Denver Startup Week: Adventure in the Information Age

DEN Startup Week.jpg

On September 28 I had the privilege to contribute to the Denver Startup Week Panel “Adventure in the Information Age”. The premise of the panel was to discuss how we develop products for the outdoors that balance the line of inspiration and safety without crossing the threshold of ruining the very essence of adventure itself. There is a limitless supply of information online, and how do we as technologists build products to balance the needs on both sides of the spectrum.

I was really excited to receive Matt Doyle’s invitation to participate.  Matt is Head of North America at FATMAP. FATMAP is pushing the bounds of how we digitally view and inform outdoor recreation with three-dimensional renderings curated by leading adventure guides from around the world. Matt partnered with Skippy Mesirow to define and moderate the panel. Skippy is a renowned skier and an entrepreneurial resident of Aspen. Tom Robson is the Manager of Trail Content for the Adventure Projects division of REI including Mountain Project and Powder Project. Tom provided views from the product development perspective. Jayson Simon-Jones and Russell Hunter of Colorado Mountain School rounded out the panel, and they provided the climbing guide perspective.

There were many questions posed to us by both Skippy and the audience ranging from “what does wilderness mean to you” to “curated content vs. user generated content” to “how to increase the presence of women in guiding, recreation, and tech” to “what is the line where there is too much information”.

All panelists agreed that wilderness is a state of mind, and that the experience that each person seeks is unique to the individual. Jayson and Russell provided excellent insights into CMS and AMGA programs encouraging the development of women in guiding, and also how the USA has a higher mount of professional female guides than Europe as a percentage of total guides. We also had an in-depth discussion on how directions available online are ultimately one of many tools someone can use, but it is ultimately up to the individual to never substitute information technology for common sense, outdoor skills, and self-reliability.

A question that I had to address was how did I make the decision to publish the information on Front Range Ski Mountaineering, despite the activities described on the site being inherently dangerous. This website was originally focused on spring ski mountaineering. This is certainly a dangerous activity, but one that I considered to have risks that are more predictable and addressable than winter backcountry skiing. My first assumption was that most users of a ski mountaineering guide had some backcountry experience as they probably progressed from resort skiing to “side country”, and then to backcountry. The typical user would be one who may have a mix of alpine climbing and skiing background.

As Front Range Ski Mountaineering gained in popularity I had many requests to publish information on the winter backcountry skiing in the region. I resisted this for some time as I consider winter backcountry to be far more risky and dangerous than spring skiing on a consolidated and predictable isothermal snow pack. The persistent weak layers in the continental snow pack are a dangerous place to play.

I stayed focused on the ski mountaineering guide until a trip to Cameron Pass. I had been skiing at Cameron Pass for many years and I consider it to have the most volatile winter snow pack on the Front Range. Over the years I have seen the chutes of Seven Utes Mountain and South Diamond Peak slide in catastrophic fashion. They slide many times, every year, and sometimes wall to wall and tumble all the way to the valley below. On this trip I was across the valley from South Diamond Peak and watched a long line of skiers climbing directly in the avalanche paths and in the guts of the most likely trigger zones. It was at that moment that I decided that, despite the risk of promoting more backcountry use, I would publish Front Range winter backcountry locations with the hope that the information can be used in an educational manner to reduce future accidents. The historical knowledge that I have accumulated over 20 years in this area can be useful for promoting safer recreation.

Since I published the winter information the popularity of the website ramped up dramatically. I have received many positive messages from users with comments ranging from their thanks for pointing out lower angle terrain for safer mid-winter fun, to gratitude for capturing historical information such as the potential for South Diamond Peak to avalanche all the way to the trailhead.

The opportunity to participate on the panel was exciting. I had not realized how many people were interested in hearing what I had to say on these topics, and I am thankful to Matt and Skippy for letting me be a part of a great gathering and dialogue on many interesting topics at the intersection of information technology and recreation.

Be safe!

Rob Writz

Uphill Skiing at Jones Pass

Uphill skiing at ski resorts on the Front Range has historically been limited to Winter Park, Loveland, and Arapahoe Basin. Each resort has uphill pros and cons, and the cons can influence us to look for an uphill jaunt that is not as far away from Denver. It is hard to stomach driving past the awesome terrain at Berthoud Pass to skin uphill at Winter Park Resort. Arapahoe Basin can be a haul, especially if you have to fit a tour in the window of the Basin’s allowable uphill time between resort operating hours and the start of your job. Loveland offers uphill skiing on two designated routes during most times, and these can get boring after awhile. This year, Eldora opened to uphill skiing but with restricted access times and costs. This works if you live in Boulder and Nederland, but nowhere else.

An alternative to the resort skinning is Jones Pass. The snowmobiles and the Powder Addiction snow cats carve out the high roads all winter long. The pitch of each road is never too steep, and Powder Addictions has done a great job of establishing a network of roads in the Jones Pass and West Fork of Clear Creek.

The hardpack feel of skinning up these roads is similar to the ski area, but the avalanche and terrain hazards are not not. Keep in mind that traveling in the Jones Pass area includes travel through avalanche terrain. The snow slide hazards start just up the road from the trailhead as you pass the Jones Brothers chutes and continue through out the tour. Come prepared with snow safety equipment, a good read and awareness of the CAIC weather forecast and snowpack observations, a level head, and the humbleness to turn around if conditions are not optimal.

We should all give a special thanks to Powder Addictions. Snowmobiling and backcountry skiing have preceded the cat skiing in this area by decades, but the dedicated work of the Powder Addictions team has resulted in a packed road network available all winter. If you see the snow cat on the roads, politely move out of the way, wave, and say thanks for packing the trail and clearing the trees!

The two main up-tracks at Jones Pass lead to the Jones Pass Bowl and the West Fork of Clear Creek. There is a high saddle between Point 12,118 and Point 12,673 that can be used to connect Jones Pass and West Fork bowls.  

