57h best of article: Best Backcountry Skiing Locations in Colorado

Best Backcountry Skiing Locations in Colorado

From Steamboat’s “champagne powder” to the rowdy terrain on Red Mountain Pass, Colorado offers backcountry riders every kind of terrain imaginable. Spartan plywood yurts, comfortable backcountry huts, and even five-star VRBO’s cater to every budget and psych level.

Buyer beware, though: Colorado frequently leads the nation in avalanche fatalities. A sketchy snowpack and plenty of charging riders make for a deadly combination. Consider an AIARE avalanche course or hiring a certified, professional mountain guide before heading into the backcountry.

Don’t be deterred, though, there’s plenty of safe, scenic skiing, too! At resorts or on carefully selected terrain in the backcountry, Colorado makes a great venue to discover backcountry skiing and splitboarding.

The 57hours team has compiled a list of some of the state’s most famous stashes. Rest assured, there are dozens more  but our team of professional guides has to keep some of their secrets!

Colorado

Crested Butte

TOP CHOICE FOR ADVANCED SKIERS
Lots of challenging terrain
Never too crowded here
Tons of nearby objectives
It’s a little secluded
Avalanches. Beware!

Top Choice • Not Crowded •  Great Expert Terrain

Less crowded than Aspen and Vail, Crested Butte will surprise you with all it has to offer. Within the picture perfect mountain town there’s a resort with all of the usual family friendly activities and amenities. Keep in mind that Crested Butte wasn’t built to serve its resort; the resort came later, and Crested Butte enjoys its reputation as ‘one of the last great ski towns in Colorado.’ It’s also a backcountry gem offering everything from hair-raising steep-skiing to cruisy “hero pow.” .

The town’s location provides access to 12k (Crested Butte), 13k (Cathedral) peaks and a handful of 14ers (Capitol and Pyramid) – and that’s just in the immediate Elk Mountain Range. Once you arrive in the Butte, check out how many different drainages depart from town every direction you look, you can find epic lines to ski.

Though there is plenty of safe, simple terrain around Crested Butte, but keep in mind you are never far from committing, complex terrain. Decision-making skills in avalanche terrain is essential and those without experience in navigation, terrain selection, and backcountry touring should seriously considering hiring a guide.

Passing Through -...

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Crested Butte - good to know

Skill level

Strong intermediate to expert

Terrain

Chutes, bowls, couloirs. The terrain is steep and demanding with. Be aware of avalanches!

Elevation

8,885'

Backcountry Access

Either by snowmobile or by bootpack and skinning, there’s an abundance of terrain available

Snow

Snowfall is a bit below average for Colorado but the backcountry areas north and west of the resort receive plenty

Snow

Snowfall is a bit below average for Colorado but the backcountry areas north and west of the resort receive plenty

Guidebook

Backcountry Skiing: Crested Butte by Andy Sovick

Get the book here!
Best Season

February through April

Location

Gunnison County, Colorado

Coordinates

38°53′00″N 106°56′37″W

Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park

TOP CHOICE FOR ADVANCED SKIERS
World-class spring skiing destination
An expert skier’s dream come true
No avalanche control
Limited season
Mid-winter touring often limited by avy danger

Guide’s Top Choice

Towering 14,000-foot peaks, steep chutes, moderate glade skiing, it’s all there in one of the most scenic national parks on the continent. “Rocky,” as locals call it, hides dozens of stashes, so hiring a local guide increases your chances of finding the goods on the right day. Come spring, the steepest couloirs open up and the ski-mountaineering approaches the Alps in terms of challenge, commitment, and reward. Plum lines like the Taylor Glacier, Flying Dutchman, and maybe, just maybe…the Northeast Face of Notchtop will come into condition in April. Imagine skiing a 55-degree headwall under sunny Colorado skies…welcome to Rocky!

The terrain here is a steep-skier’s paradise, with lots of 40-plus-degree lines, making access difficult and unwise in all but the perfect conditions. Take care when venturing out. Some of the easier accessed terrain can be found at the Banana Bowl on Flattop Mountain or Tyndall Glacier,. Hire a guide and/or take a ski-mountaineering course to make the most out of your tour.

