Backcountry in Grand County
Grand County is rich with opportunity for skiing in the backcountry. Whether you choose to put furry skins on your skis and climb as high in the mountains as your legs will carry you, or to slide around your neighborhood hiking trails, snow-covered roads or even to explore the wonders of a frozen stream-bed, adventures are available for a wide variety of interests.
The term Backcountry, as it refers to skiing, has many different manifestations. For the adventurous, it is daring to venture into the mountain environment, seeking the bliss of floating downhill on clouds of powder, at the risk of having it all fall down around them in an avalanche of furious white. We hope that those who venture out onto those wild slopes are accompanied by an experienced veteran of the mountain environment or have been educated about or become familiar with the traits and characteristics of the landscape and snowpack that provide clues as to whether the object of their intentions is a safe bet or not. If that sounds too intimidating, there are alternatives that make being in the mountains a safer experience.
One less risky approach that is increasing in popularity at ski resorts all over, is to get up early, slap some skins on the bottom of the skis, don lightweight touring boots that are compatible with bindings that hinge, and head to the local resort. Climbing the alpine trails, it turns out, is a great workout, especially for the gluts… or quads, depending on your preferred movement pattern. And it’s easy to see why it is gaining in popularity. Catching the dawn into sunrise on the mountain slopes on the right day can be a religious experience.
Another direction that one might head in if you want to take it one step further into the unknown, would be to fledge your wings with Bluebird Backcountry. Operating from the very far western and northern reaches of the county, Bluebird offers a guided introduction to understanding what it is that makes traveling in the Colorado mountains so dangerous. Knowing how to recognize dangerous terrain, snow deposition patterns, characteristics of the snowpack, a slope’s degree of exposure to wind or sun and how to evaluate those variables for decision-making is key to survival in this environment. You can find more about Bluebird at bluebirdbackcountry.com
If you’re not hearing the mountains’ call, backcountry skiing in another form could suit your taste. Lighter-weight equipment allows the skier to adapt to a flatter or gently rolling terrain and expend less effort, exploring and adventuring in the network of summer roads and trails that are covered in snow. Heavier, more supportive boots, metal edges and increased width distinguish backcountry skis from track or racing skis and are recommended for off-trail forays, icy days or for breaking trail on a powder day.
The Experimental Forest, west of Fraser on County road 73 provides great opportunity for kicking and gliding, double poling when the snow is fast, and sometimes, just breaking trail through fresh new-fallen snow. The Water Board and old logging roads can be found along the east side of the valley at various access points, and a snowmobile-packed and groomed Corona road can provide a day of good gliding. The Idlewild trails behind Rendezvous on the East side of 40 by Fraser were once a nordic center, and the trails, though no longer groomed or cared for with that intention continue to offer some fun skiing close to town. Further North, Rocky Mountain National Park is also a good place to get your ski on. With the elevated portion unplowed and closed to vehicles, you can follow Trail Ridge Road as far as you have time and energy for. Other hiking trails within the park can offer a less pedestrian experience. Skiing on the Grand Ditch offers some nice views of the Kawaneechee valley and mountains to the East, though be forewarned, it does cross some avalanche paths. Cross-country skiing is truly one of the best assets the upper Colorado River valleys have to offer.
BC equipment for hire can be found at Icebox Mountain Sports in Fraser, by the Ace Hardware store.
Ungroomed Trails for Light Touring:
Bonfils Stanton – Across Highway 40 from the WP Resort Main entrance – a handicapped accessible loop that is usually well-packed by skiers and snowshoers. More adventurous travelers can access Jim Creek by continuing across the Water Board road.
Idlewild Trails – can be accessed from the Rendezvous development or by passing by the bottom lift tower of the old Idlewild ski area behind Hideaway Park in Winter Park. These trails are generally more difficult for skiers, as there is no grooming and there are some hills to negotiate.
The Fraser Experimental Forest can be accessed by taking County Rd 73 from Fraser and following it to the end of Winter Plowing. There are parking lots on both sides of the road. The West side of the road, including the road into the St Louis creek region is non-motorized, except by Experimental Forest personnel checking weather stations and research plots, so it gets machine packed weekly. Trails on the East side of the road are open to snowmobile traffic as well (except for the Fools Creek trail to Mt Nystrom), but do make for good light touring.
Trail Maps for Grand County
Find trail maps and the COTREX mobile and desktop trail app at headwaterstrails.org/trail-maps/.
Backcountry XC Ski Trail Reports
Check the BC XC Report to get up-to-date trail reports from our local backcountry enthusiast Jeff Russell.