The 10 Best Colorado Backcountry Skiing Locations for 2020

The rest of the country together can’t compete with the kind of backcountry skiing you’ll find in Colorado. With dozens of spots to choose from, we’ve whittled our list down to the best ten.

There is every type of terrain imaginable in Colorado and no shortage of dry, deep powder. When the conditions are prime, it’s one of the few places you can ski year-round. From wide open meadows to steep, demanding, technical chutes, steep couloirs and perfect tree runs, this state has it all. Whether you’re making your first foray into backcountry skiing or you’ve been touring for years, there’s something on our list for everyone.

Beware, Colorado is avalanche country. A sketchy snowpack and plenty of charging riders can 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! Before adventuring here, consider these seven things that everyone needs to know about backcountry skiing in this winter wonderland.

In collaboration with local guides and powder chasing pros, we’ve compiled a list of Colorado’s most famous stashes. Rest assured, there are dozens more — but our team of professional guides has to keep some of their secrets! Here are ten of our favourite Colorado backcountry skiing locations:

Colorado

1. Rocky Mountain National Park

GUIDES’ TOP CHOICE
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

Can you ski in Rocky Mountain National Park? You bet!. 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, most of them technical and challenging, so hiring a local guide increases your chances of finding the goods on the right day.

Rocky Mountain Backcountry skiing
Spring is prime time for snow conditions in RMNP

Challenging and rewarding terrain

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 terrains can be found at the Banana Bowl on Flattop Mountain or Tyndall Glacier. Hire a guide or take a ski-mountaineering course to make the most out of your Rocky Mountain National Park ski touring.

I’ve skied some of the steepest lines of my life in Rocky and lived to tell the tale. With the right intel and prep, you can too. Here’s what you need to know.

by Rob Coppolillo – Certified AMGA/IFMGA rock, alpine, and ski guide.

Read full review

Rocky Mountain National Park - Good to Know

Skill 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

Local coffee shop

Kind Coffee in Estes Park has organic coffee and it opens early

Snow

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

Best season

March through June

Guidebook

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

Nearest location

Estes Park, Colorado

Locar bar

The Wheel Bar is a laid-back Tavern with pool tables and its own famous Bloody Mary

Colorado

2. Crested Butte

TOP CHOICE FOR CHALLENGING TERRAIN
Lots of challenging terrain for experienced skiiers
Never too crowded
Tons of nearby objectives
Authentic mountain town vibes
It’s a little secluded
Avalanches. Beware!

The last great Colorado ski town

Crested Butte makes good on its rep as “the last great Colorado ski town” and will surprise you with all it has to offer. This down-to-earth town centers around mountain life and outdoor recreation, with plenty of accessible terrain to boot. Less crowded than Aspen and Vail, Crested Butte Mountain Resort has all of the usual family-friendly activities and amenities — but without the long lift lines and crowded slopes. Five separate drainages mean there are hundreds of routes to choose from, no matter your level experience. Keep in mind that Crested Butte wasn’t built to serve its resort; the resort came later, and the town works hard to preserve its down-home way of life (so head to Aspen if you’re looking for luxury shopping and celeb sightings).

Skiing powder in Colorado
If it’s challenging terrain you’re looking for, Crested Butte is the place to backcountry ski.

Get ready for steep and demanding terrain

If you’re willing to leave the resort behind, you’ll be in for a real treat. 4.5 hours north of Denver, this backcountry gem offers everything from hair-raising steep-skiing to cruisy “hero pow.”The town’s location provides access to several peaks well over 10,000 feet: Crested Butte (12k), Cathedral Peak (13k) and a handful of 14ers, including 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. From couloirs to high-angle descents, big bowl skiing and mellow touring, there’s everything in this area. Great terrain can be found at Red Lady Bowl on Mt. Emmons, First Glade on Snodgrass Mountain or head to the Ruby Range for some truly epic descents.

10 miles from town, sits Irwin, a place known to get three times as much snow — and the light, dry, perfect kind. You’ll need to utilize a backcountry guide in this area, and Irwin Guides have made a name for themselves as about the best you can get in these parts.