Jones Pass Road climbs steadily through avalanche terrain to the high basins below Jones Pass and Bobtail Peak. The road climbs gently for about a mile before swinging west through forested avalanche terrain below Point 12,118’s south side. At tree line you may find that Powder Addiction has established several diverging road paths. The most commonly used are a short eastern path towards Solar Bowl and Jones Trees, a direct path to approximately 12,200’ between Bobtail Benchmark and Point 12,673, the path of Jones Pass Road to over 12,000’, and possibly a path into Jones Pass Bowl. You can find more directions and pictures of Jones Pass Road on our Jones Pass page.

Jones Pass Summary:

Length: 2.77 miles

Vertical Gain: 1,800’

Nearing the top of the track below Bobtail Benchmark and Point 12,673. Skier: Jim Parker

West Fork of Clear Creek follows the start of the Jones Pass route and the splits to the north after about eight tenths of a mile at the clearing below Point 12,118. Continue north following the snow cat or snowmobile trails. You will pass below several large avalanche paths descending from the north side of Point 12,118. Continue into the large open bowl of the West Fork. The snow cat track continues northwest in the bowl, and then climbs steeply and terminates at a knoll above twelve thousand feet below Point 12,666. You can find more directions and pictures of West Fork Bowl on our Jones Pass page.

West Fork Bowl Summary:

Length: 2.7 miles

Vertical Gain: 1,700’

 

 

High up in the West Fork Bowl. Skier: Mary Writz

Conditions Update June 10, 2016

We were able to get up high and have several views of the Interstate 70 corridor and James Peak Wilderness. Here is what we found!

Stevens Gulch: Many lines on the North Face of Mount Edwards are intact. The slopes of Grays Peak look like they could be connected from near the summit to the Torreys saddle. Lost Rat Couloir is still in one piece. The grand face of Torreys Peak including Dead Dog Couloir, East Face Direct, and South Paw looks good. Dead Dog has a runnel formed in the middle. The Emperor Couloir and Tuning Forks on the North and Northwest Face look great! The Southeast Bowl on Kelso is in and a short outing right above the summer parking lot. Earlier this week one could drive to a few hundred yards below the summer parking lot.

Grays (left) and Torreys Peak

Grays (left) and Torreys Peak

Torreys Peak: South Paw, East Face Direct, Dead Dog

Torreys Peak: South Paw, East Face Direct, Dead Dog

Mount Edwards North Face

Mount Edwards North Face

Mount Spalding: Mount Spalding is accessed at Summit Lake on the Mount Evans Road. The deep Chicago Lakes cirque has a few routes still holding on. Chi-Town looks skiable but is spotty at the bottom. Goldfinger is in and looks steep! The south side of Mount Spalding is above the Summit Lake parking lot. The Sunrise Couloir, Southeast Face, and Top Gun Couloir (to looker’s left of Sunrise) are in. The East Couloir on Gray Wolf Mountain is still skiable, but the lower descent in the bowl is melted out.

Mount Spalding Chicago Lakes Basin

Mount Spalding Chicago Lakes Basin

Goldfinger Couloir

Goldfinger Couloir

Mount Evans North Face: There are many routes still skiable on the North Face of Mount Evans. The North Face Moderate route has a hike down on talus from the upper parking lots to access the snow. The Diamond Couloir looks great and the Apron Bowl looks like a fun ski (access these from Summit Lake). Many people are also skiing the east shoulder from the upper switchbacks.

Mount Evans North Face.

Mount Evans North Face.

There were many other mountains and faces that we could view from our tours. In the Guanella Pass area, Square Top’s North Couloirs look spotty and measly from the distance. Argentine Peak’s Southeast Face and Northeast Face look good. The Northeast Face holds the Voltage Drop, Amped, and Short Circuit lines. The Santiago Bowl on McClellan Mountain is in, but the lines do not connect to the summit. Bard Peak’s Shakespeare is disconnected in the upper third portion of the route. Pettingell Peak’s Southeast Slopes look skiable but will probably be done after the past few hot days. Hagar’s Southeast Face looks good and skiable! The east slopes of the James Peak Wilderness are holding snow and the descents from Eva, Ida, Bancroft, and James Peak all appeared to be in from the distance. The Abyss Face on Mount Bierstadt looks like a great ski down into the basin below the South Face of Mount Evans.

Road and Trailhead Update: May 27, 2016

Trailhead Update

We were at two high trailheads in Northern Colorado this past week.

The first was the Colorado River Trailhead on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Technically, this trailhead is low in elevation (9,005') but it accesses the high terrain of the Never Summer Mountains. The trailhead is located at the Trail Ridge closure point north of the Kuwanechee visitor center. The trail is dry for the 1/2 mile to the intersection with the Red Mountain trail that leads to the Grand Ditch. At approximately 9,500'+ you begin to encounter more consistent snow and just above this one can skin on snow to the Grand Ditch. The Ditch then traverses along the base of the Never Summer Mountains from north to south.

Speaking of the Grand Ditch, it is usually left unplowed and melts off in the spring. Due to a landslide, the road serving the ditch has been plowed to get heavy equipment to the construction zone. This construction is north of Mosquito Creek. This means that the Ditch road is dirt and hike-able from the Holzworth Historic Site in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Grand Ditch is plowed from Holzworth Historic Site to north of Mosquito Creek.

The Grand Ditch is plowed from Holzworth Historic Site to north of Mosquito Creek.

 

The second trailhead was the Blue Lake and Sawmill Creek Trailhead near Cameron Pass on Highway 14. We went up the Sawmill Creek Trailhead, but parked at Blue Lake. The snow started right off of Highway 14 at the Sawmill Creek Trailhead. No need to hike in on dirt yet! You can ski from the top of the peaks to Highway 14.