Skiing Magazine E...

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Rocky Mountain National Park - good to know

Skil level

Advanced to expert

Terrain

Couloirs and chutes - all demanding and technical

Elevation

14,259’ Longs Peak

Backcountry access

Several trailheads offer skiing, but Bear Lake and Longs Peak offer the greatest variety of backcountry riding terrain

Snow

Slow to start, but often good coverage by January. Spring is prime time

Snow

Slow to start, but often good coverage by January. Spring is prime time

Guidebook

Backcountry Skiing and Ski Mountaineering in Rocky Mountain National Park by Mark Kelly

Get the guidebook here!
Best season

March through June

Location

Estes Park, Colorado

Coordinates

40.3428° N, 105.6836° W

Colorado

Vail Pass

GREAT FOR FIRST TIMERS
Great terrain for beginners
Great for amenities for families
Snowmobile or bootpack access
Day pass or season pass required
It’s Vail. It’s expensive

Top Choice • Variety of Terrain • Family Friendly

Offering a bit of everything – moderate terrain, steep chutes, snowmobile access, and easy approaches – Vail Pass is one of the best backcountry skiing destinations in the West. Combine the backcountry with world-class resort skiing at Vail, Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, Keystone, or A-Basin for an epic weekend in the mountains. The Vail Pass summit reaches 10,662’ and its recreation area is a massive 55,000 acres. So, while the area is heavily trafficked it, is also huge. The north/east side of the pass is for non-motorized traffic, while the south/west side allows for snowmobiles, in addition to human-powered and cat skiing.

If you’re new to backcountry skiing, there’s quick and easy access to the goods on Uneva Peak on the north side of I-70. The terrain here offers mellow lines and gentle slopes in the Hippy Trees and on the Dog Run. On the other side of the highway, it’s quite a bit busier, but a cat/sled road makes easy skinning towards moderate terrain in/around Ptarmigan.

Looking for something a little more challenging? Look on the southside of the Pass beyond Ptarmigan Hill and consider dropping in on the varied terrain of Boss Basin and, of course, Avalanche Bowl – an appropriately named feature which has unfortunately seen at least a couple fatalities. If you find yourself on the northside at Uneva, the east-side chutes are steep and challenging if you’re looking for bigger angles and bigger terrain. Avalanches are a real hazard in any of the steep terrain – know how to manage this hazard yourself, or hire a guide.

Skiing the Vail P...

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Vail Pass - good to know

Skill Level

Beginner to expert

Terrain

Wide meadows and alpine terrain, glades, bowls and, of course, chutes and cliffs

Elevation

10,662’

Backcountry Access

Tons of runs, especially on the south side can be accessed via snowmobiles but for greater variety be ready to skin

Snow

Vail gets great snow from late fall into late spring. Check the avalanche advisory and be ready for variable conditions

Snow

Vail gets great snow from late fall into late spring. Check the avalanche advisory and be ready for variable conditions

Guidebook

Backcountry Ski & Snowboard Routes: Colorado by Brittany and Frank Konsella

Buy the book here!
Best season

Mid-January through April

Location

Eagle County, Colorado

Coordinates

39°47′52″N 105°46′37″W

Aspen Backcountry

great for families with young skiers
Endless terrain outside of the resort
Intermediate to extreme lines
Family friendly destination
Expensive, kinda like Vail
Plum lines are off-limits (usually) until spring

Something for Everybody

The posh and famous ski resorts in Aspen – Ajax (Aspen Mountain), Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk (Tiehack), and Snowmass – are truly world class, but guests love the phenomenal backcountry skiing right outside the gates, too. There’s lift-served access out of Ajax, Highlands, and Snowmass. Comfortable, spacious backcountry huts dot the mountains within sight of town. Sure, you can hang around Aspen and spot the stars dining on bluefin tuna flown in from Tokyo, but hire a guide for epic skiing and riding – it’s way more more fun and get away from the lift lines!

