Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park (a.k.a. RMNP) is the perfect backcountry skiing venue for every level of summer adventure. more...
Thu May 18 2017
How to Ski Rocky Mountain National Park
Some view summer skiing like the NFL’s exhibition season. In other words, it’s for fanatics. Even if you’ve traded your ski boots for bike shoes, there’s a real boon in heading to the hills after the resorts have long closed for the season, and Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park (a.k.a. RMNP) is the perfect backcountry skiing venue for every level of summer adventure.
What to Expect
For one, the juxtaposition of mountain grasses and wildflowers, cascading melt water and snowy peaks makes for great shots. Two, local wildlife practically poses for those photos on account of that green grass. To top it off, tourists in the park will treat you like the wildlife, lending even more cred to earning your turns.
Rocky Mountain National Park is a versatile backcountry playground, offering up everything from easily accessible, low-angle snowfields to glaciers with big approaches. Burly daylong backcountry adventures may not be for everyone, but at RMNP, summer skiing can be as easy as jumping out of your car and skiing back down to it. Thanks to Trail Ridge Road, you can get up to 12,183 feet in your own vehicle and access snow deep into the summer months. You’ll likely spot wildlife like elk, bighorn sheep, moose and yellow-bellied marmots or see a fox slinking below you leaving tracks on the summer snow. Many a backcountry skier gets their photo taken by curious tourists surprised and enamored with what they find at high altitude. The challenge here is to see if you can build up a line of cars comparable to that of an elk herd.
As far as National Parks go, Rocky is aptly named on part of its impressive statistics. The park contains 72 peaks higher than 12,000 feet and is home to Longs Peak, which tops out at 14,259 feet. A quarter of the park is located above tree line, and there’s a smattering of glaciers and permanent snowfields, including Andrews, Sprague, Tyndall, Taylor, Rowe, Mills and Moomaw Glacier.
Two years ago, Rocky Mountain National Park celebrated its 100th birthday. The U.S. government acquired the land in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and in 1915, thanks in part to Woodrow Wilson, RMNP became the 10th National Park. In the early 30s, the Civilian Conservation Corp helped build Trail Ridge Road, which serpentines through the park, crosses the Continental Divide and reaches a top elevation of 12,183 feet. The road doesn’t open until late May/early June due to extreme weather and snowbanks—often two-stories high—that settle in for the winter.
Best Bets for Backcountry Skiing in Rocky Mountain National Park
Trail Ridge Road (designated as an “All American Road” and “State Scenic Byway”) makes Rocky Mountain National Park backcountry skiing so accessible. Historically, skiing has played a big part at RMNP because of Hidden Valley, a ski area that operated inside the park from 1936 to 1992. The lifts are long gone, but the runs are still evident, creating a welcoming place for backcountry skiers seeking both steep and intermediate terrain. Trail Ridge cuts through the middle of the area, and it’s an easy hike from the road to the trails.
It’s important to note that there’s no avalanche control, and like all backcountry ski adventures, you need proper gear and knowledge. The peaks around and inside of RMNP are known for rapidly changing weather, and summer afternoon thunderstorms are almost a sure thing. Wet slides are common when summer temps heat up the snow. Altitude sickness is also a real hazard, particularly since Trail Ridge Road offers the opportunity to go from lower to higher altitude so quickly. For the uninitiated, the best way to experience summer skiing in Rocky Mountain National Park is with a guide. Guiding services based out of Estes Park include the Colorado Mountain School: Visit www.coloradomountainschool.com to book a guide.
In June, four of us, all experienced backcountry skiers, set out for an excursion in RMNP. Our small party included Liam Doran, photographer, Ian Fowler, AMGA certified Colorado Mountain School guide, Joe Risi, event coordinator for Scarpa, and myself, Ski Test director for OnTheSnow.
Upon loading Joe’s vintage Land Cruiser with our gear, it became apparent that he had the lightest equipment of the bunch. Risi organizes and competes in backcountry races, necessitating a lightweight randonee set up. He says his rando gear “makes a morning an epic” enabling him to triple the amount of vert he can get with standard AT gear. His Scarpa Alien 1.0 boot weighed a mere 1 pound, 8 ounces. His Atomic Backland 85 ski had a lightweight woodcore with a carbon backbone, and the description for the Dynafit TLT Speed Radical binding says it’s best for “speed touring” and “ski running,” which is what it looked like Risi did up the slopes. The rest of us were on AT (alpine touring) gear since we value the downhill performance of a slightly beefier setup while needing the technology to skin uphill.
With afternoon thunderstorms in the forecast, we choose two easily accessible areas to ski that morning: Sundance and Hidden Valley. We brought two cars, parked one near Hidden Valley and piled into the second car. Fowler suggested we start at the highest point in case the weather came in earlier than expected. I grabbed a map at the entrance of the park, but Ian, in guide fashion, pulled up a Topo map on his phone.
We drove up the switchbacks of Trail Ridge until we spotted the Rock Cut, just a few miles shy of the Alpine Visitors Center. From there, it’s a fairly short hike up to the Toll Memorial (at 12,310 feet) in order to access the north face of Sundance Mountain. We paused to photograph big horn sheep. Temps didn’t drop low enough to freeze the snow overnight, but it stayed firm enough to cradle our skis as we made big, easy arcs down the snowfield. Fowler says he’s always looking for the sweet spot: “Soft enough to edge, but not too soft it’s slushy. Best to get there early.”
We crossed paths with a fox several times as we skied nearly 1,500 vertical feet, deciding to skin back up so we’d have enough time to ski at another location. Doran had ample inspiration for great scenic shots. Fowler set a nice skin track, gradually switchbacking up the slope, while Risi “speed toured” straight up. My moto while skinning: Slow and steady wins the race.