Consider hiring a guide for safety

Though there is plenty of safe, simple terrain around Crested Butte, keep in mind that you’re never far from committing, complex terrain. Decision-making skills in avalanche terrain are essential here. Even those with experience in navigation, terrain selection, and backcountry touring should consider hiring a guide. If you’re looking for a Crested Butte backcountry skiing map, Beacon Guidebooks has a collection that covers 72 zones throughout the area.

Crested Butte - Good to Know

Skill level

Strong intermediate to expert

Terrain

Chutes, bowls, couloirs

Elevation

8,885′

Backcountry access

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

Nearest location

Crested Butte is a hub of its own, but Denver is a 4.5 hour drive northeast

Local coffee shop

Head to Camp 4 Coffee for the best cup of joe in town

Snow

Crested Butte gets some of the largest snowfall in the state

Guidebook

Backcountry Skiing: Crested Butte by Andy Sovick

Best season

December through March (January and February are best)

Local bar

Talk of the Town is a classic ski town bar in the heart of Crested Butte

Colorado

3. Vail Pass

TOP CHOICE FOR FAMILY FRIENDLY ADVENTURING
Great terrain for beginners
Great amenities for families
Snowmobile or bootpack access
Day pass or season pass required
It’s Vail. It’s expensive

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.

The Vail Pass area has backcountry skiing for all skill levels

Where the beginner routes are

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.

For more experienced backcountry skiers

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 even bigger terrain. Avalanches are a real hazard in any of the steep terrains — know how to manage this hazard yourself, or hire a guide.

Vail Pass hides some of the best touring in the state. One-half the pass is motorized access and encompasses Vail Powder Guides' tenure, while the east side of the road is all human-powered ... and awesome!

Rob Coppolino —- IFMGA Guide and founder of Vetta Mountain Guides

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

Local coffee shop

You’ll need to grab your cuppa in Copper Mountain or Vail before heading out to the pass

Snow

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

Best season

Mid-January through April

Guidebook

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

Nearest location

Vail Pass is 15 miles south of the resort town of Vail.

Local bar

Bart & Yeti’s in Vail is a long running institution with a rustic vibe

Colorado

4. Aspen

Something for Everybody
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

Surrounded by the peaks of the Elk Mountains, Aspen is legendary for drawing in hordes of celebrities every winter. Sure, you can hang around town and spot the stars dining on bluefin tuna flown in from Tokyo, or you can backcountry ski in terrain that’s more famous than anyone you’ll happen to catch a glimpse of. The Aspen area offers tons of options for backcountry powder hounds and beginners alike, and depending on the terrain you seek and the distance you’re willing to work for it, there’s something for every level of skier. There’s also some great Aspen backcountry ski guides in the area to help you make the most of your trip.

Aspen backcountry skiing
The Third Bowl, in Aspen Highlands backcountry

Where to stay in Aspen

The posh and famous ski resorts in Aspen – Ajax (Aspen Mountain), Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk (Tiehack), and Snowmass – are truly world-class. There’s lift-served access out of Ajax, Highlands, and Snowmass. While the classic resort options are convenient, a hut trip is the best way to go backcountry skiing in Aspen. Comfortable, spacious huts dot the mountains within sight of town and offer a great experience for families or a group of friends looking to experience Aspen’s true backcountry.

For newer skiers looking to develop their skills

Aspen visitors in-the-know love the phenomenal backcountry skiing right outside the gates, too, and without the lift lines. The Sugar Bowls — a series of open meadows just beyond the inbound gates at Buttermilk Mountain — offers lots of low angle terrain with super low avalanche risk to test out those new skis. Access this area from Government Trail gate. Another mellow tour is from Snowmass Resort to the Buttermilk area, across Burnt Mountain.

Bigger terrain, bigger rewards (and a ghost town!)

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. Also up that road, you’ll find the remnants of the old mining town of Ashcroft — a launching pad for adventure with access to backcountry ski trails and huts. Even further south is Mount Sopris, which offers steep terrain and committed couloir skiing, if someone in your group wants some expert terrain.