The Aspen area offers tons of options for all levels of backcountry skier, making it a favorite of 57hours. Depending on the terrain you seek and the distance you’re willing to work for it, there’s something for every level of skier. The Sugar Bowls just out off of the resort at Buttermilk Mountain offers great terrain and access from Government Trail gate. There’s lots of low angle terrain with super low avalanche risk to whet the appetite. Another mellow tour is from Snowmass Resort to the the Buttermilk area, too, across Burnt Mountain. If you’re in search of bigger terrain with bigger challenges and rewards, you don’t have to travel too far in either direction from Aspen. Mount Hayden, just outside of Aspen via Castle Creek Road offers plenty of bowl skiing and higher angle descents. Even further south is Mount Sopris, which offers steep terrain and committed couloir skiing, if someone in your group wants some expert terrain.

Skiing deep powder

Third Bowl, Aspen...

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Aspen Backcountry - good to know

SKill Level

All skill levels

Terrain

Chutes, bowls, trees

Elevation

7,908'

Backcountry Access

Because of the enormous ski lift infrastructure, chasing pow off the resort is an option. You’ll bootpack and skin, but lifts will get you most of the way. If you’re willing to dive further into the backcountry, there’s legendary touring out of Ashcroft, Marble, and Castle Creek.

Snow

Marble and the West Elks receive as much snow as Alta and Snowbird - get some!

Snow

Marble and the West Elks receive as much snow as Alta and Snowbird - get some!

Guidebook

Classic Colorado Ski Descents by Jon Kedrowski

Buy the book here!
Best season

January through June

Location

Rocky Mountains' Maroon Bells and Elk Mountains

Coordinates

39.1911° N, 106.8175° W

Colorado

Loveland Pass

The access is easy. Side of the road
A long season makes it a local favorite
It’s getting a little crowded...
Lack of oxygen! Get acclimated

Top Choice for Weekend Skiing

Easily accessible off I-70 highway, above Georgetown and only an hour from Denver, Loveland Pass attracts locals and visitors alike. While some may consider this area “easier,” it demands the same level of respect and caution as any backcountry area. Because it’s closer to Denver, you’ll need to be heads up with other parties and hunt a bit for the goods.

With off-road access so convenient, look for the Short Laps just off the pass, south of I-70, there you’ll find gully runs that are short but usually untracked. At Mount Sniktau you’ll find good powderfields and steep drops from its Northeast Face. Head towards The Hippie Trees and you’ll find good tree skiing, obviously, cliffs and other terrain features, all of which are easily lapable. Of course, if you want to something a little more challenging, and scary, there’s always Dogshit Couloir and Widow Maker. You’ve been warned.

Skiers head out on Loveland Pass

SKI: Loveland Pas...

Loveland Pass Summit in Winter. Colorado, United States.
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Loveland Pass - good to know

Skill Level

Beginner to expert

Terrain

Lots of tree skiing with open bowls in the higher areas

Elevation

11,990'

Backcountry access

Accessible off I-70 and you can bootpack/skin east or west from the summit parking area. Hitchhiking is definitely not frowned upon here so don’t miss the opportunity to help a fellow skier

Snow

Loveland Pass benefits from the usual snow in the high country, but also gets receives Colorado’s infamous “upslope” storms – sometimes adding as much as 100 inches of snow late winter into spring

Snow

Loveland Pass benefits from the usual snow in the high country, but also gets receives Colorado’s infamous “upslope” storms – sometimes adding as much as 100 inches of snow late winter into spring

Guidebook

Fritz Sperry’s MakingTurns in Colorados Front Range Volume 1: South of Interstate 70

Get the guidebook here!
Best season

February through April

Location

Clear Creek / Summit Counties, Colorado

Coordinates

39°39′49″N 105°52′45″W

Colorado

Monarch Pass

Uncrowded
Good family vacation spot
Shorter runs

Monarch is a family friendly place that most visitors describe as laid back and not so crowded. With a friendly vibe from locals and budget friendly accommodation, Monarch is on the radar of many backcountry lovers. There’s touring within site of Monarch ski resort and off the road. Monarch Pass tends to do well in El Nino winters, so check conditions. While the area doesn’t have as much varied touring as Vail or Berthoud Passes, it’s far less crowded.

