From Longs Peak to Hidden Valley: Guide’s book breaks down skiing Rocky Mountain National Park’s backcountry
The warmer months are undoubtedly Rocky Mountain National Park’s high season, but the winter offers a whole new world for outdoor enthusiasts. Snow blankets the park, from the meadows of the Kawuneeche Valley to the craggy summit of Longs Peaks. After the snow sets in, the park’s diverse landscape allows both cross-country skiers and ski mountaineers to explore some of the state’s most majestic features.
Rocky Mountain’s backcountry offers acres of landscape unencumbered by crowds and a deeper connection to nature, but the backcountry’s solitude also creates inherent risk. Ski tourers must prepare themselves for a day in the elements in unmitigated avalanche territory. Still, tourers can stay safe while also accessing epic terrain as long as they educate themselves.
Even on beginner terrain, avalanches are possible, so experts suggest taking certified courses before venturing into the backcountry.
Boulder-based mountain guide Mike Soucy has been descending ski lines and exploring secret powder stashes in the park for over two decades and offers skiers that education, both in person and through his recently released book.
Soucy funneled his vast experience with the park into a compact guidebook. “Backcountry Skiing Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado,” published in November 2022 by Beacon Guidebooks, describes over 60 routes ranging from entry level to expert.
“Ski touring in Rocky Mountain National Park is a great way to move through the terrain, whether you’re seeking summits, hunting for powder turns, or just out for a stroll,” Soucy said. “The season usually lasts from December to May, with the late winter and early spring months having the best snow coverage and weather to visit most corners of the park.”
The book also maps out Hidden Valley, an old-time ski resort, where historic runs maintained from the 1930s to 1990s cut through the mountain. Experts can study maps of the steepest lines, like Dragontail Couloir, which offers views of Longs Peak down to awe-inspiring Emerald Lake.
The lightweight guidebook is designed to fit into a pack, and includes aerial photos marked with ascent and descent indicators, individual run descriptions, slope angles, Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale ratings and objective hazards, trailhead markers, parking information, and more.
Soucy covers 15 zones and 55 runs in the park, from the east side to the west side.
“The Grand Lake Entrance offers many options for flat, cross-country skiing, with the steeper terrain requiring longer days to access,” said Soucy. “The Estes Park entrances offer easier access to steep ski touring and ski mountaineering terrain via the Bear Lake or Glacier Gorge trailheads.”
For ski mountaineers, he includes some of the country’s most extreme terrain, such as Longs Peak and the Elevator Shaft in Chaos Canyon.
For Level 1 skiers, he describes mellower tours to allow them to experience the scenery, rather than a high stakes adrenaline rush. Fall River South, Upper Hidden Valley and Lower Hidden Valley all offer great skiing at pitches lower than 45 degrees. He said avalanche risk is also lower, but not eliminated, in Hidden Valley. The east face of Flattop Mountain is a fun yet moderate run through tree glades for backcountry tourers.
Rocky Mountain National Park is a powerful place the deeper one goes. It offers some of the world’s steepest, most extreme lines, teaching tourers how to survive the elements. Its extreme weather changes can also test them mentally and physically.
While Soucy’s book offers detailed instruction on navigating the park, it’s designed for someone who already has some knowledge of the backcountry terminology.
“There’s a lot to learn, and if the atlas and maps are confusing to you, it probably means you should be hiring a guide and taking more education,” said Andy Sovick, the founder of Beacon Guidebooks, in an interview with Boulder Weekly.
Guides can help tourers stay safe while teaching them about the park’s diverse landscape. Soucy is a guide and instructor with Colorado Mountain School, which offers outdoor experiences centered around the mountains.
“We provide a full range of services from introduction to custom guiding and avalanche safety education,” he said.
Soucy began his guiding career teaching at Outward Bound Colorado. He is a certified IFMGA Mountain Guide, holds an AIARE Level 3 Avalanche Certificate and is a Level 1 Avalanche Instructor. He’s also a Single Pitch Instructor with the American Mountain Guides Association. These accreditations make Soucy a go-to expert for anyone interested in taking on the park’s terrain. He uses the park as a training ground to prepare his students for trips to the Alaska Range, Canadian Rockies or European Alps.
Those ready for a backcountry adventure in one of the country’s most epic national parks can educate themselves with Soucy’s guidebook or the expert himself. To book a guided excursion, visit ColoradoMountainSchool.com or email email@example.com.
His guidebook is for sale at Two Pines Supply in Granby, Icebox Mountain Sports in Fraser and The Trailhead in Winter Park. It’s also available for purchase at BeaconGuidebooks.com. If readers prefer a digital version of Soucy’s book, they can also download the Beacon Guidebooks app. Waterproof paper maps of Rocky Mountain National are also available through Beacon.
Soucy also recommends tourers check avalanche and weather forecasts with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, since the park is vulnerable to shallow, weak snowpack. The park also posts updated trail conditions on their website, NPS.gov/romo.
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