Sawmill Creek is skiable from the highway.

Sawmill Creek is skiable from the highway.

High Road Access Update

Guanella Pass (11,670') - The word is that the pass opened this morning. Guanella Pass connects Georgetown and the I-70 corridor to Grant, Highway 285, and the North Fork of the South Platte River. The pass is a high trailhead with access to Mount Evans, Mount Bierstadt, and Square Top Mountain. For information on Guanella Pass call 303-679-2422 and press 2. 

Mount Evans Road (12,836' and 14,130')  - We have heard that Mount Evans Road is now plowed to just below the summit (14,130'), but it will open this weekend to Summit Lake (12,836'). This road has two great access points. Summit Lake at 12,836' is the entry point to Mount Evan's North Face Routes and Mount Spalding. The summit access enables you to ski the North Face routes without climbing them first... gulp! Early in the "open" season the road is susceptible to being closed in the morning due to hazardous conditions created by melting snow freezing over night on the road surface. 

Trail Ridge Road (12.183') - Severe weather kept the Park Service from opening Trail Ridge Road on Friday. Call the recorded status line for details and opening: 970-586-1222. Hopefully the weather improves and the plowed road is opened this Memorial Day Weekend.

 

Ski the 50 Highest Peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park

Ski the highest 50 peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park. This is the big goal of Austin Porzak and his skiing companions. Starting this winter they began planning and then skiing the highest peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Those that are familiar with the Park know all too well the effect that the winds have on the peaks. All winter long the winds peel snow off of every windward nook and cranny. Certainly the snow is deposited on the leeward sides of the mountains, but many of these peaks are just as scoured on the east side as they are on the west side.

Luckily, Front Range skiers such as Austin and his crew are able to take advantage of the wet spring upslope storms. These monster storms, if positioned correctly, can swing moisture counter clockwise and directly into the Park from the east. It feels like April and May have been snowier in recent years, and the Ski RMNP team is already taking advantage of the upslope storms for this project!

The Ski RMNP team is armed with the historical knowledge of the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park that was obtained by Austin’s father Glenn Porzak. In the 1970s, Glenn became the first person to summit the 100 highest peaks inside the park. Austin is honoring the accomplishments of his father by attempting to ski the 50 highest peaks in the Park. Not only are they actively climbing and skiing these peaks, but also they are doing it with style! Many of the Park’s peaks are difficult to access and are rarely skied. Austin and the team are finding unique and aesthetic lines to ski.

It is not clear if the team is attempting to ski all 50 peaks this season, or if they are going to extend the effort over several winters and springs. It will be interesting to see how they ski high and dry peaks such as Storm Peak and Mount Lady Washington. We are excited to follow their accounts and see what they do!

Austin is no stranger to ski mountaineering and has skied all of Colorado’s 14,000’ peaks. Austin and the Ski RMNP post great accounts of their trips on their website at http://skirmnp.com. They report on the approach and descents and this is valuable information for anyone wanting to follow in their boot steps!

Uphill Access at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area

The days are getting longer as we get closer to spring. This means more daylight to work with in the afternoon and the potential for Front Range skiers to access Arapahoe Basin for an afternoon uphill tour. For most of the winter these skiers have been confined to uphill ski area tours in the darkness. The time change has not happened yet, but there is already enough evening in early March to enjoy the alpenglow during an afternoon tour at the Basin. In fact, you might be able to get out of work in time to get to the Basin to train for this spring’s Alpenglow Ascents Rando Challenge!

 

Arapahoe Basin was an early uphill advocate and leader amongst the Summit County ski areas. Outside of the ski area’s operating hours, and if the mountain is officially open for uphill access, skiers are free to climb up the varying ski terrain on the mountain. Uphill skiers are considered skiers under the Colorado Skier Safety Act and still need to observe the rules of the ski area. For example: you are accessing the terrain at your own risk, closed terrain is off limits, you cannot duck ropes, the terrain parks are off limits, etc.

The “Terrain Status” page on the Basin’s website is where you can learn if the uphill access is open or closed. It is also where you can find all the details and the mountain’s uphill policy. You are required to have a complimentary uphill access pass. This pass is available at the Season Pass Office during operational hours.

During operating hours the uphill access is restricted to the eastern edge of High Noon between the Base Area and Black Mountain Lodge. This is about 650 vertical feet of climbing, and it is clearly marked with “Uphill Access Route” signs. Outside of operating hours a popular route is to climb High Noon to the Black Mountain Lodge, and then follow Decrum’s Gulch up the valley to the top of Lenawee Mountain Lift via Humbug or Lenawee Face. This route is approximately 1,560 vertical feet and 1.65 miles long.

One great benefit of the uphill access at A-Basin is that the ski patrol hut next to the top of Lenawee Mountain Lift is open at all times. This is a warm and dry place to hide from the wind and transition to downhill mode.

Finally, the extended daylight hours also signals the start of A-Basin’s Alpenglow Ascents Rando Challenge. 2016 marks the 3rd annual springtime event that starts and finishes in the Base Area while summiting near 12,472’. There are two Rando Challenges this spring on Saturday, March 12 and Saturday, April 9. You can find out more information on the course and register at the Arapahoe Basin Event Calendar.

Touring up A-Basin in the afternoon light.

Touring up A-Basin in the afternoon light.


Low Angle Terrain for Midwinter Fun

The Front Range has been hit with a spectacular series of storms during the past week. While these storms bring much needed snow, they also escalate the avalanche hazard. If you are headed into the backcountry, now is a good time to explore low angle terrain and play it safe. This blog is a brief overview of lower angle winter backcountry terrain described on this website. When the avalanche hazard is elevated, lets keep the slope angles down!

