Berthoud Pass: Former ski resort is now a haven for backcountry skiers
February 20, 2008
When you reach the top of Berthoud Pass after hiking away from the road, and you look down at the traffic winding into the Valley, a sense of peace and awe overcomes you. Problems that seemed so important just an hour ago seem to melt away.
Last Friday was the first time I’ve skied Berthoud all season, which is a shame considering I bought new climbing skins in November.
But Friday was the perfect day; the sky was a clear, deep blue, and my husband Kevin and I had no other place to be.
So, we packed up our gear and our two dogs, and headed up the pass for a couple of care-free runs.
We had a few hiccups on our way. Our new nine-month old dog, Hops, didn’t enjoy the winding road of Berthoud so much, and threw up her breakfast about half way. But after a quick cleanup and some rearranging of skis, we were on our way.
We decided to ski the east wall, next to what is called the Fingers. Surprisingly, the snow was still untouched in a few sections, and I couldn’t resist skiing the side of the mountain with the most sun. The days are finally getting longer again, I realized, because at 3:30 p.m. we still had plenty of sunlight. (Yes, I’ll admit it; I’m a fair-weather Berthoud skier.)
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Berthoud Pass used to be a fully operating ski area. It opened in 1937, but was closed down in 2000, although there were three years afterward when it offered snow cat skiing.
I moved to the Fraser Valley at the end of 2002. So, I never experienced Berthoud when the lifts were running. But Kevin often tells me stories from times he skied there with his friends.
He described the dirty, crowded bus that would pick them up at the bottom of a run and drive them back the slick, snowfilled pass on a powder day. Now the only way to ski or ride Berthoud is to hike it, but that doesn’t stop the hundreds of skiers and riders who enjoy the steep terrain every season.
Skinning up to the top was a breeze in my telemark skis ” another good reason why I’m addicted to the sport.
As we made our way up, Hops stayed close to my feet, while Alaska, our 5-year-old Husky mix, ripped up and down the trail. We even managed to pick up another skier ” a teenager from the Front Range, named James ” who asked if he could join us.
That’s another great thing about Berthoud; you never know who’ll you meet.
As we put on our gear and got ready to ski down, I gazed out onto the snow-capped peaks and took in a deep breath. Our families back east really want us to move home, I thought to myself. And yet, I’m just not ready to give up this lifestyle for car-packed lanes and a flat, concrete landscape. If they could see this view, they’d understand.
We decided to stay skier’s left, and duck into the trees a bit before skiing out into an open, steep run. The snow was pretty wind-blown on top, but after a few turns it became fresh, soft powder. My face broke into a big grin as I hit each turn, and Hops and Alaska chased after me at top speed, trying desperately to catch up.
It felt as if we were the only ones on the entire mountain, and, as James and Kevin rode by me, hooting and hollering, I realized I wasn’t the only one who felt pretty lucky to be on Berthoud that day. When we got to the bottom, we decided to do another run. This time, as we skied down, the Alpenglow was touching the tops of the surrounding peaks.
When we arrived at our car, I looked at my watch and realized the days really are getting longer again. I could already smell hints of pine and melting snow, and thoughts of mountain biking and trail running touched my mind.
But for now, I’m happy it’s still winter, and I fully intend on doing more runs on Berthoud before the summer months. After all, it’s right in my backyard; and it’s days like these that remind me why I left the east coast for a hometown where it snows seven months out of the year.
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