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Backcountry Skiing in Colorado: An Adventure Awaits!

Whether you are a beginner or a veteran skier, Colorado has the perfect resorts, terrains, and slopes for the ultimate backcountry skiing experience.

Colorado is one of the best places in the world for people who love gliding through the snowy slopes. The snow there is light and dry, making it a very popular place for snowboarding and skiing.

Colorado has the tallest mountains in the range and in much of the Southern Rocky Mountains. There are over 25 ski resorts across the region and thousands of acres of land ready for backcountry skiing.

From adrenaline junkies to people who just want to enjoy the view, Colorado seems to be the right place for anyone who loves snow.

Why Visit the Backcountry?

While traditional resorts are usually packed with crowds, the backcountry resorts have more terrain. Despite the popularity, there is still more room for everyone to enjoy and explore.

The powder snow is fresh, light, and has low density, making it easier to ski across the terrains and explore the canyons, lakes, and mountains. Besides, the best places to ski in Colorado are mostly in the backcountry.

When Is the Ski Season?

Colorado is snowy all year round, but the best time for backcountry skiing would be from December to early April. The first few months are perfect for low-angle tours. 

For backcountry skiing, you will need plenty of snow to cover all the natural obstacles, like boulders, rocks, fallen logs, and tree stumps. Snowfall starts as early as September, but it is best to wait till December to let the snowpack get deep enough.

The backcountry can be freezing during ski seasons. Temperatures are usually -5ºC to -6ºC but have been recorded to go down to -15ºC. The temperatures are colder in higher elevations. There are also chances of sudden storms in elevated terrains. 

Best Places to Visit for Backcountry Skiing

There are a lot of amazing places, but we are only going to talk about those we feel are the best-

1. Rocky Mountain National Park

This one is the ultimate retreat for adrenaline junkies. The Rocky Mountain park is known for its challenging terrain. Longtime skiers love moderate glade skiing, steep chutes, and the towering peaks of the park.

The prime time to visit would be from March to June. You will find the best trails in Longs Peak and Bear Lake.

However, the entire park has no avalanche control and has a limited skiing season, mostly because of avalanche dangers. The best time to visit would be from March to June.

2. Vail Pass

Perfect for beginners, the Vail Pass offers a little of everything. It has moderate terrains, snowmobile access, and amenities for families. 

The area encompasses a massive 55,000 acres of land and is very popular from mid-January to mid-April. If you are a beginner, visit Uneva Peak. For more advanced skiers, we would suggest you venture off to the terrains of Boss Basin.

The only downside, Vail is crazy expensive.

3. Berthoud Pass

Berthoud pass is less expensive than the Vail and offers endless terrain. This skiing paradise offers terrains for every skill level. Berthoud gets crowded during peak season, which is from February to April. However, you can always visit in January and enjoy the tracks all by yourself.

You can visit the east side of Berthoud Pass for beginner and moderate terrains, but if you are experienced enough, go straight ahead to the west side where you can find steeps, glades, cliffs, and abandoned backcountry resorts.

4. Crested Butte

We love the Crested Butte because it is never too crowded. You can always find secluded terrains to venture alone or with friends. It offers an authentic mountain town vibe and is commonly known as “The last great Colorado ski town”.

The terrains are challenging, and it is best to get help from an experienced guide. The best season to visit would be from December to March.

5. Red Mountain Pass

The Red Mountain Pass has some of the most stunning trails. But do not let that beauty fool you because the place is known for extreme avalanches. 

You will find the pass resting comfortably in the San Juan Mountains. There are endless terrain options, including untouched chutes, glades, and bowls, to make your skiing adventure very memorable.  

How Much Do Skiing Trips Cost?

It is hard to give you an accurate estimate of the costs because it mostly depends on the activities you will do, where you will stay, and the length of your trip.

In most places in Colorado, individuals can get a one-day backcountry skiing trip for $300-$400. However, it is best to go in groups. If you go with 4 to 5 people, you can drive down prices to about $100 per person. If your trip is longer than a day, expect to spend about $700-$1000. 

This will include accommodation, meals, and a guide fee. The guide fee usually differs, depending on the type of trip. Check with your guides to know what activities are included in the package and negotiate the price before booking.

How to Hire a Guide

If this is your first time visiting the backcountry, or if you are new to the area, it would be best to hire an experienced guide who has a vast knowledge of the area, activities, and safety measures.

The idea of exploring on your own or with a few friends can be exciting, but the terrain can be difficult and risky if you do not know your way around. Sure, you can take a few avalanche-risk classes to know about the basics, but mastering them takes years of practice. Even long-time skiers take help from guides.

Therefore, the most important thing you will need in a guide is experience. When hiring a guide, make sure they have completed avalanche courses and training. If you want to go to steeper terrains, make sure your guide has experience in avalanche rescue missions. If not, your guide should at least have a CPR and wilderness first responder certificate.

You can look for experienced guides and package online and book them. The guide fee usually starts from $$150.

Pack the Right Gears

Backcountry skiing requires a lot of venturing in the open terrains. To make the best of your skiing trip, you will need the right gear. Here is a list of gears you should pack before the trip-

Alpine Touring Skis

If you are not a telemark skier, these lightweight skis with AT bindings will allow you to lift the heels to walk uphill. You can also lock them down when descending. The AT bindings can easily be re-attached on the heel, so you can use them like normal alpine gears when going down. 

Alpine Touring Boots

These boots are lightweight and attach to the tech bindings. They have two modes, “Ski” and “Walk”, that can be adjusted for ascending and descending.

Splitboard

For backcountry snowboarding, it is best to use split boards. The board can be split into two halves and comes with adjustable bindings. If you are a rookie, do a few test runs to get the hang of it.

Climbing Skins

Climbing skins are faux-hair strips that prevent backsliding when ascending. They are attached to the bottom of your board or skis. The skins have to align with the dimensions of your skies and board and need to be cut accordingly.

Small Backpack

You can carry a few bottles of water, an extra set of clothes, and a small first-aid kit in your bag.

Avalanche Beacon

It is an extremely important tool and the only device that can send your coordinates to others if you get buried in an avalanche or get lost. It can also help you track down others. 

If you do not own one, you can ask your guide for it. Most guides should offer avalanche beacons with working batteries before the trip.

A Collapsible Shovel

This will come in handy when you need to dig out someone or something buried in snow.

A Probe

A probe with an attached telescope can help poke into the snow and find anyone buried in snow.

If you are a regular skier, you should have all those tools at your disposal. And if you are new, you can rent these gears from outfitters.

Is It Safe to Ski in the Backcountry?

The bright white snowy terrains may look peaceful, but Colorado goes through several cycles of strong warming throughout the year. These cycles can cause avalanches.

That is why it is recommended you always hire a certified guide, and take an avalanche course prior to your trip. You can also take AIRE I, II, and AIRE companion rescue courses to learn all the basics of avalanche preparations and warning signs.

Throughout the courses, you will be able to learn about terrain assessment, selection, route finding, snowpack, and gain in-field experience.

You will also have to hone your skiing skills. You have to be comfortable with a variety of terrains. If you want to venture out of bounds, you have to be physically and mentally trained because once you are out there, you will not find ski huts for miles.  

When you consider all these factors, backcountry skiing may sound scary. Sure, there are certain risks, but as long as you have the right set of gears, experience, and knowledge about the terrain, the trip should be a breeze.

Final Thoughts

A world of fun awaits no matter which backcountry skiing resort you wish to visit. Be sure to visit the place right after December to get the best weather. Venturing in snowy terrains can be exhilarating, but maintain safety measures at all times to make the best of your backcountry skiing adventure in Colorado.

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