Here is the current avalanche status: The storm during the week of February 1 brought significant snow to the Front Range mountains, followed by the formation of wind slabs near and above tree line. On Thursday, February 4 CAIC messaged via Twitter that the Front Range avalanche conditions are “Considerable”… “Conditions remain dangerous. Wind slab avalanches near and above tree line and persistent slab avalanches are possible at all elevations.” Another smaller storm approaches for Friday, and then high pressure will set in for the foreseeable future.

There are no “safe” places to backcountry ski and snowboard during the winter. The avalanche hazard may decrease during the future high pressure, but in Colorado the risk of sliding should always be considered “high”. Even in more stable conditions, Colorado’s continental snowpack is considered dangerous and difficult to predict. For more information on how the Front Range’s snowpack evolves during the winter, see our Front Range Conditions page in the “About” section of the website.

The safest place for you to ride is at the ski area. If you are not comfortable with the backcountry risks, then keep farming runs inbounds. The Front Range ski areas have numerous stashes that hold snow for weeks. 

Where are the places where riders can get out and still have fun during storm snow and higher avalanche conditions? There are many spots across the Front Range to do this, and we have highlighted several of these below. We have also included links to the guides on the Front Range Ski Mountaineering website that describe the zones and routes in more detail.  The routes described below are also great terrain for beginners and moderate backcountry skiers. This terrain is mostly lower angle and good for first time exploration, storm skiing, and enjoyable tours.

Great Glade Skiing

The Boulevard is the large gladed tree terrain on the southeast flank on Mount Trelease. You can get a good view of this terrain when driving up Loveland Pass. Look across Interstate 70 and see the good-looking glades facing southeast. The terrain is moderate, but the approach involves an uncomfortable scramble from the highway trailhead into the woods. Additionally, there is avalanche hazard above this terrain that can funnel into The Boulevard. Even if the terrain is moderate, always be aware of what lurks above.

Vasquez Trees are a south facing glade in the Jones Pass 12,118’ Zone.  Because they are south facing, they are subject to a shallower snowpack and developing a sun crust. Get to these during a storm or just after. They are particularly good during the colder months of a winter with a deep snowpack. The sun has less influence during these months and the snow stays cold.

The Middle 110s of Current Creek have some of the best glade skiing on the Front Range. This area faces southeast and east so you will want to get here just after a storm. The trees are spread out enough that it would be hard to see the terrain during a storm. The lower flanks of the 110s area are steeper, and there is slide potential in the exit near the 110 Cliffs. To avoid this, stay in the trees on the skier’s left.

The old Berthoud Pass Ski Area terrain has numerous glades and runs to explore that are lower angled. Powder Line, Bonanza, Bell Trail/Dunn’s Run at Berthoud Pass East are just above the parking lot and have minimal slide potential. CDT West and Mainline at Berthoud Pass West are just above the road and easily accessed from the trailhead. If you explore skier’s left of Mainline at Berthoud Pass you will quickly be in avalanche terrain and in the West Side Cliffs.

The Zimmerman Lake trailhead in Northern Colorado accesses Montgomery Pass and Hot Dog Bowl. Hot Dog Bowl East contains open lower angle terrain that then drops into low angle tree skiing. The approach is more complicated than the ski into Montgomery Pass, so it is a great area to both ski and work on route finding skills. The terrain of Hot Dog Bowl West is extremely hazardous. Be aware of this danger and stay clear of   this face. Skiers traversing the terrain below it have triggered avalanches on Hot Dog Bowl West; be careful here!

Fun Bowls

The Butler Gulch Bowl is a great place for post storm skiing. The winds affect this area so you will want to get here quickly after a storm. This expansive area has multiple low angle lines at the edge of tree line that eventually drops into denser forest. The approach from the Jones Pass trailhead is very relaxed, and this is a great place to bring a beginner or someone new to the area and snowpack.

Jones Pass Bowl is similar to Butler Gulch Bowl. The aspect is north facing, but the angle is similar to Butler Gulch Bowl. Jones Pass Bowl is accessed via the same trailhead, and is a slightly longer approach via the Jones Pass Road. If you follow the Jones Pass Road to the Bowl you will cross several slide paths and avalanche hazard areas. Be on the lookout for these. The Jones Pass guide on our website describes a short cut that avoids this hazard area by climbing a trail paralleling the creek.

The small bowls flanking Hidden Knoll in Current Creek at Berthoud Pass have low angle terrain that is fun alternatives to the steeps surrounding them. Each of these bowls has some exposure to avalanche hazard from above, so tread carefully in here. Moonlight Bowl is on the north side of Hidden Knoll. This low angle bowl is exposed to slide hazards from Current Creek Bench. There is a great bowl located below the South Chutes of Hidden Knoll. You can see this in the picture of Hidden Knoll on our Berthoud Pass North Guide.  The bowl and small ridge is located where the “S” skin track label is on the left side of the picture.

In the Northern Front Range, the Montgomery Pass area has copious bowl and glade skiing. This area is quite vast, and our guide on touches on a few of the more popular bowls. The approach into Montgomery Pass is a cross-country ski trail that climbs through the forest. There are numerous tree lines to descend from the base of the bowl towards the trailhead. The bowl itself is very popular. Despite the heavy traffic and lower angle, it is still avalanche terrain above tree line.

 

Front Range Conditions May 15, 2015

I haven’t found a lot of time this spring to be able to get into the high peaks when the sun is out. The consistent storms every weekend have provided ample snow, but the non-stormy days during the week have not aligned to my schedule. This Wednesday, there was a brief break in the thunderstorms and the opportunity for me to get up early and climb a peak before work.

I chose to explore Woods Mountain (12,940’) and Watrous Gulch off of Interstate 70. The access to the valley was quick as the trailhead is right of the Interstate, and the wide trail was dry and accommodating for carrying skis on my pack. I reached the snowline at 10,630’. I walked on the snow for only about 100 yards before I was able to convert to skins and enjoy the wide and flat valley to the base of the South Face of Woods Mountain. The coverage on Woods Mountain is impressive right now, and I was able to skin all the way to the summit!

