The San Juan Mountains of Colorado rising to over 14,000’ are probably the prettiest in the state. A variety of exposed colorful rock layers contrast with the pines and aspens that grace their lower ramparts. Far from any major metropolitan areas, the air is fresh, and you can take a moment to take in your surroundings. Glacier carved valleys and cascading waterfalls surround you. Rock outcroppings protrude from the trees in almost every direction exciting the climber’s mind.
The geologic variety is as wide as the colors of rock in the San Juan Mountains. 1,400’ walls of quartzite and slate dating back 1.7 billion years have been uplifted and exposed in the mountain canyons and eroded calderas. Crags such as The Trough, Techno Crag, The RV Wall, and the Wicked Crag line the precipitous sides of Highway 550. You may see them, but the windy and exposed highway devoid of guard rails will keep your eyes from staring too long. The San Juans host some 20 calderas and some of the most significant volcanic events on the history of the planet. Like icing on a cake, the San Juan formation has left giant walls of volcanic ash at the tops of most of the peaks. While most of this layer is fractured to the point of being unappealing to climb on when it’s not froze in place, there are some dramatic exceptions to this rule. Most notably, the Hall of Justice is one of the more memorable sport crags you’ll find in the country. With routes up to six pitches in length, the dramatic exposure just walking the upper ledge will have your full attention. A host of long 35-meter pitches of steep pocked rock rise above and below this ledge.
Located between the upper volcanic ash and quartzite basement layers are a series of sandstone, limestone, conglomerate, shale and mudstone layers interspersed with igneous intrusions. You may be climbing on several different rock types throughout the course of a pitch at some crags.
For the more faint of heart, there are some of the most friendly and convenient options imaginable. Ouray’s Rotary Park crag hosts a bathroom with running water, barbeque grills, and over 50 bolted climbs between 5.2 and 5.12d rising just a few feet from your car. The Stripe Crag in Silverton lacks the amenities of Rotary Park, but also hosts a variety of grades with a short approach just outside of town.
When the high peaks unleash their fury, fair weather can often be found on the high desert Dakota Sandstone escarpments west of Montrose. A series of long east to west canyons offer mountain biking, off-roading, rock climbing and bouldering. The most notable is Dry Creek which features about 70 climbs between 5.7 and 5.13 overlooking a vast dry western landscape sloping down to the fertile farmlands of Montrose.
With Moab and Indian Creek only a 3-3.5 hour drive and the big walls of the Black Canyon sitting on the hill above Montrose there is no lack of full value year round climbing in the immediate vicinity. Locals don’t really take rest days here; we just change sports. You can river surf, ski, mountain bike, run, 4×4, run one of several via-ferratas, hike, paddle lakes and rivers, and soak in hot springs if climbing doesn’t suit your fancy.
Ouray isn’t just for Ice Climbing! was last modified: June 30th, 2022 by visualadventures
The smell of 2-stroke and the stoke of fresh powder on Buffalo Pass runs rampant throughout Dry Lake Campground as slednecks and hybrid skiers alike go over their gear checklists and read the updated avalanche bulletin from CAIC. The snowcam at Steamboat resort shows 8 inches of blower overnight, but the locals know of the “Fluffalo Pass” effect and expect a foot of fresh once they get to the top of Soda Mountain. Stu finally emerges from the USFS outhouse and Randy finishes scarfing his breakfast burrito from Creekside Cafe as I yell at everyone to remember why we woke up at 5am. We were the first to get our sleds off the trailer and now we are rewarded with fresh tracks on the snow road from Dry Lake all the way to our first stop at the Galaxy Drop.
We shuttle a sled down to the bottom of the Galaxy Trees and ride Canadian back to the top. The buzzing of idling engines from Dry Lake is no more and all that remains is the sound of a crisp breeze amongst the quaking aspens we are about to ski. Randy comments that these are the largest aspens he’s ever seen and Stu is still wrapping his head around how the entire stand has perfect spacing between each trunk. The untouched canvas in our field of view has us channeling our inner Da Vinci and our inner Billy Kid, minus the Stetson headgear. We roll over the top and drop into our line; the silence amongst the trees is met with hoots and hollers as we revert to our childlike selves giddy with the excitement and adrenaline of feeling alive and free. As we prepare to ride Caveman back to the top, we catch our breath and gaze at our lines meandering through the trees; It may not be the Mona Lisa but it is the closest we will ever get to creating a masterpiece.
