When it comes to backcountry skiing, perhaps there’s no better access point than a high elevation mountain pass.
Basically, skiers get to enjoy the best terrain without the prerequisite, low elevation bushwhacking demanded by other, less accessible objectives. So without further ado, here are the best mountain passes for backcountry skiing…
Red Mountain Pass
Located on Hwy 550 between Ouray and Silverton, Red Mountain Pass is not a road for the weak hearted. No guard rails, mandatory chain laws, and 500ft drops off the side of the road will give even the most seasoned winter driver a white knuckle grip on the steering wheel. However, once at the top, the world drops away as surrounding peaks rip the sky. Slap on skins and get to skiing in some of the most remote and solitary wilderness in Colorado.
Elevation: 11,018 ft
Avalanche Report: Northern San Juan Avalanche Report CAIC
Mecca… Thompson Pass has been the site for the springtime pilgrimage of extreme skiers since Doug Coombs began pioneering the area in the early 90’s. Since then a lot has changed. However, the parking lot vibe remains the same. Camp out, ski, sled, and catch Heli bumps to the surrounding peaks with some of the best pass access in the world.
Elevation: 2,805 ft.
Avalanche Report: Valdez Avalanche Bulletin
Berthoud Pass was a training ground for Shane McConkey. While he attended CU-Boulder, the front range pass was a testing ground for what would become signature backflips off what is now referred to as Gaffney’s Rock. The summit stands just above 11k feet and offers skiing on the East and West sides of the road. That said, be aware of the fierce continental snowpack that is known for holding deep persistent slabs.
Elevation: 11,306 ft.
Avalanche Report: Front Range Avalanche Report CAIC
Just outside of Sun Valley, Galena Summit is a mountain pass road that offers quick skin laps to mini-golf lines, trees, and pillows. The road is accessible and can offer up some of the best backcountry skiing zones in the Ketchum area. That said, Sun Valley often suffers from severely cold temperatures and exposure to sun (hence the name Sun Valley) that have the potential to cause instabilities in the snowpack. Therefore, check the Avy report, ask locals about recent activity, and know before you go.
Elevation: 8,701 ft.
Avalanche Report: Wood River Avalanche Forecast
Home of the Beartooth Ski Area, Beartooth Pass offers prime spring and summer backcountry options once the road opens (usually in May or June).
Elevation: 10,947 ft
Avalanche Report: Montana Avalanche Forecast
It’s definitely no secret but with the entire southern end of the Teton Range just above the town of Wilson, there’s plenty to go around. However, parking is becoming a serious issue and Teton Pass Ambassador Jay Pistono recommends you park in the lower lot on weekend days and hike up to the top of the pass to access Mount Glory or options south of the pass.
Elevation: 8,432 ft.
Avalanche Report: Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center
Rogers Pass is an iconic backcountry ski destination that should be on every ski-bums bucket list. The access to big mountain ski touring is probably the best in North America and the snow is some of the best on the “Powder Highway.”
Elevation: 4,364 ft.
Avalanche Report: Parks Canada Avalanche Bulletin
The understated Kootenay Pass is the backcountry gate to some of the lightest and driest powder in British Columbia. Also, the Kootenay Mountains are famous for their early and late season opportunities.
Elevation: 5,823 ft.
Avalanche Report: Avalanche Canada