Today about 2.5 million skiers and snowboarders in the U.S. explore the paths less traveled during their ski area visits, according to Snowsports Industries America (SIA). The association also reports that sales of related equipment including alpine touring (AT) and accessories (skins, beacons, probes, shovels) have risen steadily over the past several seasons approaching $50 million.
Colorado ski resorts have long been noted for their exceptional off-piste terrain, they are continuing to expand their menu of options for the more adventurous crowd, including hike-to terrain, cat-skiing, and heli-skiing. Now its easier than ever for skiers and riders in Colorado to find untracked stashes of pristine powder, bottomless terrain, and never-ending face shots.
Earn your turns has become a popular saying among those that dont mind doing a bit of hiking to find the freshest powder. Our resorts feature plenty of avalanche controlled, in-bounds hike-to options that help manage the risks of shredding steep terrain and deep powder.
On the other hand, if youre looking to tap untouched terrain without taking the time to hike, try a tour via snowcat tours offered at nine Ski Country resorts. Cat skiing tours are no longer just for experts, in fact, they are a great way to gain an introductory lesson on backcountry safety. Many Colorado resorts offer guided and unguided tours for intermediate to expert ability levels and with access to diverse terrain options.
A couple Colorado resorts (Silverton and Telluride) even offer heli-skiing for those adventurous riders who want to start from the summit to rack up the vertical feet on a long, powder-laden ride down. Below are some of the adventure skiing opportunities offered at Colorado Ski Country USA member resorts.
Arapahoe Basins skiable terrain tops out at over 13,000 feet, allowing for plenty of high-altitude skiing opportunities. Known as The Legend, the ski area offers many advanced and expert hike-to options including the famous East Wall, recognized not only for its steep and open terrain, but also for its stunning views. The most popular runs are North Pole (accessed via the ridge hike) and Willys Wide (accessed via staircase), but there are plenty of smaller couloirs and less-traveled options for the intrepid skier or snowboarder.
Additionally, skiers and riders can discover hidden powder stashes on four hike-back runs in A-Basins 400-acre Montezuma Bowl.
Of the four Aspen Snowmass mountains, Aspen Highlands is regarded as the locals mountain with a surplus of powder stashes and untracked lines that last late into the day. Highlands Bowl serves 270 acres of steep chutes, bowls, and gladed terrain with an average pitch of 40 degrees. The summit is a 45-minute hike from the top of the Loge Peak chair, but dozens of lines drop into the bowl before the summit. As a bonus to those not keen on hiking, a free snowcat ride is available that can decrease hiking time by about 20 minutes.
Just down valley from Aspen Highlands is Snowmass Mountain. The Hanging Valley Headwall, Cirque and Elk Camp areas give powder purists access to 630 acres of chutes, cliff bands and bowls to be enjoyed after a short hike. Snowmass also offers an intermediate run, Long Shot, with a true backcountry feel after a ten-minute hike. Seldom groomed, Long Shot offers a good first step for intermediate skiers and riders looking to reach the next level. The run is a full 3,221 vertical feet and is three-and-a-half miles long.
TRAIL MAP: http://www.aspensnowmass.com/snowmass#tabs-3
Aspen Mountain is home to Aspen Mountain Powder Tours, a snowcat operation that takes guests tountracked powder fields on the backside ofAspen Mountain. Guaranteed fresh tracks and gourmet lunchis included.
For a guided backcountry experience, Aspen Expeditions, located at the base of Aspen Highlands, can lead adventurous skiers and riders off of the backside of Aspen Highlands, Snowmass or Aspen Mountain. Guides knowledge of the area and emphasis on safety provide for the ideal adventure.