High alpine ski-mountaineering, gladed tree runs, and committing terrain right outside the ski areas -- this is Aspen and it's simply great! Plenty of options to keep you happy, even when the avalanche danger is up. Consider hiring a guide from Aspen Expeditions to find the goods.

Rob Coppolino —- IFMGA Guide and founder of Vetta Mountain Guides

Aspen - 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.

Local coffee shop

Victoria’s Espresso is a local hot spot for coffee drinks…and wine

Best season

January through June

Snow

Marble and the West Elks receive as much snow as Alta and Snowbird

Guidebook

Classic Colorado Ski Descents by Jon Kedrowski

Nearest location

Right in and around Aspen, CO

Local bar

Aspen Brewing Company for drinks and eats. Home Team BBQ if you want to avoid the core.

Colorado

5. Berthoud Pass

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

Once a fully functional ski hill, the Berthoud Pass ski area closed in 2001. By 2005, the lodge and chair lifts were removed. What’s left is a backcountry skier’s paradise, with runs suitable for all skill levels and pristine conditions. 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. The runs are well-established, the access is easy, and the powder is plenty due to Front Range storms. The snow is consistent, but the area also gets plenty of wind – avalanche danger can change by the hour.

Berthoud Pass skiing
Backcountry ski touring on Berthoud Pass, Winter Park, Colorado

Berthoud Pass has no shortage of runs

There are so many runs to choose from in Berthoud Pass, with ratings from easy to expert. Most runs can be done right from the pass, but some require you to hike or skin up. There’s excellent terrain on both the east and west sides of the pass, and although the east side is definitely more established, the west side boasts some truly epic spots. For those less familiar with backcountry skiing, there are well-suited runs right from the parking lot. Parry Peak Ascent from the Berthoud Pass Summit is one of the most popular expert-level routes. Mines Peak and Second Creek are two popular intermediate level runs. “The Fingers” and Ditch Road are more suited to those with less experience. Front Range Ski Mountaineering has detailed descriptions and maps of both the Berthoud Pass North, Berthoud Pass West, and other locations in the area, like Hells Half Acre, the East Side, and Floral Park.

Friends of Berthoud Pass

The nonprofit group, Friends of Berthoud Pass, is committed to preserving the legacy of the area through safety, access and education. Founded by ski patrollers and backcountry riders, they offer classroom avalanche awareness presentations, which are all free and open to the public. They informally monitor the area and work with the US Forest Service to help preserve the land while making it usable for backcountry use. They also provide a wealth of excellent resources, like Berthoud Pass backcountry skiing maps, as well as avalanche and weather links.

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

Nearest location

Berthoud Pass is just over an hours drive west of Denver and only 20 minutes south of Winter Park

Local coffee shop

Grab a cup at Winter Park’s Coffee and Tea Market or Waffle Cabin

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

Best season

February through April

Coordinates

39°47′52″N 105°46′37″W

Local bar

The Winter Park Pub is one of the go-to après-ski spots

Colorado

6. Loveland Pass

Top Choice for Weekend Skiing
The access is easy, right off the roadside
A long season makes it a local favorite
It’s getting a little crowded
Lack of oxygen! Get acclimated

Easily accessible off the 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 likely run into other backcountry parties and need to hunt a bit for the goods.

BAckcountry skiing
Loveland Pass has a long ski season and some spots that will scare your skis off

Where to backcountry ski in Loveland Pass

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 something a little more challenging, and scary, there’s always Dogshit Couloir and Widow Maker. You’ve been warned. You can check out Loveland Pass backcountry ski conditions here.

If you’re looking for a detailed Loveland Pass backcountry ski map, Rob Writz of Front Range Ski Mountaineering has published one that covers 111 routes in the legendary area (it’s also tear-proof, waterproof, and made to accompany you in the backcountry).

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

Best season

February through April

Guidebook

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

Nearest location

Loveland Pass is a half hour drive west of Georgetown, CO

Colorado

7. Hoosier Pass

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

If you’re looking for Breckenridge backcountry skiing, Hoosier Pass is just a short jaunt south of town and has a few stashes that can be untracked days after a storm. 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! Once a ski resort, it’s now another ghost town that offers two decent and easily accessed paths if you’re looking for a peaceful and chill ride, making it a great place for backcountry newbies. You can also make your way up to Bemrose Ski Circus for some more options. With safe, low-angle tree skiing and a couple of steeper bowls, Hoosier is a great go-to option when other areas are tracked out. Due to weather conditions, spring is the best time to ski in this area.

