Backcountry Skiing: Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado
by Mike Soucy
Colorado Avalanche Information Center
Colorado: Berthoud Pass | Buffalo | Cameron Pass | Crested Butte | Loveland | Silverton | Uphill Skiing & Light Tours of Colorado
Washington: Baker | Crystal | Hurricane Ridge | Snoqualmie
“The Park,” as locals know it, is home to some of the most diverse, accessible ski terrain on the Colorado Front Range. The Continental Divide creates a North-South backbone through the Park, and the glacier-carved east side offers long valleys of leeward terrain all the way to timberline. The Park holds the highest concentration of ski mountaineering terrain in the Front Range. Steep, dramatic scenery awaits as soon as you break into the alpine. Here, you will find options from entry-level to expert, from couloirs to alpine bowls. When the challenging midwinter weather or shallow early-season snowpack keeps you below the Continental Divide, fear not. Near- and below-timberline glades and gullies offer adventures in every valley, limited only by your curiosity for exploration. If you’re up for a more social affair, take a lap or two at Hidden Valley, a now-defunct ski area (1955–1991) which has become a gathering spot for everyone from new visitors and families to locals and skimo trainers. The spring months bring a deeper snowpack, more favorable weather, and the opening of Trail Ridge Road, which happens on Memorial Day Weekend in typical snow years. Topping out at over 12,000’, this is the highest paved road in Colorado and gives spring and early summer skiers great access to high alpine terrain. Mount Cumulus, Flattop Mountain, Hallett Peak, Longs Peak, McHenrys Peak, and many others offer classic high summit ski descents for a range of ability levels. April and May are often prime months for these objectives; you can still ski from the parking lot and often have the choice between cold snow or corn. In this first edition, we’ve compiled a list of the classic tours and descents the Park is known for, and included a few lesser-known objectives to spark the veterans’ curiosity. Routes and descriptions have been ground-truthed, vetted for accuracy, and supported by photography in order to provide a reliable planning and decision-making tool for your adventures. Enjoy!
The author and publisher acknowledge that the land described in this atlas is the ancestral home of the Hinono’eiteen (Arapaho) and Núutsi-u (Ute) peoples, who lived on these lands for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. The Arapaho traveled from the plains to and from what is now the east side of RMNP, while the Ute tribe lived along the west side and around what is now Grand Lake. They would also make seasonal trips back to the plains, traveling over the Continental Divide using what we now call the Ute Trail. Oliver Toll’s Arapaho Names and Trails is a great resource for learning more about the history of this land.
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