Six Options For Off-Piste Novices
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This is one of the most underused introductory backcountry experiences in all of ski country. For $150, you’ll explore the mountains between five Utah resorts: Park City, Brighton, Solitude, Alta and Snowbird, with a stop for lunch at Solitude and transportation back to the point of origin. Only alpine equipment is needed; there’s minimal climbing and traversing; and guides tailor the experience to the ability of the group. The all-day trek departs from Park City four days a week and from Snowbird the other three. Contact: 801-534-1907; www.skiutah.com.
Berthoud Pass, Colo. Though technically a ski area, Berthoud is more like 1,200 acres of lift-served backcountry skiing. On either side of Colorado Route 40, about 90 minutes west of Denver, skiers can ride a lift up Russell Mountain to the west or Mines Peak to the east, then ski down to the roadway, well below the base of the lifts. Four shuttle buses patrol the road continuously, taking skiers back to the lifts. Trails are loosely defined and marked, ranging from mellow terrain to the hairy steeps of Nitro Chute and Pollie’s Powder Stash. Guided tours and backcountry clinics are offered. Contact: 303-569-0100; www.berthoudpass.com.
The Minturn Mile, Colo. (near Vail) Though not part of Vail Resort, the Minturn Mile departs from the top of the Lost Boy trail off the Game Creek Bowl lift. It ends two and a half miles away at the edge of Minturn Village, near the popular Minturn Saloon, which makes it a fun last run. Leave a car there, arrange a pickup, or time it so that you can catch the shuttle back to Vail. Vertical drop is about 2,600 feet, the first 800 of which are sustained downhill. The trip takes 30 minutes to an hour. Be sure to stay on the trail and respect private property at the end of the route.
The Bruce Trail, VT. (Stowe Mountain Resort) Few of the thousands of beginners embarking on Toll Road know they’re passing the unmarked entrance to one of New England’s oldest and orneriest trails. The historic Bruce is one of Stowe’s original trails, though it is not part of the resort network and its terminus is a mile down the Mountain Road from the base of the lifts. It’s narrow and in places quite steep, with a long run-out that ends either at the resort’s touring center or near the Matterhorn, a popular Mountain Road après-ski bar. Total vertical is about 2,500 feet over about four miles. You can hitchhike back, wait for the shuttle or pull up a stool at the Matterhorn.
Thunderbolt Trail, Mass. (Mt. Greylock in Adams) Quick, name the highest peak in Massachusetts. Most skiers haven’t heard of Mt. Greylock, but its Thunderbolt Trail is among the oldest in the East, dating to 1934. You can hike, skin or snowshoe up (there’s a huge war memorial at the top and spectacular views). The vertical drop is 2,191 feet, providing more than two miles of mostly expert terrain.
Sherburne Trail, N.H. (Pinkham Notch) Looking for a Tuckerman warmup? Starting from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center on the eastern side of Mt. Washington (off Route 16), it’s a three-mile hike to the top of the Sherburne Trail. Tuckerman itself is another three-quarters of a mile above. The trail down, cut in the Thirties, is classic Eastern skiing-steep, narrow and winding. Vertical drop is about 1,950 feet. Be sure not to walk in the skiing lanes (always an important point of backcountry etiquette).
* Eastern routes suggested here (and many others) are described in detail in “Backcountry Skiing Adventures” (Volumes 1 and 2), by David Goodman (Appalachian Mountain Club Books).