Steep Skiing in Colorado

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Summit County Skiing: Gore Range               Breckenridge Area               Grays and Torreys Area

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Getting to the good stuff sometimes takes an effort: Elke Dratch, left, on a tough approach. And Starr Jamison, right, enjoying perfectly cooked corn.


2013 Spring Blog (17 ski days in May-June so far)
(Photos and more details are in the route descriptions found by the links above.)

6/3 Memorable day with Katie and Starr to the summit of North Mt Massive (14340) from the North Half Moon side. The final alpine valley was superbly beautiful, and we descended an elegant line that I had spotted on a summer hike. Snow conditions were excellent. Katie skied right from the summit. About 4000 ft. climb.

6/1 with Katie and Chet to top of Argentine from the east. Then Katie skied a very steep and narrow line from just north of the summit, while Chet and I did a broader face a little farther north than that, merging with Katie’s route. A long day. About 3600 feet climb. My photo of Starr from 5/28 (shown above at lower right) made the cover of today’s Summit Daily News.

5/30  With Elke, Katie, and Kristen to the top of Mayflower Hill, the hill forming the N boundary of Mayflower Gulch, then down a short steep chute, avoiding many cornices, from just E of the summit, and down and around the forest to get back to the car. Stormy day, but weather improved. Windy.

5/28  With Elke and Starr Jamison to the top of Fletcher (13951). Skied down the face sort of; the rock band had to be avoided. Then a bonus lap up West Fletcher (perfect corn), followed by more perfect corn in the beautiful valley adjacent to Quandary. Road was open to within a mile of the dam (parked at 11330 feet). About 3000 feet of climb total. Ski crampons were essential on ascent. I had never been on the true summit with skis, so was quite pleased to get it.

5/27 Peak 8 solo from the Green Gate. I should have started at the Peaks Trailhead. Excellent conditions at the top. 3000 feet climb.

5/26 With Katie and Kihm to Coon Hill, ski down E side, then climb to S of Golden Bear, over to top of Loveland Ski Area, and down a tremendous N-facing run back to the tunnel in perfect corn, about 1700 feet.

5/23  Elke and I did a full circumnavigation of Arkansas via AT col (AT = Arkansas-Tweto). Skied from Climax Corner around the W side of Arkansas to the col, then down the steep face which had a very cool entrance around a cornice. Then the direct N way out, sidestepping up to the “Skater’s Saddle” at 12800. 5 hours total. Only 7.4 miles total. Probably 2900 feet of climb. We took a nice direct route to the col this time, thanks to the recon of 4 days ago.

5/22  Rich Seeley (on rented AT gear) and I skied up Dry Creek to the summit of Golden Bear. Could drive to the gate. Excellent conditions on the high parts of the descent. 2500 feet climb.

5/19  Solo tour to the 13250-foot Arkansas-Tweto Col (AT col?) via the W side of Arkansas, something I’ve wanted to do for some time. The weather was poor but skiing was fine and the terrain quite nice. 3200 feet climb as there was some up and down en route to avoid a KEEP OUT sign high on Arkansas. This col allows a nice view down to the northeast to the bump of the previous day.

5/18  Skated the Arkansas Headwaters with Dave. 1900 ft climb; round trip 2.5 hours. Excellent conditions. Got to bump at 12910, and then descended 5 miles to car with no stop. We think this is the highest skating route in the country.

5/16  A nice double on Jacque Peak (13205) with Katie and Kihm B. The climb up Copper was easy and we first did the SE face in poor conditions (slushy a bit). Then climb again to the top and ski a couloir that leaves the W ridge not far west of the summit. Then climb out of the basin to finish the day on Copper ski runs. About a 4800-foot day. Great weather.

5/13  Skied to the Tuk/Tuk-No Basin with Elke. It was too slushy to try one of the big lines, but we had perfect corn for part of the descent from 11400 in the basin. It was 91 degrees in Moab this day. About 2500 feet.

5/11  Skied solo to top of PreLaurel in the Lasals, between Tuk and Mellenthin. Skliing started at the car, at the usual winter parking lot. Excellent corn on descent of, roughly, SW Face. About 2800 feet total climb. Some very short walking stretches. Plus I booted up the steepest 1000 feet of the ascent, in the west couloir.

5/8  Crust cruising with Katie on skate skis in Arkansas headwaters. 1600 climb, to 12600. Powder conditions!

5/6  Crust cruising with Dave and Janet on skate skis in Corral Creek. 1000 feet.

5/4  Skinned up peak between Bethel and Snoopy (call it Woodstock for Snoopy’s bird friend?). 2000 feet. Difficult descent as snow was mushy above 12000.

5/1 Skinned up Keystone. Powder. 2300 feet.

