Steep Skiing in Colorado

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

Nearby Counties Skiing        My Skiing Wish List        More Ski Routes                Long Ski Tours on Light Gear


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

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And Colorado skiing can take many different forms. Here on left Janet Jacks and Dave Blakeslee (and I) enjoy perfect crust cruising on skate skis near Uneva Peak (May 7, 2014). And on right is a photo from one of the many long ski tours one can do: this is Jonathan Kriegel on the last section of a difficult ski tour (Dec. 27, 2014) from East Rabbit Ears Pass to Mt. Werner and down the Steamboat Ski Area.

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2015 Spring Blog (brief info on routes and roads from the current spring ski season)
(12 ski days from May 2 to now)
(Photos and more details are in the route descriptions found by the links above.)

June 19. With Rich Seeley to Buckskin summit (boots) and skied back to car on N Face.  Good conditions. Kite Lake Rd passable to within a mile of the lake. 2300 ft.
June 13.  With Randy Garrison to summit of Jacque. Skied N Face. Had to carry for first 1200 ft. Skinned to top once we donned skins except for some very small patches. 3900 feet climb.
June 6.  With Randy Garrison to summit of Bierstadt (14060) from Guanella. Descent by N Chute. About 3000 ft climb.
June 2. With Dave Blakeslee from Climax Corner to below S summit of Arkansas on light touring gear. To 13150. 2000 ft climb. Excellent conditions.
May 30. With Randy Garrison to Arkansas summit via west side. Booted last 100 ft. Superb descent of the west face; conditions were really excellent and the snow coverage phenomenal. 2730 ft. climb.
May 23.  With Chet Roe from Climax Corner to 13300 near summit of Treasure Vault. Very wintry. 7 hrs. 3600 ft. climb.
May 20.  To Continental Divide at Loveland Ski Area; 1600 feet climb.
May 18.  To Shrine Notch just below Shrine Peak. 8 foot snow depths. Excellent conditions. 1100 ft. climb.
May 15.  To summit of Coon Hill with Rich Seeley. Lots of snow. But poor visibility. 1600 ft.
May 11.  Short ski in woods on S side of Buffalo.
May 7.    With Rich Seeley to summit of Peak 8. Excellent conditions on both ascent and descent. 3000 ft. climb.
May 2.    With Rich Seeley to 400 feet below summit of Jacque Peak via Copper Mountain. 3000 ft. climb.
April 18-23. Ski from base camp with guide Pierre Hungr near Valenciennes Mountain near Icefall Lodge, British Columbia. Biggest day was 5100 ft.

2014 Spring Blog (20 ski days from May 7 to June 14; last day: June 14)

2013 Spring Blog (18 ski days in May-June; last day: June 6)

2012 Blog (worst spring season; 0 ski days in May, couple in April; last day: April 7)

2011 Blog (28 ski days in May/June/July; last day: July 4)

2010 Spring Blog (8 ski days in May/June/July; last day: June 6)

2009 Spring Blog (23 ski days in May/June/July; last day: July 2)

2008 Spring Blog (24 ski days in May/June; last day: June 29)

2007 Spring Blog (21 ski days in May/June; last day: June 22)

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 <<http://wildsnow.com/articles/ratings/ski-board-d-rating-system.html>>) 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 (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
Argentine, Northeast Face, the steep-entrance couloir just north of the summit, Amped; D11
Tuk No, Moab, Exxon’s Folly; D11 (the skiing is straightforward, but sustained steep at 41°)
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
Tukuhnikivatz, Moab, East Face; 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
JacquePeak, N Face; D9

Moderate (D6 to D8)

Exxon’s Folly on Tuk No, Moab (a spectacular long line, just over 40° for top section; 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
Luna on N Mt Massive (SW side); D7
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
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
Face from shoulder west of N Mt Massive (SW side); D5
Arkansas, Southeast Face; D5
Treasure Vault, West Face; D4
Northwest Passage on Atlantic (great easy and fun line from a high summit; in a beautiful valley; western couloir is harder); D4
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
Arkansas, SW 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
Bierstadt, W Face; 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, Breckenridge, 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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