Stu was itching to get into steeper terrain and we decided to spend the next couple of hours shredding In the Frey and South Park Ridge to our heart’s content. Eight laps later and our legs are screaming at us to take a break for just 5 minutes. In that same moment the skies rip to blue and we get our first glimpses of the day at the summit of Soda Mountain. We decide there’s no better place for a picnic on the Pass and we head uphill to take in the best views in Routt County. As we come to Zohan Point, we see a snow stake measuring 15 inches and Randy’s mouth broadcasts a shit eating grin- it looks like Buff Pass wringed out every bit of precip in northwest flow overnight. We waste no time and dedicate the rest of our day to the Carnival. After scouting from below we head back to the summit to ski our most technical terrain of the day. Steep skiing, tight chutes, and big airs summarize the second half of our amazing day on Buff Pass.
We head back towards Dry Lake after a full day of skiing, but we cannot resist the urge to ski one last fun run at Fiesta. We can see the congregation at the bottom of the run of other sled skiers reminiscing about all of the face shots had on this day. We ski one more line and make sure to put on a show for the locals and tourists alike watching from Lila’s Corner as we all three throw a Daffy on the booter some guys built towards the bottom. The excitement at Dry Lake as we load our trailer back up is intoxicating. Within earshot you can hear multiple proclamations of “Best. Day. Ever.” in some iteration or another. Randy, Stu, and I rally down to Slopeside for dinner and drinks as it starts to pound snow yet again. The forecast is calling for another foot of blower overnight and our sleds are already refueled.
Backcountry Sled-Skiing Buffalo Pass Colorado by Stephen Bass was last modified: December 3rd, 2020 by Bassomatic86
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.
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.
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.
Backcountry Skiing Loveland Pass Colorado by Rob Writz was last modified: December 9th, 2020 by FRSKIMO
In January of 2017, it began snowing in the Elk Mountain. A month later, it felt like it had never stopped. A long sequence of storm cycles had deposited over 10 feet of snow at Irwin, just outside of Crested Butte.
Skier Gail Sovick heads-up the front side of Snodgrass mid storm.
For backcountry skiers, a massive amount of snow in a short amount of time awakes a mixed bag of emotions. On the one hand, a skier cannot help but get excited about deep, deep pow. Images start appearing in our heads (and on our social media) of skiers porpoising way down into the white room, gloves and poles barely exposed above the surface as if they are the only way to catch a breath of air on behalf of the submerged powderhound. On the other hand, a lot of snow in a short amount of time means that avalanche danger is likely to rise, thus keeping us from venturing out into the steep-and-deep to realize our dreams of flying through the subnivean zone.
An impressive amount of snow blankets a “light tour” in the Anthracite Range
During this storm, I stopped into Wild Snow Headquarters to talk about a new book that my publishing company had just released for backcountry skiing Snoqualmie Pass in Washington. Lou Dawson runs wildsnow.com, which is one of the best online stops for quality and comprehensive backcountry ski news. Being the warm welcoming guy that he is, he invited me in for a cup of coffee, where we proceeded to talk about the storm that was surrounding our beloved mountains. We began talking about what we typically do during storms like this. Many people will read the avalanche forecast during storms like this, see that the danger is very elevated, and they will simply go to the ski area or just stay home. But backcountry skiers like Lou see things a little different. They begin to look for slopes in their area that are too low-angle to slide, but still steep enough to get some slow, yet oh-so enjoyable, turns on the way down.
Lou and I began talking about these tours and how wonderful they are, not only for high-danger days, but also for days with novice friends, or quick before-work tours, or days when you’re nursing a pulled muscle. In our conversation, we soon came to realize that we don’t even need an excuse to go hit the “light tours” of our area…we just plain like them. Our conclusion was that it’s really good to have a list of your local light tours in the back of your mind when the context presents itself.
Skier Gail Sovick takes a meadow break in Crested Butte’s Red Lady Glades.
So was born, the idea of creating a book that showcases some of our state’s light tours. It is said Colorado has 300 sunny days a year. Combine that with several thousand mountains, and a winter climate that’s downright temperate. The result: one of the best places on the planet for ski touring. Of course nothing is perfect. Colorado challenges backcountry skiers with limited public access options, due in part to it being a mostly rural, relatively un-roaded western state. More importantly, due to various climatic factors the state’s mountains can be prone to dangerous avalanches for much of every winter. Yet options exist. Key with backcountry travel is picking routes with lower angle pitches and other avalanche-mitigating factors. While these “light tours” are surprisingly difficult to find, they do exist. We detail a selection of Colorado’s best under these covers. Further, a growing trend in ski touring is the use of ski resorts for “uphilling,” motivated by the need for a less committing experience — yet nonetheless an experience that can equal any other outdoor sport in enjoyment. Colorado lends itself to this as well, with most of the state’s more than twenty ski resorts allowing uphill skiing. Thus, we offer a special mix here, combining a variety of “easy” backcountry routes with recommended resort options. Pick one of our many days of Colorado sunshine, get out and enjoy.
Uphill Skiing and Light Tours of Colorado by Andy Sovick & Lou Dawson was last modified: December 9th, 2020 by worker