Skier making a turn in fluffy powder snow

Monarch Snow Cat ...

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Monarch Pass - good to know

Skill level

Beginner to intermediate

Terrain

Nicely spaced trees and steep bowls

Elevation

11,312'

Backcountry access

Easy access from Highway 50

Snow

Goes off on El Nino years, but not as consistent as some other Colorado locations

Snow

Goes off on El Nino years, but not as consistent as some other Colorado locations

Guidebook

Backcountry Ski & Snowboard Routes: Colorado by Brittany and Frank Konsella

Buy the book here!
Best season

February through April

Location

Chaffee / Gunnison Counties

Coordinates

39°47′52″N 105°46′37″W

Colorado

Berthoud Pass

Ski a ghost resort (what's left of it)!
Endless terrain options
No ski patrol or avalanche control
It can get crowded

Busy…for Good Reason

A bit of a ghost resort, Berthoud Pass was once a fully functional ski hill that is now abandoned. Sandwiched between Winter Park and Denver, Berthoud receives a bunch of traffic, but if you arrive early you can still harvest the untracked and be gone before the hordes arrive. Weekends are busiest, so plan accordingly. Berthoud gets consistent snow, but also plenty of wind – avalanche danger can change by the hour. Don’t know how to monitor conditions? Inquire about hiring a guide or ski with an experienced friend and and make good decisions. Awesome skiing on both sides of the pass, but the highest quality lines are west of the highway.

Backcountry Ski T...

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Berthoud Pass - good to know

Skill Level

Beginner to expert

Terrain

Glades, steeps, cliffs and the abandoned ski resort area - the ski area is NOT avalanche controlled; treat it as backcountry

Elevation

11,307’

Backcountry access

It’s on Highway 40 so hitchhiking to the top is popular but you’ll also need skins or snowshoes

Snow

It’s a real backcountry delight! On good years, Berthoud Pass can receive 500” or more

Snow

It’s a real backcountry delight! On good years, Berthoud Pass can receive 500” or more

Guidebook

Rob Writz’s Backcountry Skiing: Berthoud Pass, Colorado

Get the book here!
Best season

February through April

Location

Clear Creek / Grand Counties, Colorado

Coordinates

39°47′52″N 105°46′37″W

Colorado

Torreys Peak

Amazing expert terrain
The views can’t be beat
Tick a fourteener off your list
Difficult terrain
Avalanche danger
Extreme weather conditions

Spring Skimo

The phrase “earn your turns” rings true when it comes to summiting and skiing the couloirs of Torreys, especially the Tuning Forks, Dead Dog Couloir, and the Emperor Face. Given it’s a 4000m peak and most of the terrain is steep, Torreys is usually a spring destination. The road, too, melts out sometime in May, so if you go early, you’ll have to skin several extra miles. Skiing from the summit, though, is all time – well worth the suffering on the way up.

Kelso-Torrey's Pow Ski

Torreys Peak - good to know

Skill level

Expert skiers with a high level of physical fitness

Terrain

Steep couloirs and challenging terrain

Elevation

14,267’

Backcountry access

Skinning and booting (often with crampons)

Weather

This is towering 14er; knowing the weather forecast and reading the avalanche advisory is essential

Weather

This is towering 14er; knowing the weather forecast and reading the avalanche advisory is essential

Guidebook

Check out Chris Davenport’s Ski the 14ers

Get the guidebook here!
Best season

February through April

Location

Continental Divide between Clear Creek and Summit Counties

Coordinates

39°38′34″N 105°49′16″W

Colorado

Hoosier Pass

Secluded and not too popular
Ski a ghost town!
Avalanches! Bring a buddy. Hire a guide

Less well known than nearby Berthoud and the Ten Mile Range, Hoosier has a few stashes that can be untracked days after a storm. With safe, low-angle tree skiing and a couple steeper bowls, Hoosier is a great go-to option when other areas are tracked out. The Ten Mile ends here, in the shadow of a great skiable 14er, Quandry. The Cristo Couloir and East Face are both great runs, but require caution. Unsure? Hire a mountain guide to manage the risk.

