Rocky Mountain National Park | Colorado

Backcountry Skiing in Rocky Mountain National Park

Season

Mid-December through April

Nearest city

Estes Park, CO, is a five-minute drive from the park’s entrance

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Skill level

Beginner to advanced

Duration

1 day

Price range

from $255-$595/person

Get ready for epic backcountry terrain in Colorado’s Front Range

Colorado boasts big terrain and sky-scraping mountains, and Rocky Mountain National Park is no exception. Longs Peak sits at 14,258 feet and there are 18 other mountains within the park that top out at 13,000+ feet. Estes Park, which sits conveniently minutes from RMNP’s eastern border, is the perfect starting point for an epic ski tour within Rocky’s boundaries. Get your skis primed and your avi gear ready for your big day in the backcountry.

This adventure is operated by The Mountain Guides.

'Rocky,' as locals call it, hides dozens of stashes. The terrain here is a steep-skier’s paradise, with lots of 40-plus-degree lines.

Rob Coppolillo, IFMGA Guide

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Shred chutes, bowls, couloirs and an abandoned resort

Another draw for heading into the backcountry in Rocky isn’t just its terrain. Hidden Valley (formerly known as Ski Estes Park) used to be a local ski resort until it was acquired by the National Park Service in 1991. Since the Park Service dismantled the chairlifts and closed its doors, the area has thrived as a naturally reclaimed backcountry skiing destination, making it a must-ski area each season.

After Hidden Valley, make sure to ski RMNP’s other classics

While Hidden Valley offers a great taste of Rocky’s more forgiving terrain, what makes intrepid backcountry skiers return each season are locations like the south face of Tyndall Gorge, Flattop Glades, Banana Bowl, Dragon’s Tail, and Banana Bowl. Each of these runs epitomizes Rocky’s appeal: epic terrain that always rewards, especially for committed backcountry adventurers.

RMNP's most popular backcountry skiing adventures

Rocky Mountain Backcountry Skiing

This is the perfect chance to dive into Colorado’s revered backcountry, but without a lift ticket or back-to-back traffic along the usual routes. While RMNP’s terrain is vast, there’s no better way to challenge yourself with new objectives than by touring with a guide. Hidden Valley can be a great warm-up for more challenging terrain at Tyndall Gorge or The Dream Chutes. Count on a full day of touring and 2,000-5,000 vertical feet.

Rocky Mountain Ski Mountaineering

Plan on a big day with anywhere from 3,500-6,500 feet in elevation gain as you ski some of Rocky’s more challenging, world-famous terrain. Depending on the conditions, Dead Elk or Dragon’s Tail are two classics that deliver big payoffs. Count on an early start and a long 7-9 hour day as you take on some of RMNP’s bucket list classics.

Need to know

Do you need a permit?

If you want to camp in Rocky Mountain National Park, a $30 permit is required from May 1st through October 31st. For non-camping visitors, the park offers a Day Pass that costs $25. A seven-day vehicle pass is $35, and a seven-day motorcycle pass is $30. An annual pass for the park is $70.

When is the best time to go?

The backcountry skiing season truly gets underway from mid-December through late April. The road that services the majority of the park, Trail Ridge Road, officially closes October 23rd through spring — depending on the snowfall. Intrepid skiers find they can almost ski year-round in the park if the weather cooperates.

What about bad weather?

Inclement weather can often lead to unstable terrain and conditions in the backcountry. Because of this, your guide will decide on what objectives are most suitable and what areas are safe for adventuring on a given day. Avalanche danger is very real and must be respected whenever venturing out for a tour.

Group sizes and pricing

Depending on the guiding service you tour with, group sizes are relatively small with no more than a 1:4 guide-to-client ratio. Pricing is done per participant and fees usually decrease when more people are in the group.

Is there a minimum age requirement?

Depending on the guiding service, some allow guests as young as 10, while others require parental accompaniment if younger than 18. Ask your adventure expert.

How fit do I need to be for this adventure?

Given Rocky Mountain National Park’s elevation and the ruggedness of its terrain, all backcountry skiers should be in excellent physical condition. All skiers should be confident on black level resort runs and be able to skin while wearing a pack.

Getting there

Estes Park sits just to the east of the park’s entrance and is often the meeting location of choice for any backcountry endeavors. Denver is 1.5 hours by car; Boulder, CO, is just under an hour’s drive.

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