The Thirst Team
Photos Courtesy Colorado Ski Country USA
Comes a time when a quiet, less commercial mountain feels like the perfect snowy escape to pull out the shred sticks.
Less traffic and fewer people are combined with reduced grooming and fewer food choices, but that’s just the ticket to free the mind and delve into yesteryear skiing in Colorado.
Although hitchhiking or spinning a rear-wheel-drive sedan to the high country are less popular options than back in the day, short flights are all the rage. According to Chris Linsmayer of Colorado Ski Country USA, skiers and riders have a few additional options for accessing the slopes this year.
So, with less pomp and more powder, here are some backcountry choices for this season.
Hesperus Ski Area
With one double chairlift and the addition of a tow rope this year, Hesperus expects to host a few more families, skiers and riders. Families might note that the tow rope will provide access to a popular tubing hill and some beginner terrain.
“Hesperus is the southwest area’s largest night skiing operation,” said Kim Oyler, director of communications for Mountain Capital Partners, which owns the 60-acre resort just outside Durango.
A Nordic trail and a fat biking trail will be added this year “because Durango is such a mountain biking community,” Oyler points out.
Overall, she said the mountain features “kind of a laid-back feel. It’s casual and people like to feel that vibe,” which is tough to find at some of the larger resorts.
For those who need to capture some cardio bright and early, a reduced-price ticket allows you to skin up the slope (ski uphill with skins under your skis to improve traction) before the lift opens, and ski down.
HOWELSEN HILL SKI AREA
The city of Steamboat Springs runs Howelsen Hill Ski Area. With cheaper lift tickets than adjacent Mount Werner, families with beginner skiers find this iconic hill friendly on the wallet.
This small gem also has a reputation for pumping out skiers who win international competitions. As the training ground for nearly 90 Olympic competitors, Howelsen is the state’s oldest continuously operated ski area. It opened in 1915 on “the largest and most complete natural ski jumping complex in North America,” the resort reports.
The northwest Colorado hill has nine Nordic trails exploring 13 miles of backcountry splendor. Seventeen alpine trails are also available. People get to the top of the 7,136-foot peak with the help of a double chairlift, Poma surface lift and boardwalk.
Going big at Silverton doesn’t mean talking smack about that great run you did before stopping for a beer during a two-hour lunch. It does mean experts only.
What can you say about a mountain that boasts zero terrain for beginners and intermediate skiers? And yes, you are required to have your avalanche beacon, probe and shovel when the sole chairlift drops you off at an elevation of 12,300 feet.
“There are loads of bowls, chutes, cliffs and wonderful natural terrain features to be discovered during a visit to Silverton Mountain,” the resort reports. “It is the highest ski area in North America with a peak of 13,487 feet, and it is also the steepest, with no easy way down.”
If that sounds like a warning, it is. There are no groomed trails or gentle slopes for the inexperieced.