It’s another ghost town that offers two decent paths if you’re looking for a peaceful and chill ride. Though Hoosier Pass may not be the first pick for most Colorado backcountry skiers because it’s a bit obscure, that doesn’t mean it should be ignored! There’s still two easily accessed runs just off the Pass and there’s also Hoosier Wave, a slide path too. Regardless, it’s better save this area for spring due to weather conditions.

Backcountry - Hoosier Pass - Hoosier West

Hoosier Pass - good to know

Skill level

Intermediate

Terrain

Mostly low angle chutes and bowls

Elevation

11,542’

Backcountry access

Along Highway 24, south Breckenridge

Snow

Continental powder and pack. The Ten Mile Range and Hoosier get epic winds; check before you go

Snow

Continental powder and pack. The Ten Mile Range and Hoosier get epic winds; check before you go

Guidebook

Powder Ghost Towns: Epic Backcountry Runs in Colorado's Lost Ski Resorts by Peter Bronksi

Buy the book here!
Best Season

Late winter into spring

Location

Northern end of the Mosquito Range, between Mount Lincoln and Hoosier Ridge

Coordinates

39°21′42″N 106°03′45″W

Colorado

Red Mountain Pass

Terrain is truly stunning
Backcountry skier’s dream come true
What makes it fun also makes it dangerous
Extreme avalanche caution is advised

Another mecca for backcountry skiers and riders, Red Mountain Pass sits between the hallowed mountain towns of Ouray and Silverton. Drive up the “Million Dollar Highway” to park beneath 14ers and ski for the day, or better yet, book one of the beautiful, modern huts for a long week of ski touring in one of Colorado’s most beautiful venues. Local guides protect their secret stashes, saving them for the right days with the right guests. And heads up, too, Red Mountain Pass is another of Colorado’s most active avalanche zones. Highway 550 has its own forecaster! Gorgeous, varied, and challenging, come see what all the fuss is about on Red Mountain Pass.

Backcountry Skiing Red Mountain Pass

Red Mountain Pass - good to know

Skill Level

Intermediate to expert

Terrain

Untouched chutes, bowls, gullies, and glades. Terrain varies which is why this is such a perfect spot

Elevation

11,018’

Backcountry access

It’s just along Highway 550, north of Silverton. Parking areas right off the road offer access

Snow

Avalanche safety comes first. Conditions change by the hour here, so heads up and/or hire a guide

Snow

Avalanche safety comes first. Conditions change by the hour here, so heads up and/or hire a guide

Guidebook

Backcountry Skiing: Silverton, CO by Josh Kling

Get the book here!
Best season

Winter to spring

Location

Between Ouray and San Juan Counties

Coordinates

37°53′56″N 107°42′43″W

Colorado

Cameron Pass

Enormous area, diverse terrain
Not crowded
Easy access and steep terrain mean real avy hazard - heads up!

Drive west out of the college town of Fort Collins and you’re suddenly alone in the mountains. The Poudre River cascades into town, giving kayakers a serious objective come spring and high water. All that snowmelt comes from Cameron Pass, a lesser known ski-and-ride destination in the northern part of the state. Just far enough from Denver, Cameron Pass offers a quieter destination than some of the other areas in Colorado. It’s also in the same storm track as Steamboat Springs and the Zirkels – two of deepest zones in the state. Come see why Cameron is one of the best kept secrets on the Front Range.

Cameron Pass - Montgomery Bowls - 1.3.19

Cameron Pass - good to know

Skill Level

Intermediate to expert

Terrain

Diverse terrain, some of it avalanche prone

Elevation

10,276’

Backcountry access

Skinning, and you gotta work for it

Snow

Generally some of the highest snowfall totals on the Front Range. Make sure to check the forecast for strong winds and avalanche hazard

Snow

Generally some of the highest snowfall totals on the Front Range. Make sure to check the forecast for strong winds and avalanche hazard

Guidebook

 Backcountry Ski & Snowboard Routes: Colorado by Brittany and Frank Konsella

Get the book here!
Best Season

Winter to spring

Location

Border of Jackson County and Larimer County

Coordinates

40°31′15″N 105°53′33″W

About the author

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