploration. The guidebook terrain ranges from all day ski adventures in Dry Gulch and Herman Gulch, to a new perspective on how to use the Pass’s hitchhiking resources to access valleys not visible from the Highway. Our focus is winter skiing, and we also include a sample of ski mountaineering on thirteen thousand foot peaks directly accessible from Highway 6. The onset of spring and a stabilizing snow pack lures skiers into the high alpine to seek famous descents such as Dave’s Wave and the notorious Shit for Brains couloir.

Ski touring up Herman Gulch
Ski touring up Herman Gulch

MacKenzie Ryan was right, Loveland Pass is one of the best worst-kept secrets in backcountry skiing. Embrace the craziness of the Pass, and become part of the history of Colorado backcountry skiing. Have fun, but keep it real in avalanche terrain. This zone is the target of online forum rants about reckless backcountry skiing, and even the subject of a study quantifying the lack of safety gear present in the Pass’s backcountry user population. You and your friends need to bring avalanche equipment, training, and the mentality for safety to ensure a great experience at Loveland Pass. 

Dropping into the Rose Garden in Herman Gulch
Dropping into the Rose Garden in Herman Gulch

Backcountry Skiing Berthoud Pass Colorado by Rob Writz

I have lost track of how many sunrises I have seen from Berthoud Pass. This means that I have also lost count of how many dawn patrols I have had at the Pass over the years. I don’t revel in the sub-zero and pitch black starts, but the day job and family schedule dictate these early mornings. When the sun rises over the Continental Divide it sheds just enough light on the surrounding terrain. From the top of the West Side you can see the Indian Peaks to the north, and the Mount Evans Wilderness to the south. The quick access and the deep snow of Berthoud Pass provide a solace from the harsh morning, and it is the camaraderie of the skiers in the parking lot that brings the warmth. Berthoud Pass is close enough to Denver to justify several laps and then a harrowing drive down I-70 to work. I often joke that after safely navigating the hazards of backcountry skiing, the most dangerous part may be the drive back.

Friends enjoying playful terrain after a classic Colorado storm.

Friends enjoying playful terrain after a classic Colorado storm.

Backcountry skiers have been exploring Berthoud Pass for nearly one hundred years. Cars would shuttle skiers to the top of the Pass, and the pick them up at the bottom. Fast-forward to today and you can find hitchhikers on any given day at a number of trailheads. Those who are generous enough to pull over and give a hitchhiking brother or sister a ride to the top are then blessed with good karma enshrined in the history and tradition of skiing the Pass.

Berthoud Pass also has a rich lift access history. Berthoud Pass Ski Area operated discontinuously from 1937 to 2003. It was the first ski area in Colorado with a rope tow, the first two-person chair lift, and the first to allow snowboarding. The ski area also pioneered big mountain competitions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Scott climbing Moonlight Bowl.

Scott climbing Moonlight Bowl.

Quick access, a consistent snowpack, and endless discovery continue to draw backcountry skiers to Berthoud Pass. The east to west orientation of the Pass, located high above the Fraser River and Clear Creek valleys, attracts a deep snowpack benefiting from both northwest flow and upslope storms. In just over an hour drive from Denver, backcountry skiers have access to numerous trailheads leading into the high basins surrounding the Pass. From pre-work dawn patrols, to car shuttling, to all day epics, Berthoud Pass has an adventure for backcountry riders of all skill levels. This is why I love to ski here. I hope to see you in the Pass parking lot enjoying the dawn patrol as much as I do.

Just another two foot dump and the signs are gone.

Just another two foot dump and the signs are gone.