TRAIL MAP: http://www.aspensnowmass.com/aspen-mountain
Tucker Mountain and Copper Bowl offer expert skiers and riders access to more than 1,200 vertical feet of Coppers legendary high alpine back bowls. Coppers Tucker Mountain serves up in-bounds adventure skiing on two runs known affectionately as The Taco and The Nacho (or as The Enchilada Platter, as skiers call these runs when referring to taking multiple laps) and on the Freemont Glades. This extreme terrain can be accessed by a free snowcat ride, by hiking, or by a combination of the two. Coppers free snowcat rides to legendary Tucker Mountain are the essence of Colorado skiing and riding: catching a free ride, choosing your own line, and never wiping the smile off of your face.
From the West Ridge of Copper Bowl, hikers can access several runs classified as high alpine adventure or extreme terrain, such as Matchless, Bradleys Plunge, Schaefers, Iron Mask and Lallarookn. High alpine adventure terrain is rarely groomed and is designated for expert snowriders only, with unmarked obstacles to be expected. Extreme terrain contains cliffs, very steep slopes (50 degrees or greater pitch), as well as rocks and other hazards, and should only be attempted by experts.
Crested Butte Mountain Resort
All of Crested Butte Mountain Resorts “Extreme Limits” are within ski area boundaries, giving Crested Butte the most in-bounds, double-black-diamond skiing in all of Colorado. These in-bounds hiking options include Phoenix, Spellbound, Teocalli Bowl, Third Bowl, and the newest terrain Teocalli 2 Bowl. Crested Butte also allows guests hike to its iconic peak, with an elevation of 12,162 feet above sea level, with a wide open bowl to make some memorable turns on the way back down.
For guests looking to explore Crested Buttes Extreme Limits with a guide, CBMR offers an in-bounds tour focused on highlighting the resorts famed extreme terrain found off the High Lift and North Face Lift. The North Face Guides is a group program based on evaluation and light education, helping adventure-minded guests make the most of their extreme experience at CBMR.
Guests who are looking for a completely unique mountaineering experience typically only found in the European Alps and comparable to Chamonixs famed Cosmiques Arete, book an outing with Crested Butte Mountain Guides to do Mt. Crested Buttes Guide Ridge. Experience the thrill, exposure, challenge, and beauty of this technically easy, yet rarely traveled route to the top of Crested Buttes most iconic peak. This tour is offered both winter and summer.
TRAIL MAP: http://www.skicb.com/the-mountain/trail-maps
Loveland Ski Area offers skiers and snowboarders access to 100 acres of in-bounds hike-to terrain at the top of the Continental Divide via Chair 9.Known as “The Ridge,” this terrain is open, steep and deep. Approximately 20 minutes of moderate hiking allows skiers and riders to access trails such as Porcupine Saddle, Wild Child, Marmot and Field of Dreams. Loveland also offers free cat skiing access to the North Side of the Ridge in a 16 passenger snowcat. When operating, the Ridge Cat picks up a new group of skiers and riders just beyond the Gate 1 North off Chair 9 and drops skiers and rider at Gate 4 North, atop some of Lovelands most exhilarating terrain. Whether by chairlift, by foot, or by snowcat, theres plenty to love about Loveland.
Monarchs Mirkwood Basin gives skiers access to nearly 1,100 vertical feet of extreme skiing and riding after a short 15-minute hike along a cat-track. This expansion allows skiers and riders to access steep expert chutes with 50 degree pitches, glades, rock cliffs, open bowls, and tree skiing.
Additionally, Monarch Powder Cat snowcat tours service 1,200 acres of extreme terrain just outside the Monarch Mountain boundary. Considered some of the best snowcat skiing in Colorado, skiers and riders find great powder, spectacular views, steeps, trees, cliffs, and bowls. A normal tour will average 10 to 12 runs per day at an average of 1,000 vertical feet per run.
Colorados largest cat skiing operator, the San Juan Untracked, works in partnership with Purgatory to offer guests access to breathtaking ungroomed terrain. Located in the heart of the West San Juan Mountains, the adventure company introduces guests to a potential 35,000 acres of off-piste Colorado skiing located near the resort. Escorted by experienced guides, skiers and riders find untracked bowls, chutes, ridges, glades and tree slopes.