The last time I got up high in the I-70 corridor was closing day, May 3, at Loveland Ski Area. On May 3, I was impressed with how much snow coverage there was in this part of the Front Range. On that day I noted to myself how well covered the Shakespeare slopes on Bard Peak and the Ribbon on Grays Peak were! Fast-forward to yesterday and there is even more coverage!

The challenge for the day was the light. I was hoping that there would be clear skies since the forecast was for afternoon thunderstorms. This was not so, and it remained a gray morning. It was hard to see on the descent of the South Face, and the pictures were dark.

Bottom line: The coverage in the I-70 region is impressive. If there is a line you have been thinking about for some time, it is most likely filled in!  Here are some pictures to help with your Herman Gulch, Stevens Gulch, and Mount Sniktau planning!

Herman Gulch looks great!  From left to right: UN 12,671, The Citadel, Pettingell Peak.

It looks like you can ski Bierstadt from the summit right now.

The Emperor Couloir and Tuning Forks on Torreys will be skiable for quite some time.

The Northeast Face and North Bowl of Mount Sniktau

The North Gully of Kelso Mountain and the North Face of Mount Edwards in the background.

The South Bowls on Woods Mountain.

Uphill Access at Loveland Ski Area

There are few close opportunities for uphill skiing at a Front Range ski area. The two prominent resorts for uphill skiing are Loveland and Arapaho Basin.  There are also uphill opportunities at Winter Park, Keystone, and Breckenridge. Skiers and snowboarders use uphill access at the ski area for numerous purposes. The relative safety of the ski area allows uphill skiers to earn their turns in an environment with less avalanche and snow hazards, the exercise is great, and the views are phenomenal.

The uphill scene at Loveland is more laid back than the uphill scene in Summit County. The skiers and snowboarders going uphill at Loveland seem to be of the more recreational variety and less of the skimo racing type. Snowshoers even enjoy the uphill access.

Loveland’s uphill access has several advantages over the Arapahoe Basin uphill. First, Loveland is closer to the Front Range cities than A-Basin. This is really helpful for an uphill ski in the morning before a powder day in winter. Second, Loveland’s uphill access is open before, during, and after the ski area’s operating hours.

Unlike A-Basin, Loveland restricts the uphill access to two routes. Both routes launch from the base area at Chair 2. There is a sign posted at Chair 2 noting the A and B routes. A and B route share the same path on Tango Road until the split at Turtle Creek and Lower Creek Trail. There are occasional signs on the way up each route noting A or B.

Route A goes to the top of Chair 2 and Ptarmigan Roost. After the ski area opens for the day the Ptarmigan Roost is accessible and a great place to warm up and transition for the downhill. This is especially nice in the winter as the winds can howl at Loveland. Route A is an easy and quick uphill and is open most of the time. It is easy to get confused as to which run is North Turtle Creek and South Turtle Creek and we have seen uphill skiers on both runs. Loveland asks you to stay on North Turtle Creek.

Route A Summary:

  • Length: 1.46 miles
  • Vertical Gain: 1,191’

Route B is a much longer climb to the Continental Divide and the top of Chair 9. After the A/B split this route continues up Lower Creek trail and past the bottom of Chair 9. There are occasional “B” signs going up, but the left turn up Rookie Road is not signed well. This route is frequently closed for snow safety operations.

Route B Summary:

  • Length: 2.08 miles
  • Vertical Gain: 1,907’

Please review Loveland Ski Area’s uphill access policy and map at their website. This web page gives Loveland’s expectations for uphill access as well as the conditions for when the access is open or closed. You need to go into the season pass office to get a free uphill access pass prior to your first uphill. The Loveland Ski Patrol frequently checks for this pass when you are climbing up.

As we enter into the final month of Loveland’s season, the uphill access can be a great addition to a spring ski day. Perhaps a morning skin up while you wait for the conditions to defrost for corn skiing? The views are great and the access is a snap. We highly recommend an uphill jaunt at Loveland!

 

Dave Dombrowski skis up the "B" route to the Continental Divide and Chair 9.

Dave Dombrowski skis up the "B" route to the Continental Divide and Chair 9.

Moderate Peaks to Climb for Assessing Spring Conditions

Spring is upon us in the high country!  The days are longer, the snowstorms are gaining moisture content, and the Front Range ski lines that were windswept all winter are starting to fill in.  It is time to get out there and higher than you have all winter!

With the excitement of spring comes a hesitation: what is the snowpack like?  This is a complicated time due to varying conditions during the isothermal transition.  The south and east faces are turning to corn, west faces still have breakable crust, and the north faces may be harboring winter conditions including persistent slabs.  This is a challenging time to assess the snowpack.

We had several users email us on this topic and they asked for recommendations of peaks and routes to “safely” climb and ski, and be up high so they can get a sense of the snowpack.  We have included several recommendations below.

First, we recommend a review of Front Range Ski Mountaineering’s Conditions page.  Use this for a basic understanding of the dynamics occurring in the transforming spring snowpack.  Second, make sure to stay up to date on avalanche conditions and reports via the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.  Although it is spring there are still winter conditions in the snowpack!

Here are several recommendations for great peaks to ski during this transition period to get a sense of the conditions:

Saint Vrain Mountain is a peak that you can ski throughout the winter and spring with relative snow safety.  That is, if you can stand the wind!  The spring advantage for Saint Vrain is that it is not steep, it has South, East, and North aspects to explore, and it gives you a great view Mount Audubon, Sawtooth, Red Deer, Saint Vrain Glaciers, and Wild Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Saint Vrain Mountain from the Northeast.  Photo: Rob Writz

Saint Vrain Mountain from the Northeast.  Photo: Rob Writz

In the James Peak Wilderness we highly recommend the Southeast Flank of James Peak and Frosty Mountain.  We haven’t posted James Peak to this website (yet), but we have included a picture below.  James Peak is quickly accessed from the Saint Mary Glacier on the Fall River Road.  It is an easy climb to the summit and the views include the South Boulder Creek Drainage (Heartbeat Peak, Frosty), and the North side of Mount Bancroft. 

