Editor’s note: This is part of The Know’s new series, Staff Favorites. Each week, we will offer our opinions on the best that Colorado has to offer for dining, shopping, entertainment, outdoor activities and more. (We’ll also let you in on some hidden gems). Find our previous Staff Favorites here.
My favorite backcountry ski tours — Vail Pass, Jones Pass and Mayflower Gulch — don’t involve climbing high peaks with steep powder descents. That’s ski mountaineering, something close to my heart but that is to be discouraged when avalanche danger is high, as it is now.
These tours involve traveling on mellow terrain that isn’t steep enough to slide but is ideal for getting a good workout in stunning scenery. They can be done on lightweight cross country skis or snowshoes. They involve ascending a few hundred feet over a few miles, then having a fun, relaxing descent (if you’re on skis). For example, on Thursday I did part of the Jones Pass tour: I climbed for more than an hour, and the easy descent took 20 minutes.
The vast Vail Pass Recreation Area has 52 miles of non-motorized trails, and much of it is immune to avalanches. I like to ski up the road from Vail Pass to Shrine Pass, then take the mellow descent on the other side of Shrine to the Mount of the Holy Cross overlook, which is about 8 miles round-trip.
Vall Pass is also my favorite place for skiing during a full moon, because I feel perfectly safe on that road even in the diminished light. On a good night, you can see high peaks shimmering miles away.
The trailhead for Jones Pass is about 2 miles west of Berthoud Falls near Empire. While there are lots of places to ski up there, I tend to ski on the road that climbs up to the pass itself. After about 2 miles you enter a massive bowl that is breathtaking to behold every time I go there, and that’s a lot. Sometimes I ski all the way up to the pass, but only when avalanche danger is low.
Mayflower Gulch, 5 miles south of Interstate 70 via Colorado 91 near Copper Mountain, takes you to one of the most beautiful spots in the Front Range. It’s a very short tour of a couple miles, but it leads into a dramatic mountain amphitheater with rock pinnacles soaring high above you. There are also some old mining ruins there that make for a great picnic spot.
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