SAN JUAN UNTRACKED WEBSITE: http://sanjuanuntracked.com/
SilvertonMountain has more hike-to avalanche-controlled terrain than anywhere else in the world. Almost 80 percent of Silverton’s1,819 acres requires skiers to hike five minutes or more to access. This hike-to haven is intended to provide guests with the most unfiltered skiing experience possible.
After a 20-30 minute hike, adventurers can find a 164-acre zone named Nightmare, with dozens of 40-to 50-degree chutes marked with beautiful rock walls and cliff features. Ropedeedope is accessible after a 20 minute hike, impressing skiers with a 2,200 vertical foot bowl thatstarts with 45 degree chutes and mellows into a huge 35 degree powder-collecting bowl. Those willing to put in a 45 minute hike are rewarded when they encounter Billboard, a run that starts at 50 degrees and descends 3,100 vertical feet all the way back down to the highway. Some areas may need to be accessed with a guide during certain times of year.
Additionally, Silverton is one of the only ski areas in the U.S. that offers heli-skiing directly at the ski area. Riders are lifted by helicopter to one of several landing sites at the top of the mountain, giving them access to all 1,819 acres of Silvertons natural Colorado terrain. These helicopter runs are available from December through March, weather permitting.
Chicago Ridge Snowcat Tours is operated by Cooper with two plush 12-passenger snowcats on 2,600 acres of open powder bowls, glades and timber in the San Isabel and White River National Forests. Guests soak in spectacular scenery while climbing along the Continental Divide with dozens of Colorados highest peaks in view. Topping out around 12,600 feet, the slopes vary from 3,000 to 10,000 feet in length with vertical drops up to 2,000 feet per run. With 300+ inches of annual snowfall on the Ridge, and only 12 guests per tour, skiers and riders explore untracked lines all day.
SNOWCAT WEB PAGE & TRAIL MAP: http://skicooper.com/snowcat-tours/
Christmas Tree Bowl and the adjacent extreme double-black diamond terrain No Names, North St. Pats and East Face enjoy piles of untracked signature Champagne Powder snow and feature steeps, narrow lines and gladed terrain. After a quick 10 to 15 minute hike from the top of Morningside chairlift, skiers and riders can drop in through several access points along the hike to experience some of the steep tree terrain for which the resort is known.
Whether its a sunny day or one with heaps of fresh fluff, guests can be the first to enjoy the mountain through Steamboats First Tracks program. In this program, instructors guide groups of skiers and riders through Steamboats famous Priest Creek area for some often untracked powder runs before anyone else hits the slopes. Reservations are recommended as this program frequently sells out.
Additionally, Steamboats premier backcountry guide service, Steamboat Powdercats, offers access to 10,000 acres of pristine terrain on Buffalo Pass, just 20 minutes from downtown Steamboat Springs. Steamboat Powdercats services include intermediate, advanced, and expert snowcat tours.
STEAMBOAT POWDER CATS WEBSITE: http://www.steamboatpowdercats.com/
Telluride literally provides a Stairway to Heaven for adventure-seeking skiers and riders. Two steel staircases and a bridge on the left shoulder of Palmyra Peak invite thrill seekers. The stairs lie between Gold Hill Chutes 8 and 9expert terrain thats accessed by hiking from the top of the Revelation Lift.
Bald Mountain is accessible via an access gate located on Upper Galloping Goose in the Lift 12 area.This local’s favorite includes both Jacpot and Audrey and is home to some of the best and longest lasting stashes on the mountain.Be sure to look to the south at the summit for a view of the historic mining town of Alta just below.