4/21-26. Skiing at Oasis Lake, Selkirks, British Columbia. Link to photos and story.

4/13. A nice big gear day to the top of Homestake Peak (13209 ft). Very wintery and excellent snow cover meant that we (Elke, Robin, me) could ski right to the summit. WInds gusted somewhat high, but not a huge problem. A snowcat or other big machine ruined the first mile. It is was ok for ascent (Slide Lake Road), but we descended the usual hut route, thus avoiding that nasty section.

March was great with three good nordic races: 40 km at Snow Mountain Stampede, 100 km at Glide the Divide, and 50 km at Rabbit Ears Coureur des Bois. I got first in 60+ age group at the last two. But now it is time to move on to the mountains. Big British Columbia trip starts soon.

2012 Blog (worst spring season; 0 ski days in May, couple in April.)

2011 Blog (28 ski days in May/June/July): Brief info on routes and roads from the current spring ski season.
(Photos and more details are in the route descriptions found by the links above.)

2010 Spring Blog (8 ski days in May/June/July)

2009 Spring Blog (23 ski days in May/June/July)

2008 Spring Blog (24 ski days in May/June)

2007 Spring Blog (21 ski days in May/June)

Route List: Graded according to difficulty

Some of the routes on this site are mellow, and a skilled intermediate skier would feel confident skiing alone on them, while others are quite steep and, in unfavorable conditions, potentially dangerous. But all ratings go out the window in the face of weather and snow conditions. Avalanches seem like a minor concern in the spring (but in certain conditions avalanches can be as dangerous and potentially deadly in spring as well as winter, May 2005 being a notorious example). Still, in my experience the risk of taking a fall on an icy slope and going for a long ride is more serious.

Speaking of avalanches, I have never been in one of any size in Colorado, but have been involved in several in British Columbia, which are reported on elsewhere (e.g., Olive Hut and Icefall Lodge reports).

Here is a summary of the ski lines. All of these offer excellent skiing in a scenic mountain environment. If you have comments on any of these lines, or interesting photos, I'd be pleased to add them to the site. And some of my names are provisional: we'll see if they catch on. Some do, some don't.

Steep (I would rate all these at least D9 (see <<>>) which, to quote Lou Dawson on D10, means: "Slopes probably around 45 degrees, with a few complicating terrain features. This is the spot on the scale where true extreme skiing begins."

Meshuggeneh (a crazy line on the peak NW along the ridge from Wheeler; not done by me); D14
Clinton, North Face Couloirs (aka, The Big Guy; not done by me); D13
Drift (sustained steepness for a long way, great curb appeal from Highway 91; viewed from Shrine Pass it stands out spectacularly and dominates this view of the west side of the Ten Mile Range); D12
East East Red, What Big Eyes You Have (a very narrow, steep, and deeply cut couloir; skied first by Dave Bourassa (not by me)); D11
Peak C (an amazing summit to get to with skis, offering a steep face and then a narrow couloir); D11
Tukuhnikivatz, Moab, North Face; D11 (?)
Deming Drop (rarely skied, somewhat narrow couloir ending in a remote and pristine valley; easily seen from Red Buffalo Pass); D10
La Plata (looks amazing when viewed from a distance); D10 for the eastern of the two commonly skied runs, D11 for the western (not skied by me).
Red Peak, Big Bad Wolf; D10
Quandary Cristo Couloir (notorious and crowded); D10
Buffalo Caldera (hard to rate: the skiing is not generally difficult, but there is lots of objective danger); D9 or 10
Democrat N Face (classic: steep and long; one of the best in Summit County area; easy access); D9
Sayers, X Rated (2000 feet of north-facing skiing in a superb alpine setting; D13 for the steep entrance near the summit (not skied by me), D10 for the entrance about 100 yards to the east).
Crystal N Chutes (tough climb back to the saddle to the east, but car shuttle to Rte 91 works too); D9
Peak Z (camping out is best; very remote, despite being visible from City Market in Dillon; steep); D9
Valhalla, Heavenly; D9
Argentine, Northeast Face, the steep-entrance couloir just north of the summit, Amped; D11.