Hoosier Pass
For springtime skiing, Hoosier Pass has some of the best conditions in Colorado

North Star Mountain and Tractor Bowl

Just west of Hoosier Pass sits North Star Mountain. The main northeast facing bowl on the east shoulder is called Tractor Bowl, which has some great steep lines. If you’re skiing Tractor, consider shuttling a car down to Monte Cristo Gulch so that you can ski some fun lines back down to the Montgomery Tunnel Diversion.

Quandary Peak

Just a few miles from Hoosier Pass is Quandary Peak, with four great routes: the East Bowl, Cristo Couloir, the North Gullies and the North Couloir. The East Bowl is the best choice for first-timers; you can easily scout your lines on the ascent. Cristo Couloir is a popular, wide-open couloir on the south face of Quandary and is arguably one of the best backcountry ski descents in Colorado. The North Gullies are for advanced skiers, with a steep, narrow chute that has few escape options. The North Couloir, AKA Quandary Couloir, is also an expert-only line.

Hoosier Pass - Good to Know

Skill level

Beginner to expert

Terrain

Mostly low angle chutes and bowls

Elevation

11,542’

Backcountry access

Along Highway 24, south Breckenridge

Local coffee shop

Breckenridge’s Cool River Coffee House

Snow

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

Best season

Late winter into spring

Guidebook

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

Nearest location

Less than a half hour’s drive south of Breckenridge, CO

Local bar

Head to Breckenridge and grab a drink at the legendary Gold Pan Saloon

Colorado

8. Red Mountain Pass

TOP CHOICE FOR UNTRACKED POWDER
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 in the San Juan Mountains, between the Old West towns of Ouray and Silverton. Drive up the Million Dollar Highway, one of the most scenic drives in the US (but potentially treacherous in winter), to park beneath 14ers and ski for the day. Gorgeous, varied, and challenging, you need to ski it for yourself to see what all the fuss is about. With an endless variety of routes to explore — from laid-back tree runs to couloirs, traverses, summits and alpine bowls — you’ll find the ski touring in this area to be virtually limitless.

Backcountry skiing in Red Mountain Pass delivers awe-inspiring, untracked terrain

Red Mountain Pass guides

Book one of the beautiful, modern huts for a long week of ski touring in one of Colorado’s most beautiful venues or enjoy a stay at the luxe Red Mountain Alpine Lodge. Local mountain guides protect their secret stashes, saving them for the right days with the right guests, so your best bet is to book a guide for the best experience possible. Red Mountain Pass is another of Colorado’s most active avalanche zones, so much so that Highway 550 has its own forecaster, which makes skiing with a guide all that much safer. The San Juan Mountain Guides are the local go-to experts in this area.

Red Mountain Pass is a mecca for backcountry touring.

13-year guide Justin Ibarra

Red Mountain Pass - Good to Know

Skill level

Beginner (touring with a guide) 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

Local coffee shop

There’s no shortage of great cafes in Silverton. Check out Brown Bear Cafe, Coffee Bear Silverton, or The Sage Hen Cafe

Snow

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

Best season

Winter to spring

Guidebook

Backcountry Skiing: Silverton, CO by Josh Kling

Nearest location

Red Mountain Pass is about a half hour drive south from Ouray and 20 minutes north of Silverton, CO.

Local bar

Check out Siverton’s Golden Block Brewery or head down the street to Handlebars Food & Saloon for a true Wild West vibe (open seasonally).