Black Iron Bowl is accessible via Lift 12 (Prospect Lift) and a short hike out Prospect Ridge. Skiers and riders will be able to drop in anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes hiking time along the ridge. Dropping 1,000 vertical feet on the primary pitches, terrain includes the expansive Mountain Quail couloir, European-style faces, open glades and steep chutes. The Mountain Quail couloir had previously been accessible as guide-only, but now the full expanse of Black Iron is open for public access as conditions allow. Other runs include Westlake, Lakeview, Review, Dihedral Chute, Dihedral Face, Jellos Bowl and Nice Chute.
Gold Hill Chute 1 is an epic line on the flip side of Revelation Bowl. It can be accessed one of two ways; one, through the gate at the top of Revelation Bowl Lift (15), or two, traverse across the top of Little Rose and Andy’s Gold, through the gate adjacent to Andy’s Gold. The chute will not be open continually, so check for current information on the signs before going.The expert-only chutedirects skiers away fromthe cliff bandby taking the traverse to skiers right and back to Andy’s Gold. Skiers can also egress via the goat trail traverse into Gold Hill 1.5and into The Fans and the egress from Black Iron Bowl and Palmyra basin. If they enjoyed that, there are another nine Gold Hill Chutes to explore.
Meanwhile Palmyra Peak is home to well over 200 acres and almost 2,000 vertical feet of in-bounds hike-to terrain, including the runs Tram Shot, Sunrise and Electric Shock.
If thats not enough, Telluride is home to Helitrax that offers a variety of heli-ski experiences from single-day trips to multi-day lodge based packages and private custom tours. Helitrax transports skiers and riders to some of the highest helicopter-accessed terrain in the world amid Colorado’s spectacular San Juan Mountains.
HELITRAX WEBSITE: http://www.helitrax.com/
The Cirque Territory is Winter Park Resorts most extreme terrain, featuring cliffs, 50-degree slopes, and backcountry remoteness in a patrolled environment.Accessible from the top of the Panoramic Lift, skiers and riders can either take The Cirque Sled, which is a 48 passenger sled pulled by a snowcat that drops you off at a preferred spot, or hike in, which takes approximately 30 minutes.The Cirque Sled does require a pass, which can be purchased at the Winter Park Pass Office for $20 and is good for unlimited trips all season.After navigating the face of The Cirque, all runs empty into steep and gladed tree skiing that funnels into the base of the Eagle Wind Lift.
Through Winter Parks Powder Addiction, skiers and riders can experience guided backcountry skiing on more than 2,600 acres and 2,000 vertical feet with uphill transportation in a heavily modified snowcat. Powder Addiction is located in the Village at Winter Park and operates primarily in the Jones Pass area just east of the Continental Divide.
POWDER ADDICTION WEBSITE: http://www.powderaddiction.com/index.php
Wolf Creek offers loads of hike-to terrain, which can usually be seen decked in fresh powder. From the Treasure Chair Lift, guests can hike 25 minutes on Alberta Peak to access tree-line chutes. These empty into glade skiing or into the more intermediate terrain of Step Bowl. Many drop-in spots can be found along the way, including Boundary and Montezuma bowls.
From the Alberta Lift, take the Knife Ridge Staircase to access the Knife Ridge Chutes. After a brief climb to the Outpost Building, guests can chart their point of entry into this expert terrain. Those making this trek for the first time are encouraged to check in with a ski patroller to make sure they follow the correct path. The hike takes 15 minutes and gives riders access to a number of short but exciting steep chutes.
Wolf Creek also offers guests big bowl skiing. For the intrepid, a 45-minute hike will land skiers at Horseshoe Bowl, an open basin along the resorts eastern boundary. Step Bowl is also a great way for skiers to return to the base area from the Alberta Lift. Step Bowl has several access points, including from the same hiking trails that lead to Alberta Peak.
For those seeking a shorter hike, after a five- to-eight-minute walk from the Bonanza Chairlift, skiers can enter the North Woods, with tree-shrouded runs giving advanced skiers a fruitful reward for their short hike.