A Guide to Backcountry Ski Zones in Colorado

The ski industry generates $4.8 billion  in revenue annually. Most of this revenue comes out of the 23 resorts that currently operate within Colorado. But Colorado is a large state with millions of acres of skiable terrain that are not accessible by ski lifts. That leaves copious opportunities to “earn your turns,” as backcountry skiers say. Below are some of the best backcountry ski zones in Colorado. I must say that backcountry skiing is dangerous and you need to know what you’re doing before you head out there, but can absolutely be worth the risk.

Photo by Austin Halpern

Monarch Pass

This pass is my go-to day skiing spot in all of Colorado. It’s relatively close to Colorado College, about a 2.5-hour drive, which is about as far as Summit County. The difference is that Monarch is to the south along Interstate 50. This difference means you avoid the traffic going to the resorts along I-70. The skiing here is always pretty good; the ‘perfect trees’ and ‘snow stake’ areas are both well-known spots that have decent tree skiing and usually hold good snow for a long time after storms.

Berthoud Pass

Berthoud Pass is the most well-known backcountry zone in all of Colorado for a very good reason. It is about a two-hour drive from CC and only an hour from Denver. It has tons of terrain and is actually an old ski area that  no longer operates. This means there is plenty to ski even with the large crowds from Denver.

Hoosier Pass

You’ve probably driven over this pass if you’ve taken Highway 24 to Breckenridge. It is an average midwinter spot if you know the area well. However, Hoosier really shines when conditions stabilize in the spring. Quandary and Lincoln Peaks are right along the road. These fourteeners are great to ascend on the snow and Quandary even has low angle descent options. Quandary is often called a “Colorado Backcountry Must Do.”

San Juans

The San Juan Range isn’t close to CC, but they are by far my favorite place to ski in Colorado. The peaks are tall, exposed, and breathtakingly beautiful. On top of all that, the amount of snow and terrain there reminds me of interior British Colombia. You can find everything from deep trees to open powder fields to big descents. It has all types of terrain, great huts to stay in, and awesome access from the road.

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