Colorado

9. Cameron Pass

TOP CHOICE FOR ENDLESS COULOIRS
Enormous area with diverse terrain and easy access
Uncrowded
Avalanche risk is high

Drive west out of the college town of Fort Collins, and you’ll soon find yourself in one of the best-kept secrets on the Front Range. The lesser-known ski-and-ride destination of Cameron Pass is situated in the northern part of the state, just a few miles north of Rocky Mountain National Park. It offers a quieter destination than some of the other popular areas on our list. Depending on the year, there are multiple areas in the Cameron Pass area that hold plenty of good snow year-round. Cameron Pass is a massive area with no shortage of excellent backcountry skiing routes. Many of these routes are visible from the road, but be prepared, they’re not accessible from your car, so you’ll need to skin up or snowshoe to get there.

Cameron Pass mountain
The Montgomery Bowls in Cameron Pass

North Cameron Pass

North Cameron includes Hot Dog Bowl, a steep, long line that leads to a flatter section through the trees. Montgomery Pass and the surrounding bowls are a great spot for newcomers to the area, with simple, quick runs and well-marked trails. Then you’ve got the North and South Diamond Peak routes. North Diamond is known for its excellent tree skiing with numerous places to explore. South Diamond is easy to access, has diverse terrain, and the routes are as epic as they are dangerous.

Nokhu Crags

If you’re looking for steep couloirs, Nokhu Crags in South Cameron Pass has abundant spots with lots of versatile terrain. Breakfast Coulier and Grand Central Coulier are two popular spots out of many. Three Sisters is another great option because of its width. You need to exercise caution in this area as snow can be unstable. For spring skiing, the powder in this basin is world-class. The season can sometimes stretch to early summer.

Avalanche risk in Cameron Pass

The snowpack in Cameron Pass is known to be quite dangerous and unpredictable, with massive avalanche potential. For this reason, backcountry skiers should be experienced, on high alert, and have avalanche education. This is one of those areas where adventuring with a certified backcountry guide is highly recommended.

Welcome to Nokhu Crags, which should be renamed “Couloir City” – because there’s at least a couple of couloirs here for every day of the week!

Brittany Walker Konsella, 14ersskiers.com

Cameron Pass - Good to Know

Skill level

Intermediate to expert

Terrain

Diverse terrain, with lots of deep powder, bowls, couloirs and glades

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

Best season

Winter to late spring

Guidebook

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

Nearest location

Cameron Pass is about an hour and a half drive west of Fort Collins, CO.

Colorado

10. Monarch Pass

TOP CHOICE FOR UNCROWDED RUNS
Uncrowded
Good family vacation spot
Shorter runs

Monarch is a family-friendly place that most visitors describe as laid back and uncrowded. With a welcoming vibe from locals and budget-friendly accommodation, Monarch is on the radar of many backcountry lovers. There’s touring within sight of Monarch Ski Resort and directly 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.

Monarch Pass backcountry skiing
The snow can be inconsistent in Monarch Pass, but when it’s good, it’s so good

Where to backcountry ski in Monarch Pass

On the south side of the pass, you’ll find The Perfect Trees, where you can run laps through trees on some longer runs. This area is best skied after a good snow dump. On the north side of Monarch Pass, there’s Gracies Slide, a rather short, but steep, run. Half a mile east of the pass is the Snow Stake area; runs are super short and mellow, and avalanche danger is less of a concern here. If descending the east side of the pass you’ll see The Grand Couloir, a spot for experts, where the west side is known to hold snow into the early summer.

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

Local coffee shop

Brown Dog Coffee Company in Buena Vista, CO

Snow

The area usually gets over 350” of snow, but it’s not as consistent as some other Colorado locations

Best season

February through April

Guidebook

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

Nearest location

Monarch Pass sits along Hwy 50, between Salida and Gunnison, CO.

Local eats

Sidewinder Saloon at Monarch Mountain has micro brews and good burgers

About the author

Ebony Roberts

Ebony Roberts

57hours editor, in collaboration with local guides

As an outdoor gear reviewer, Ebony Roberts has hiked, camped, paddled and pedaled through mud, snow, rain, heat and other unfavorable conditions to find the best stuff out there for all sorts of adventuring. She believes that when you’re equipped with the right gear, outdoor adventure sports are safer, easier and more fun. She also works as an editor for 57hours. When she’s not crafting stories about life outdoors, she’s exploring trails with her family in their home base of Squamish, BC.

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