James Peak from the top of Saint Mary Glacier.  Photo: Rob Writz

James Peak from the top of Saint Mary Glacier.  Photo: Rob Writz

Frosty Mountain is a classic that sits on the Continental Divide between James Peak and Rollins Pass.  It is a longer excursion than Saint Vrain and James Peak, but it is a moderate descent and the approach allows you to inspect the North, East, and South facing aspects in the bowl surrounding Frosty.  The east-facing descent directly from the summit of Frosty into the basin should be getting primed with corn conditions now.

Frosty Mountain as seen from the approach from Moffat Tunnel.  Photo: Rob Writz

Frosty Mountain as seen from the approach from Moffat Tunnel.  Photo: Rob Writz

Golden Bear, or 1310 as the Loveland Ski Patrollers call it, is a great peak for early spring ski descents.  Golden Bear has slopes of varying steepness and exposure including North and East.  The tour up Dry Gulch will allow you to inspect the South side of Citadel and Hagar Mountain.

Golden Bear from the South.  Photo: Rob Writz

Golden Bear from the South.  Photo: Rob Writz

Finally, we recommend Cupid from Loveland Pass.  The Southeast Face is a moderate ski descent and has been cooking in the sun the past month.  The climb back up the basin to the Continental Divide and the summit of Cupid is an easy skin.  You can ski Dave’s Wave to the highway near Arapahoe Basin, ski the various chutes facing south to the switchbacks below Loveland Pass, or hike down the ridge to Loveland Pass.

Cupid from the East.  Photo: Rob Writz

Cupid from the East.  Photo: Rob Writz



Front Range Conditions June 22

Happy Summer Solstice! There is still a lot of snow up in the hills. With the opening of the Brainard Lake Road we sent the Front Range Skimo R&D team deep into the Indian Peaks to see what the conditions are like.  Here is what they found:

The Brainard Lake Road is open past the gate at the winter trail head. Unfortunately the road is then closed just before Brainard Lake near the campground and the newly built day area. This means it is about a mile from the closure to the Long Lake TH and the Mitchell Lake TH. We went up the Long Lake TH and there are snow drifts still blocking parts of the parking lot. Those should be melted within another week. The snow on the trail starts almost immediately at the trail head, and there are several miles of constant snow drifts on the trail all the way to Lake Isabelle. The Pawnee Pass trail is covered in snow until above tree line on the plateau below the Pass and Pawshoni Peak. From there to the pass it is mostly a rocky dirt trail.

We saw a lot of tracks on Mount Toll. It looks great to ski still! The Pawshoni and Shoshoni Bowls are thinner and discontinuous. The middle and right Keyhole Couloirs are still in. Apache Couloir is still in, but not connected to the summit. It is connected all the way to the ridgeline, though. Queens Way is in and still connected to the summit. The Navajo Snowfield looks great, and steep! Pawnee Peak is a rock star. The Pawnee Couloir is in and looks like it will be around for awhile. We have posted a few pictures below.

On the west side of the Continental Divide the North Couloir of Pawnee Peak is in great. Lone Eagle Cirque is amazing and every route is still in condition in this vast and remote area. The lower apron of the Hopi Glacier runs all the way to Crater Lake. The Fair Glacier is in immaculate condition, and Cherokee’s Northwest Chute is still continuous, and this is one of the first lines to melt out in the cirque.

Sunset on Pawnee Peak

Sunset on Pawnee Peak

Lots of snow in Lone Eagle Cirque.

Lots of snow in Lone Eagle Cirque.

Paiute is still looking good.

Paiute is still looking good.

Lots of tracks on Toll!

Lots of tracks on Toll!

Navajo Snowfield, Apache Couloir, and Queens Way are still holding snow!

Navajo Snowfield, Apache Couloir, and Queens Way are still holding snow!


Front Range Conditions June 15

The Front Range’s big winter of 2013-14 is finally paying off for spring ski mountaineering. Although the lower peaks are melting away, there are copious amounts of snow on the north and east faces of the high peaks. Also, the freeze has returned to the high country as well (at least for this weekend).

We sent the R&D team up Grizzly Gulch below Torreys and Grizzly Peak this weekend. A solid freeze on Saturday night resulted in good travel up the valley. We were able to drive to the Grizzly Gulch trailhead at the crossing of the stream exiting from Stevens Gulch. If we had a high clearance off road rig we could have continued driving through the three stream crossings to basin between Kelso and Torrey’s north face. Beyond here the jeep road is well covered in snow.

A massive avalanche released from the Emperor Couloir this winter and packed the valley floor with trees and snow. It may take all summer for this snow to melt. See below for some of the pictures.  

We saw several skiers on Torrey’s Tuning Fork, and reports from the Emperor Couloir is that the top did not defrost by normal ski descent time. The Grizzly Couloir is ready to go. We explored further up the valley and had great descents on the East Face of Cupid and the North Slopes of Grizzly.

On Friday we were able to get several high vantage points and catch a glimpse of what was still out there. All aspects of Torrey’s peak are in, the North Face of Evans looks great, the Continental Divide north of Loveland looks really good for this time of year (Golden Bear, Hagar, Citadel), and the various couloirs and bowls along Continental Divide between James Peak and Rollins Pass are in.  Queens Way on Apache is in good form, The Pawnee Couloir looks solid, and the terrain around Blue Lake is skiing well.  We saw ski tracks in the dust layer on Radiobeacon, Sawtooth, and a few other

This is less than half of the debris field. It is about 400 yards wide and debris goes about 50 yards into the forest.