Moderate (D6 to D8)

Buffalo North Couloir (very, very popular); D8
Grizzly Chute on Grizzly Peak (Independence Pass area); D8 (my rating; Dawson rates D9)
Rain, Graupel Gully; D8
Edwards, N Couloir (hard to enter; can be icy at top); D8
Clinton, Monica's Descent (pretty valley approach; classic couloir); D8
Buckskin, S Face (the Fringe); D8
Keller Kelloir, the couloir immediately west of subsummiit 12847; D7; not skied by me.
Sayres, Grand Central Couloir (high peak SW of La Plata; beautiful line; high and north; worth the effort); D7
Ribbon on Grays (not skiable every year; grab it when you can); D7
Torreys, Tuning Forks; D7
Mt Mellenthin N Face, La Sal Range near Moab, Utah; D7.
Arkansas, Northwest Face (short approach, very steep at top, some rocks); D7
Coon Hill, Northeast couloir; D7
Crystal, Crystal Ball; D7
McNamee, Barely Legal; D7
East East Red, Little Red Riding Hood (great curb appeal, as this is fully visible from road north of Silverthorne); D7
Pettengell, Northwest Face; D6 or D7 for the line I skied, which is a few minutes E of the Pettengell-Citadel saddle
Squaretop, the classic chute dropping from the western side of the summit; D6
Guyot, Swan Dive; D6
Ruby, East Face (It's Greek to Me); D6
Baldy (Breckenridge) Chutes; D6 for either of the two main chutes. D5 or 6 for the various other ways down north along the ridge.
Argentine, Northeast Face, the southernmost coouloir from the summit ridge, Voltage Drop; D6.
Argentine, Northeast Face, the northernmost broad face from the summit ridge, Short Circuit; D7.

Sniktau, South Face from the summit; D6.

Easy (D4 to D5)

Mosquito, north side (very short approach); D6 because of rocks and steepness at the upper end.
Democrat, South Face (perhaps neglected, but a very fast way to descend this popular 14er); D5
Keller Kelloir, the face from a flat area 100 yards or so west of subsummiit 12847; D5
Baldy, Orion; D5
Crystal, South Face (fine views of Pacific, and Crystal N Chutes); D5
North Star, Butterknife; D5
Pacific Peak (one of the nicest summits around; via McCullough Gulch (D5) or Hawaii Couloirs in Spruce Creek (D6))
Horseshoe face on Grays (a back way to a popular summit; a short day when one can drive to the road end); D5
Northwest Passage on Atlantic (great easy and fun line from a high summit; in a beautiful valley; western couloir is harder); D4
Red, South Face (my backyard; via SW face towards Red Buffalo Pass (D4), or the steeper line in SE direction (D5))
Grizzly, NW face (near A-Basin); D5
Arkansas, Southeast Face (Louisiana): D5
Buffalo Lakeview (easy access; not too steep; I've soloed it twice); D4
Buckskin, North Face (great views of Democrat; very short approach); D4
Bard Peak, Shakespeare (2300 feet on a consistent 30-35 degree face); D4
Pettingell, South Face (1800 feet of skiing in the 35-degree range; easy access); D4
Mt Bross, Serpentine Gully on west face; D4
Traver, SE Face (2000 feet of skiing starting at 13865); D4
Dyer Peak (13855, N of Sherman), E Face; D4
Coon Hill, SE Face (easy access from Eisenhower Tunnel); D4
Little Bartlett, E Face; D4
Buffalo, Golden Couloir; D3
Massive, East Face (can be good in late season); D3
Peak 13010 (Golden Bear Peak, near Hagar), E Face; D3
Jacque Peak, SE Face; D3 or D2

Dawson's suggested grading system also includes a Route Length Grade, analogous to what has been used in mountaineering for years. In that scale Grade II is a half-day, Grade III is a normal day, Grade IV is the longest that is done without overnight. On that scale most of the things on this web page are II or III. Let me mention some that are IVs, meaning that you should definitely plan on a very full day: Sayres, Peak C, Peak Z, La Plata, Red Peak North Side.

In the mid 1990s, when I was told that some people preferred the skiing in June to that in mid-winter, I did not understand. Then I started skiing the steep spring routes. Now I understand!

There are lots of reasons to be enthusiastic about spring skiing. Sure, there are the steep lines that are generally safe. But the whole package is what makes this time of year so great. Often one can ski from a summit back to the car in very short order. Cruising on the gentle terrain around rocks, frozen streams, willows, and ptarmigan is a blast. On the other hand, one does sometimes have to carry skis and boots over wet ground or through thick forests. Well, days like that just make the time spent up high even more special.

The links above give photos and descriptions of routes that are best in May, June, and sometimes July or April. Almost all of these are in sight of the towns of Frisco or Silverthorne, though of course I have ventured farther afield towards Leadville and Vail. All of these photos are very striking in a large print, and I can provide such prints on request. I have taken a lot of trouble to get directly opposite the ski lines; it is worth it, as I think the photos of the Ribbon, the Deming Drop, the Zebra Stripes, Sayers, La Plata, Big Eyes, Democrat, and the Tuning Fork show.

Ratings: There is a rating list above; I have not included ratings with the descriptions. If you feel some ratings need adjustment, do tell.

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