You might think there is no place for you on skis or a snowboard outside of the groomed and monitored trails of the ski resort. If the term “backcountry” brings to mind visions of triple diamond terrain and the danger of avalanches, you may have decided to leave all things winter backcountry to the hardcore adventure extremists. While those concepts do apply in many backcountry situations, there are in fact places for those who want a “green run” type of backcountry experience. Something mellow for days when you want skis underfoot, but more peace and solitude than will be found wherever there are lift lines. Read on for the 101 on alpine touring.
For the skier who does not want to go full send above tree line or venture into avalanche danger zones, easy alpine touring trails are a great alternative. Alpine touring combines elements of cross-country skiing and alpine skiing and falls somewhere in between the two. It may also be referred to as skinning, although the term skinning can apply to anyone climbing uphill with intent on skiing back down, no matter the difficulty of the terrain.
Have you ever gone on an uphill winter hike in snowshoes? Alpine touring can be similar but a lot more fun going down!
Alpine touring equipment is lighter in weight than downhill ski equipment. The boots have adjustable cuffs for better uphill movement. The skis stay on the ground while the user glides uphill. Skins on the bottom of the skis prevent backward/downhill sliding. The bindings only lock the toe down, allowing the heel to rise for ease of walking, until you’re ready to head down at which point the heel gets locked down as well. Like downhill equipment, an alpine touring setup can be rented, although not all ski rental locations in Summit County offer AT setups, so call your favorite sports shop ahead of time.
Dressing in layers is crucial for alpine touring. Climbing up will get the heart rate going which might make you sweat and the downhill portion can get chilly. Take rests often while going up and stay hydrated.
Before we get into where to go, we’d be remiss not to mention backcountry safety. The trails listed below are well trafficked even in the winter months and are not in areas prone to avalanche danger. However, it’s important to develop good backcountry habits and “know before you go.” The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) promotes safety awareness, forecasts and education for backcountry users. A quick look at the home page of their website or social media accounts offers up-to-date information on conditions and warnings for the backcountry. Know the danger of tree wells, don’t go out alone and if you plan to venture into more difficult terrain, take an avalanche safety course and carry the proper equipment.
An extensive list of winter recreation trails can be found on the Dillon Ranger District website. We’ve included some of our favorites here:
- Mayflower Gulch
- Lower Baldy Trailhead (below treeline)
- Boreas Pass Road (past the gate where the road is closed for the winter)
- Blue Lakes Trail
- Burro Trail
- French Gulch
- Sallie Barber Mine
- Summit County Rec Path
It’s a new year and never too late to try something new, to ski “out of bounds” without breaking the rules and broaden the experience of outdoor adventure. The Summit County lifestyle is perfect for those who thrive on the combination of nature and sport. If it’s time for you to make that lifestyle your own, please reach out to one of our professional Breckenridge Associates agents today. We are waiting to hear about your real estate goals for the new year.