We drove back down Trail Ridge and parked near Rainbow Curve. It was a short hike through high alpine tundra peppered with pasque, or wind flowers, to the old ski runs of Hidden Valley. The trees were wind flagged, residing in an area that gets hammered all winter long from gusts, but some snow—albeit dirty and sun effected—still remained on the old T-bar line. Being later in the morning, we tested our balance as we made turns down the soft snow that covered the old runs; it was beautiful and quiet, with the faintest echoes of waterfalls and car engines.
Adventurous skiers can choose from a list of bigger tours, like routes on the Tyndall or Andrews Glacier. We were content with our low-commitment runs in the early-summer sun. Back at the car parked near Hidden Valley, we changed into shorts and flip flops, thankful that Doran had remembered his car keys (and didn’t leave them at the top in the other car). We headed back down Trail Ridge Road—past meadows, ancient Ponderosa trees, an owl, a moose and many tourists—to the nearby town of Estes Park. There we enjoyed lunch and beers al fresco, next to the raging river near peak flow, transporting the melting snow that we glided down hours before.
The EpicSki Forum was closed May 12, 2017. We know this is a disappointment for many users and that some wanted us to transfer the forum’s content to another provider. Unfortunately, a number of operational, legal and other considerations made selling or giving the archive to anyone else too challenging.
Your passionate, thoughtful posts, guides and photos have been inspirational to the community. We will miss the conversation and appreciate your participation and input on EpicSki.com over the years.
The Mountain News Team
Deep snowpacks across the West have allowed these eight resorts to keep their lifts spinning into May, June and July. more...
Mon May 08 2017
Where to Ski in May: 8 Picks for Endless Winter
The atmospheric river that's been pummeling the West during the 2016-2017 ski season has delivered big on bottomless base depths, and many of our Western ski resorts were able to push back their closing dates. Whether you’re still seeking to check off a destination resort or you’re simply looking to claim a few more days at your local mountain, the deep snowpack has allowed these eight resorts to keep their lifts spinning into May, June and July.
1. Squaw / Alpine: Closing Date: 7/4/17
2. Mammoth Mountain: Closing Date: 7/4/17
3. Whistler Blackcomb: Closing Date: 5/22/17
4. Lake Louise: Closing Date: 5/7/17
5. Snowbird: Closing Date: 5/28/17
6. Mount Bachelor: Closing Date: 5/28/17
7. Arapahoe Basin: Closing Date: Mid June
8. Timberline: Open year round
These moving mini homes have become the ultimate symbols of endless winters and unbridled freedom. more...
Wed Apr 05 2017
Best Winter Ski Vans & Travel Trailers
Nothing inspires a good bout of base-area envy like parking next to a ski condo on wheels. These moving mini homes have become the ultimate symbols of endless winters and unbridled freedom. And while anyone can fold down the backseat of his or her Subaru, it takes commitment and coin to make life on the road a comfortable and realistic option.
Recline, channel your inner Kerouac, and dive into these winter-ready rides, ranging from vintage vans to luxury travel trailers.
Volkswagen Westfalia Vanagon
Looking for a pet project? The VW Westfalia Vanagon has a cult following of devoted adventurers, and depending on the condition and model you choose, be prepared to spend anywhere between $5,000 to $80,000. The Vanagon was manufactured in the U.S. between 1979 and 1991, so you’ll most likely need to give your new slopeside home some love. Look for the 4WD Syncro model to enhance traction while climbing the pass to your favorite resort.
Mercedes Sprinter 4X4 Cargo Van
Starting at around $52,000, the Sprinter 4X4 Cargo Van can be modified to suit your base-area needs in style. With a standard V6 engine and interior cargo volume of up to 530 cubic feet, this mountain mobile is adept at negotiating snowy conditions. However, unlike the Vanagon, the Sprinter doesn’t come camp ready. If you’re not a do-it-your-selfer, take a look at Winnebago’s Era Sprinter models that start at $121,974 and include everything from powered awnings, kitchen/bath units and sleeping areas.
If you’re not ready to commit to the vanlife, Airstream’s lightweight (2,585 pounds) and towable Basecamp trailer may be for you. An aluminum, aerodynamic shell and wraparound windows give the Basecamp a modern look, while outdoor extras like the standard visor and optional tent expand the living space. Expect to shell out close to $40,000 for a newer model. Other features include a two-burner cooktop, electric water heater, AC and pop-up USB ports. The Basecamp seats five and sleeps two.
Bowlus Road Chief
If you’re looking for the ultimate in lightweight luxury trailers, look no further than the Bowlus Road Chief. Starting at $137,000, the Road Chief weighs in at 2,300 pounds and offers streamlined styling all its own. An Italian cooktop, microwave and fridge/freezer round out the kitchen space, while the bathroom interior relies on teak decking to provide a polished feel. A variety of smart technologies and an “intelligent thermostat” ensure your mobile ski lodge feels just like home.
Based on OnTheSnow user ratings, we’ve narrowed down the top three Colorado après destinations. more...
Thu Jan 19 2017
Infographic: Top 3 Colorado Resorts for Après
When it comes to après, it’s not a question of when, but where? After all, a day spent exploring the steep and deep should be followed by an equally memorable night. If you’ve visited Colorado, then you already know there are a variety of first-rate resorts and ski towns to spin your slopeside yarns over tasty libations.
Based on OnTheSnow user ratings, we’ve narrowed down the top three Colorado après destinations. To add some credence to these ratings, we’ve also compiled a few user-generated comments for each resort. See the infographic below and find out if your resort made the top three. If not, cast your vote now by heading to the “resort reviews” tab on your favorite resort’s homepage or submitting a rating via the app.