This is less than half of the debris field. It is about 400 yards wide and debris goes about 50 yards into the forest.

Jackstraw debris.

Jackstraw debris.

Moonset over the Grizzly Couloir.

Moonset over the Grizzly Couloir.

Torrey's Tuning Fork looks great!

Torrey's Tuning Fork looks great!


Front Range Conditions June7

The spring snowpack is rapidly changing to a summer snowpack. It is a good thing the Front Range had a significant snow this winter, otherwise the snow would be gone. Given that the transition to summer is occurring rapidly we sent the R&D team to the high peaks.

We spent the day of June 8 in the Guanella Pass area. The peaks surrounding this pass are high thirteeners or fourteeners and hold summer snow. The Front Range Ski Mountaineering R&D team spent the majority of the day on Square Top, Argentine Peak and in the Leavenworth Creek and Naylor Lake drainages. The East Face of Square Top, the Southeast Bowl of Argentine Peak, and the Northeast Face of Argentine Peak are all holding snow and good lines. The views from the Continental Divide in this area are spectacular and reveal good looking snow in the Santiago Mine Bowl on McClellan, the south facing snowfields of Edwards, and the east facing lines of Grays and Torreys. The north facing couloirs on Square Top are not connected from top to bottom. The Northwest Bowl of Bierstadt is still skiable from several hundred feet below the summit.

The Silver Dollar Lake Road still has snow drifts and downed trees that required parking at the Guanella Pass Road. The Silver Dollar Lake trail is heavily snow covered. The chutes that drop down from the north side of Square Top have deeply buried the trail, and in the forest between the trailhead and Naylor Lake there is deep and consistent snow. The trail opens up above tree line and away from the chutes. We spent a portion of the morning on the snowless Mount Wilcox. Although snow was the objective, the dry terrain of Wilcox made for easier travel up and down the valley.

A freeze occurred on the evening of June 7 which allowed for more rapid travel than in weeks past. A hard freeze most certainly occurred on the evening of June 8. This has been the challenge this spring. No hard freezes. They were absent most of May and have returned in the past week. It looks like temperatures will warm up again and these freezes will go away.

The thunder snow returned and a heavy snow storm hit the area around 11 am. This time lightning was mixed into the equation, leading to a tense descent off of Argentine Peak! This storm was a hundred times for volatile than the one that hit us on Frosty the week before.

Front Range Conditions June 1

The "tweener" weather continues. Its not too hot on the Eastern Plains, and not cold in the Front Range Mountains. The temperatures at the high passes continue to stay above freezing. This is resulting in rapid melting and a lack of stability on steeper slopes.  

We sent the Front Range Ski Mountaineering R&D team to the Moffat Tunnel to explore the conditions. They were able to begin consistent skinning towards Frosty and Radiobeacon just pass the intersection of the Forest Lakes Trail and Arapaho Creek. A burst of thundersnow at 8 am on the Continental Divide resulted in an immediate ski down Frosty and off the divide. The snow on Frosty had not frozen and even at 8 am the conditions were grabby. 

Time to start exploring the darker north faces and west faces to see if they are holding better conditions. Be careful out there.

Our Use of the D Scale for Ski Mountaineering Routes

We use the “D System” to describe several factors for the Front Range ski mountaineer to consider when thinking about a route. The D System is comprised of three parts and is fully described on Lou Dawson’s Wild Snow website. Please refer to the Wild Snow website for a description of the D System, and further dialogue on how it is used. Our website describes the D System in the context of other information provided on our “How to Use This Website” page.  

In some ways we are challenged with the D System. It is hard to place an assignment on a ski descent that is a constantly transforming medium. As Lou Dawson indicates on his website, we are trying to use this to show the normal difficulty, hazard, and commitment found during the time when the route is most likely to be skied. For the Front Range that is between late April and the end of June, with a few exceptions. We snowboarded the Dead Dog Couloir in June during the drought year of 2002 and found it to be far more difficult than D12 rating it frequently gets. There were steep runnels throughout the chute and it was steeper than normal. This is certainly not the normal conditions for the route.

The Dead Dog Couloir is a good example of a Front Range route that is skied so frequently that most agree on the D12 rating. It could be D11. It could be D13. The Front Range ski mountaineering community is honing in on D12 due to this route being known to many. On this website we describe many routes that are not frequently skied. If you feel that a route should be rated harder or easier please let us know. We expect to true these ratings with user feedback over time.

Our biggest challenge is using the “Risk” scale. The Risk Scale is not used frequently on this website. This website considers every ski ascent and descent to be inherently risky. These objective hazards are encountered on every ski descent in this website, and these hazards can vary by season. Fundamentally, all of the routes described in this website are dangerous and are at minimum R1 on the risk scale. Because these routes are all subjected to some form of objective hazard, we reserve the R rating for routes that require a risk rating that is more significant than the normal risks encountered (R1).

We find the use of the D System by many Front Range ski mountaineers so we will use this system for now. The goal here is to give you a sense of how challenging the route is in relation to others, and this is another piece of information to be used in your toolbox. Don’t let the D System assignment replace your assessment of conditions. You, your companions, and Mother Nature will dictate how challenging the route really is. 

Front Range Conditions: Memorial Day Weekend 2014

This Memorial Day Weekend was not as kind as holiday weekends from the past years. Clouds dominated the Front Range evenings and prevented a freeze. Evening temperatures at Loveland Pass and Rollins Pass did not break freezing. Thunderstorms kicked up every afternoon. It even snowed a bit.

