The ski season is well underway here in the Colorado Rockies, which means it is time to start making plans for those day ski trips if you haven’t already. The following empirically and scientifically derived list is thus provided to the reader as an aid in planning and final decision making for said day trips.
#5 Monarch Mountain
It isn’t an Epic nor is it an Ikon. It also isn’t off of I-70, it isn’t crowded, and it is definitely worth checking out. Sitting at the southern end of the Sawatch Range, Monarch Mountain is decidedly off the beaten path for most Denver Metro based skiers and riders. While smaller than the Summit resorts the lack of a crowd keeps Monarch from feeling small. And the variety of terrain, including hike-to expert runs, prevents the fun from getting stale. The atmosphere at Monarch is fun and laid back, much like A-Basin but calmer. Oh, and they don’t make snow, so none of that heavy sticky man-made stuff that seems to readily turn into ice.
The three-hour and 150-mile drive from the Denver Metro might have something to do with the lack of a crowd. If you go, be sure to take some friends, as you will probably need to switch drivers at some point. And if you do swing into Salida for some après do not party too hard, US 285 is not a road to take lightly in the winter.
#4 Arapahoe Basin
It’s hard to not have a good time at A-Basin. The lifts are running more days during the year than they sit idle, and the terrain is some of the best in the country. The long season means powder days October thru May. The best in-bounds powder days I’ve ever had have been at A-Basin. Someone is always skiing in a costume, and there is always a party going on at the Beach.
If the party at the beach didn’t satiate your appetite you can also swing into Dillion/Frisco/Silverthorne and enjoy some après while the eastbound traffic subsides.
#3 Cat Skiing with Powder Addiction at Jones Pass
This was without a doubt one of the best ski trips I’ve ever taken. The guides were great, the other skiers were a blast, and it was an awesome experience to get turns in with the help of a snowcat. It was late season and while there wasn’t fresh powder the stable conditions allowed us to ski steep runs off the continental divide. It was an awesome experience I’ll never forget.
Yeah, a single day of cat skiing is expensive. But it’s not a trip you will likely regret taking.
#2 Herman Gulch
Take I-70 West from Denver, just before Loveland ski area is exit 218, get off, hang a right and find a place to park. Welcome to the Herman Gulch trailhead, the portal to a ski mountaineers paradise. The Herman Gulch trailhead offers easy access to the broad bowls and narrow couloirs on Mount Machebeuf, Pettingell Peak, Woods Mountain, and the Citadel. When conditions are stable there are literal mountains of fun to be had in Herman Gulch and Watrous Gulch.
The price of a backcountry lift ticket is free. The cost of an AIARE Level 1 course and a beacon shovel probe setup isn’t cheap, but neither is your life. Get the training, get the gear, and get the forecast before stepping into the backcountry.
#1 Berthoud Pass
If there is a backcountry equivalent of A-Basin it would have to be Berthoud Pass. With 400+ inches a year you can enjoy powder days, some measured in feet, October thru May. There is a large variety of terrain from the old ski area runs to Frankenstein couloir. The party atmosphere at the summit parking lot grows proportionally with snowpack stability. And someone is always skiing with his or her dog(s).
Again, the price of a backcountry lift ticket is free. The cost of an AIARE Level 1 course and a beacon shovel probe setup isn’t cheap, but neither is your life. Get the training, get the gear, and get the forecast before stepping into the backcountry.