Backcountry skiing in Colorado

"Snow bridge /n./ card game played on a glacier. As in other alpine endeavors, tricks are common, and there is always a dummy."
On this page:
The Climbing in Colorado page has been split in many parts spread on 6 pages:


Backcountry


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Winter skiing on wind-swept snow, near Cameron Pass.

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Backcountry skiing in The San Juan Mountains, south-western Colorado.

Left: Winter skiing on wind-swept snow, near Cameron Pass.

Right: Backcountry skiing in The San Juan Mountains, south-western Colorado.

I have mixed feelings about the skiing in Colorado. First the good part: the snow is great all winter long, not like the Alps were the global warming is playing havoc with some dry winters, some winters with 10-day storms that end up in global avalanches but most other winters being pitifully rainy. Then the not so good part: the wind carries away most of the snow ! True we have not gone to the famous ski resorts yet because of lack of money. So we did some ski mountaineering close to Fort Collins, in a place called Cameron Pass. Then the other not so good news: there isn't much altitude gain. The mountains may be high but the road goes quite high too, so you end up with only 600m to go, a mere 3 hours tour. But I have to say that encountering light powdery snow for the first time in nearly 10 years was quite a surprise to me: I had forgotten how nice it can be. And there is a much more extended season than in the Alps. We had some fresh snow on May 7th. OK, right, in the Alps you can ski on glaciers in summer; and on Gran Sasso I managed to do a steep hidden couloir on a 1st of June once; but here I'm talking fresh snow in the middle of the forest !


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Gibon landing from outer space, Montgomery Pass.

Left: Gibon landing from outer space, Montgomery Pass. Purchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation

As to where to go from Fort Collins... Cameron Pass is about an hour away and there are quite a few things to do there: trees, steeper couloirs... There seems to be a lot of interesting stuff in Indian Peaks, but there are several hours of totally flat ground to get there, so it's a pain. We went once with the skis for a closer look at Longs Peak: it's so windy up there that we carried the skis up and down, walking on bare rocks. Too bad, Longs look like a perfect steep-skiing mountain. It sometimes gets skied, but I guess you need to be lucky.


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Snow covered ski bindings after a cold night out.

A bunch of friends came from France in early April, dejected by the lack of snow in the Alps in 2001. So we took them on a tour of the few places we knew round here and then they went on their own in the Vail / Breckenridge area.

Right: Snow covered ski bindings after a cold night out. Purchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation



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Little snow covered wood bridge in the backcountry, Indian Peaks.

Left: Little snow covered wood bridge in the backcountry, Indian Peaks.



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When I say flat, it's flat... Traverse of Turquoise Lake on a windy day.

Right: When I say flat, it's flat... Traverse of Turquoise Lake on a windy day. Purchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation



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Jenny at the balcony of the ruins of an old refuge on the summit.

Left: Jenny at the balcony of the ruins of an old refuge on the summit.



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An interesting summit above Columbine, near Steamboat Springs.

Right: An interesting summit above Columbine, near Steamboat Springs. Image available as a free wallpaperPurchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation


Downhill ?

And what about downhill skiing in Colorado ? Well, there are plenty of famous and less famous resorts: Vail, Breckenridge, Winter Park, Copper Mountain, Eldora, Steamboat... The snow is usually good, rarely icy, most of the time cold and fluffy. There isn't much length to the runs and there isn't much variety in them: they are all cut in the middle of forests and all look identical. But one thing that bothers me and that shows a lot of the american mentality is that I once had my pass removed for having skied out of the 'authorized runs'. WTF ?!? Can't people assume their own responsibilities here ? If you get hurt on a patrolled slope, you expect a prompt rescue and more. If you get hurt outside, tough luck, crawl out by yourself or die. It seems such a plain thing to me, why do you have to add dirty words like 'liability', 'layers' and 'expelled' to remove all the fun of skiing. Bah, they can keep their overcrowded lifts, we have seal skins to solve the problem and can ignore such jerks. After this experience, a friend told me I got lucky: he was arrested by a sheriff in Eldora for having crossed a line ! Two days in court !!! Unbelievable.