Despite these challenges we sent the Front Range Ski Mountaineering team into the peaks on Memorial Day and Tuesday, May 27. Here is what they found:

Memorial Day: The R&D team worked their way up the Rainbow Road, just off of the Fall River Road, to Mount Eva and Witter Peak. They were able to drive past 10,225’ on the Rainbow Road, and high clearance 4WD could make it to a quarter mile before the Chinns Lake Road intersection. It wouldn’t matter as this intersection is on private land and there is no parking here. Parking is back at the Continental Divide Trail at 10,225’. Consistent skiing began at the Chinns Lake Road intersection. The Rainbow Road had sporadic snow, but skinning could be had in the adjacent forest. The Chinns Lake Road is snow covered the whole way and awkwardly out sloped.

The fresh snow from Sunday night made Perry Peak look like a good ski descent, but the R&D team knew better than to trust that lurking boneyard. The upper bowls of Eva and Witter were stocked full of snow. Even though a deep freeze did not occur, and the 2 to 3 inches of new snow insulated the under layers, the low angled bowls of this beautiful and under utilized basin skied great. The Welcome Couloir on Witter looked unwelcoming as a lot of loose wet slides had barreled through the couloir and left a bumpy channel in the lower half of the couloir and debris piles in the run out. The face above the couloir still looks good, though.

Tuesday: We sent the R&D team to the Mount Evans Road to scope out conditions on the road and sample the food at the Echo Lake Lodge. Word from the Echo Lake Lodge staff is that the Mount Evans Road was closed consistently through the weekend.  The road opened at 1 pm on Tuesday once the fresh snow had melted (open to Summit Lake). After some chili and club sandwiches the R&D team headed up. They report that the routes around the Summit Lake Bowl look great. The Sunrise Couloir and the steep routes on the South Face of Mount Spalding have some loose surface slides that could freeze into coral reef, but for the most part they are clean. The cornices above these routes are massive. The North Face of Mount Evans is full of snow. The Northeast Face look like crap: rock fest. The East Face (just south of the Northeast Face) looks spectacular and ready for big banking turns.

Check out the Twitter handle @frskimo for some landscape pictures of this weekend.

Front Range Conditions: Weekend of May 17

The Front Range’s spring ski mountaineering season is in full effect. 

What, spring you say? 

Yes, spring. 

But it is almost June!

That is correct. It is almost June, but winter is just now moving out of the Colorado high country. Last week the Arapahoe Basin ski area received nearly 40 inches of snow. According to the article by the Daily Camera, the snowpack in the South Platte River Basin had been 121 percent of average, but after the snow fell over Mother’s Day weekend, that number reached 145 percent.   

With all of this snow fall, we sent the Front Range Ski Mountaineering R&D team to the peaks to see how the new snow was settling in.  Here is what we found:

Saturday: A trip up the Stevens Gulch area near Grays and Torreys Peaks revealed that you won’t be able to drive past the first switchback before needing to park. The snow blocks the road from cars and trucks at this point (for now).  We walked on intermittent snow and dirt to the fork with the Grizzly Gulch Road, and then skied on skins up the remainder of the road. The temperatures were warm down low and a full freeze did not occur.  The clouds from the night before prevented this, and there were several loose slide releases during the day.  It was hot spring conditions below tree line and winter above tree line.  Reports from Kelso’ North Couloir was that the top was chalky powder and slush at the bottom of the gully. A skier triggered wet slab late in the day on a northeast aspect below tree line on Ganley Mountain originated from a single turn that slid on the dust layer and ran about 500 vertical feet (R3, D2).

Sunday: A clear night resulted in a deeper freeze and the newer snow beginning to bond to the older snow.  Front Range Skimo R&D explored Herman Gulch and discovered intermittent snow immediately on the trail. Skinning began near the flats at approximately 10,800’. The basin was active and there were obvious loose slough slides on the north side of Citadel, and it appears these slides prevented skiers from descending the Northeast Couloir (Snoopy’s Backside).  Larger natural wet avalanches occurred in the basin during the day. There was a freeze, but it got hot fast.  Word from the Gore Range is that the Silver Couloir on Buffalo was a “shit show” and that about 800 feet down the couloir small release (presumably occurring on Saturday) had widened into a large wet slide and mowed down the lower couloir leaving debris and heavy wet snow.  

Check out our Twitter handle @frskimo for some landscape pictures from this weekend. Be safe out there!

Welcome!

Welcome to Front Range Ski Mountaineering! Colorado’s Front Range is blessed with an amazing spring and summer ski mountaineering season that usually runs from mid-April to mid-June. Some permanent snowfields provide skiing opportunities into the summer. We soft launched the website in early May for Colorado Front Range ski mountaineers to get their hands on, use, and provide feedback. We hope that you enjoy using this site and we welcome your feedback, changes, new routes, and insights. Please see the contact page for more information on how to reach us.

This is a “where to” guide, not a “how to guide”. We provide information to help you identify and reach some of the best ski mountaineering descents on Colorado’s Front Range. Snow is a changing medium and we don’t know what you will encounter when you go. The trail may be snow covered all the way from the trailhead, or perhaps you are walking in hiking boots for several miles before you reach snow, who knows? The route may be filled with a ton of snow from a big winter and moderate the pitch, or it may be a drought year and the couloir is steeper than normal and littered with rocks and fluted ridges. We do our best to describe the route and approach at a high level during an “average” year at the common times for Front Range ski mountaineering.

Ski mountaineering is a dangerous activity. With experience and good judgement it can be a really fun and addictive activity. To develop that experience and good judgement we suggest that you get a mentor to guide you through the experience, mountains, skills, and equipment. There are also several excellent ski mountaineering guide services in the Front Range and these are listed on the resources page of this site.

We will be updating this site throughout the spring. There will be many more peaks and routes added during this time. We will tune the site based on user feedback and then have it really ready to go for the 2015 season. Watch for detailed updates on Twitter @FRskimo and for high level updates on this blog.

Thank you!

Front Range Ski Mountaineering