Riding backcountry snow can seem to be a tedious endeavor for a small reward. The struggles of using touring gear and climbing for turns disuades even the most hard-core snow bums. However with a small bit of research and well executed planning; many locations across the United States offer very easy access to backcountry goods. This guide is designed to maximize the fun factor as you hunt out backcountry powder.
Backcountry travel requires knowledge, training and equipment.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO!
The five spots to (kinda) earn you turns:
Berthoud Pass: This well known ex-ski resort just outside of Denver lays home to some amazing shuttle access in addition to the steep skin tracks. While the ski area was still in operation many sections of the pass road were utilized for bus shuttle laps. Areas such as Hell’s Half Acre, Floral Park and the 80’s-100’s offer amazing backcountry snow and terrain. Drive or hitchhike to the top of the pass and within a few short steps you’ll be ripping it up.
Bonus: Loveland Pass further up I-70 East offers easy shuttle laps as well; but has less aspects and more of a crowd.
Powder Mountain: Technically the last backcountry entry on the list Powder Country at Powder Mountain offers snow goods with zero sweat. This terrain area access is a short road crossing away from the top of the resorts main lodge. At the bottom of your run ski resort buses make a U-turn and take happy skiers back to the top. The area is managed and mitigated by area ski patrol but the terrain feels wonderfully empty and raw.
Bonus: Powder Mountain offers some of the most inexpensive snowcat skiing anywhere, buy a single ride or bundle to save.
Donner Summit: Exiting the backcountry gate off Sugar Bowl’s Summit chair lift provides easy access to Donner Summit. Although it is one of the most popular backcountry locations in the area Donner Lake does provide a stunning backdrop. The (easier) Lake Run is 2000’ feet of descent split only by a short hike through the unique Donner train tunnels. Hop back into the car at the bottom of your run and save the skinning for later.
Bonus: Stay inbounds with all the backcountry feel by skiing The Palisades at Sugar Bowl the most rugged terrain on the mountain is mitigated and opened by area ski patrol.
Beartooth Pass: For summer backcountry corn skiing few places can compare to the Wyoming-Montana border. All winter long the rugged Beartooth Mountains are nearly inaccessible and saved from powder hounds by a 17 mile road closure. When the road to the top of the pass opens Memorial Day weekend, lines such as Rock Creek and Gardner Headwall see floods of skiers. Easy hikes along grassy plateaus will deliver you to 40 degree 1,500 vertical foot runs as your buddies holler from the road turnout.
Bonus: When you’re tired of the same terrain and want to splurge, nearby Beartooth Basin Summer Ski Area runs May-July with two poma tows.
Mauna Kea: Although it is the least appealing ski run in this guide; skiing in Hawaii is an experience all in itself. If a tropical vacation isn’t enough to shake off your powder buzz the Big Island of Hawaii does get enough snow to make turns. Taking the road all the way to the top of 14,000 ft. Mauna Kea will allow lucky visitors a chance at ‘Pineapple Powder’ The few short options to ski are road-lapable and make for an interesting story later.
Bonus: Chase a storm early and be down the road to surf by the afternoon. Throw in a bike ride down the summit road and you have completed a ‘Hawaiian Trifecta’.