BACKCOUNTRY BASICS | Top to bottom, backcountry skiing is gaining in popularity for good reason |

BACKCOUNTRY BASICS | Top to bottom, backcountry skiing is gaining in popularity for good reason

Jeff Russell
Friends, both furry and human, enjoy one of the many “summer road” options that are not plowed through the winter.
Denver Water Board and US Forest Service/Courtesy photo

Grand County is rich with opportunity for backcountry skiing. Whether you choose to put furry skins on your skis and climb as high as your legs will carry you, to slide around your neighborhood hiking trails and snow-covered roads or even to explore the wonders of a frozen streambed, adventures for a wide variety of interests await.

As it refers to skiing, “backcountry” has many different manifestations. For the adventurous, it is daring to venture into the mountain environment, seeking the bliss of floating downhill on clouds of powder, at the risk of having it all fall down around them in an avalanche of furious white. We hope that those who venture out onto those wild slopes are accompanied by an experienced veteran or go out educated about the dangers. If it sounds too intimidating, there are alternatives that make being in the mountains a safer experience.

One less risky approach increasing in popularity at ski resorts all over is to get up early, slap some skins on the bottom of the skis, don lightweight touring boots that are compatible with bindings that hinge, and head up to the local resort. Climbing the alpine trails is a great workout — especially for the gluts or quads depending on your movement pattern. It’s easy to see why it is gaining in popularity. Catching the dawn into sunrise on the mountain slopes on the right day can be a religious experience.

Another direction one might head in if you want to take it one step further into the unknown is to fledge your wings with Bluebird Backcountry. Operating from the northwestern reaches of the county, Bluebird offers a guided introduction to understanding what it is that makes traveling in Colorado’s mountains so dangerous. Knowing how to recognize dangerous terrain, snow deposition patterns, characteristics of the snowpack, a slope’s degree of exposure to wind or sun, and how to evaluate those variables for decision-making are key to survival in the mountain environment. For more,

If you’re not hearing the mountains’ call, backcountry skiing in another form could suit your taste. Lightweight equipment allows the skier to adapt to flatter or gently rolling terrain and expend less effort while exploring in the network of the summer roads and trails that are covered in snow. Heavier, more supportive boots, metal edges and increased width distinguish backcountry skis from track or racing skis and are recommended for off-trail forays, icy days or for breaking trail on a powder day.

The Experimental Forest, west of Fraser on County Road 73, provides great opportunity for kicking and gliding, double poling when the snow is fast, and sometimes, just breaking trail through fresh new-fallen snow. Water Board Road and old logging roads can be found along the east side of the valley at various access points, and a snowmobile-packed and groomed Corona Road can provide a day of good gliding.

The Idlewild trails behind Rendezvous n the east side of US Highway 40 by Fraser were once a Nordic center, and the trails, though no longer groomed or craed for with that intention, continue to offer some fun skiing close to town.

Further north, Rocky Mountain National Park is also a good place to get your ski on. With the elevated partition unplowed and closed to vehicles, you can follow Trail Ridge Road as far as you have time and energy. Other hiking trails within the park can offer a less pedestrian experience. Skiing on the Grand Ditch offers nice views of the Kawaneechee Valley and mountains to the east, though be forewarned, it does cross some avalanche paths. Cross-country skiing is truly one of the best assets the Upper Colorado River valleys have to offer. Backcountry equipment for hire can be found at Icebox Mountain Sports in Fraser by Ace Hardware.

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