Backcountry skiing is a popular pastime among skilled skiers who want to escape the busy resorts. If you're looking for a place to test your skills without having to drive out to popular Front Range ski spots, consider a trip to one of the following backcountry ski areas on Colorado's stunning Western Slope.
Once Mesa's original ski spot, now inoperative, this beautiful area is just up Highway 65 from Grand Junction. Once the ski lifts were moved to Powderhorn Resort, the area became a favorite among backcountry skiers seeking their own lines.
Also known as the Old Mesa Ski Hill, the area is now a hot spot for snowshoeing, sledding, and, of course, backcountry skiing. To gain access, venture up the sledding hill just under the steep upper section. Then, make a right to the trees and cross the sloping bridge that leads to the bottom of the old runs.
If you're in search of some pulse-pounding slopes, Star Peak is a worthy destination. Better suited for skilled backcountry skiers, the terrain requires a steep climb amid an avalanche prone pass.
Backcountry adrenaline-junkies brave the challenging trek up the North Ridge Route in search of peaceful isolation and stunning summit views. The majority of climbers tackle the mountain in the late winter or spring for the ideal snow couloirs – a steep, narrow gully on a mountainside –on the south face. The southwest face also offers a few good snow couloirs, but access requires an ascent over the perilous Pearl Pass.
Only appropriate for highly skilled skiers, Gore Range is an exhilarating but dangerous backcountry adventure. The area even requires a multi-day camping trip along a selection of remote routes, many of which are still uncharted.
The Gore Range is filled with huge challenging lines that are difficult to access. If you do decide to test your skills at this legendary backcountry ski site, make sure to travel with friends and alert several people of your whereabouts. You should also consult this map to find known runs.
Just three miles outside of Silverton, Anvil Mountain anchors the southern end of a 12,000-foot peak ridge just to the east of US 550. Expect a steep, tree-dense climb the first few hundred feet. After that, however, things get a lot easier.
Once you reach the summit, there are several options for a clean descent. Among the most popular is a path called the Cement Fill, which provides stable conditions and a consistent run to the road.
Another backcountry ski spot just outside Silverton, Grand Turk is among the most easily accessible peaks from the Colorado Trail. The spectacular views from the summit lookout over Needle Mountains, Grenadier Range, and peaks above Red Mountain, Silverton, and Ice Lake Basin.
The trek up is mostly off-trail, and you may need to bring an ice ax to cross snow slopes early in the season. Little Molas Lake Trailhead is especially popular among hikers and bikers in the summer and backcountry skiers in the winter.
If you are relatively new to backcountry skiing, research the avalanche awareness resources from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center to learn fundamental backcountry skills. Always check for avalanche conditions before heading out, and be sure to tell friends or family where you are going and when they can expect you back. You should also follow appropriate skiing and snowboarding safety tips to reduce your risk of injury.