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When you’re addicted to skiing, the saddest day of the year is when the lifts at your favorite resort stop spinning for the season. There is a cure for these summertime blues, but you have to earn your medicine by lacing up your boots, shouldering your backpack and heading upslope. The rewards? Not only do you get a workout and the satisfaction of earning your turns, you’ll feel like a bad-ass, too. Best of all, you don’t have to buy a lift ticket. Here are two prime pass-skiing options in Colorado, but there are many more, perhaps as close as a hike up the peaks in your region.
Loveland Pass has plenty of snow-covered terrain that is easily accessible for spring and summer skiing. There is a parking area just off Route 6 atop the Continental Divide, where tourists stop to gawk at the Rocky Mountain views. For skiers, it’s the perfect place to gear up before hiking along the ridge to several snowfields that offer great late-season turns.
A relatively easy hike east on the Continental Divide toward Grizzly Peak (13,427 feet) brings skiers to approximately 1,000 vertical feet of often luscious corn snow on the south face of the Divide, toward A-Basin. Depending on the time of year, the snowfield can stretch to the road below—perfect for hitch-hiking or leaving a car to shuttle your crew back up to the ridge. The wide-open run is moderate, with some steep grades located on either side. More daring skiers can hike two miles to Grizzly Peak, while others can drop off the less-demanding south face of the Divide or head north one mile to 13,234-foot Sniktau Peak.
The hike is gorgeous. Views of sky-scraping Grizzly Peak, Torreys Peak and Grays Peak dominate, while budding trees and fresh flowers bloom in a rainbow of colors.
Arrive in the morning before afternoon thuderstorms roll through, while the snow is still relatively firm. Hit it too early and fall victim to icy, bumpy conditions that will plant you on your backside. Get there too late and you’ll slosh through snow that resembles New England clam chowder. Don’t be surprised if you share space with other snowriders enjoying the easy-accessed corn or hitting a custom-built kicker on the bottom half of the snowfield. The south face is the most popular spot. One run down and you’ll see why.
Not your average ski destination, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most beautiful places where you’ll ever make turns. Located north of Estes Park, Colo., the park offers snowfields that serve up awesome spring corn. The best part? There’s little hiking. Most of the snowfields are at or near the top of access roads and highway passes.
For easy access, follow Trail Ridge Road out of Estes Park to its high point atop Iceberg Pass (you can spot the snow from Trail Ridge Road, then follow your nose). There, you can park on the side of the road and access whichever snowfield you choose. The Park offers a European-like open-boundary policy: You can ski what you see. Another spot to try is the defunct Hidden Valley ski area, located within the park. It offers skiers cut trails and plenty of vertical. Most of the terrain is accessed by Trail Ridge Road, too, so the hike is relatively short.
Freedom is the name of the game. You determine how far you want to hike by the distance you ski down the snowfield. Only want to hike 100 feet? Then ski 100 feet and hike back up. Early in the season, the snow can lead clear to the road, making it easy to loop back to the top.
Some bushwhacking may be required, as the snowfields aren’t all accessed by trails. Be respectful of the occasional elk herd and big-horned sheep grazing the high country.
Also, be careful where you step, because many mountain flowers are in spring bloom. As always, be aware that alpine weather can change without warning. —Doug Sabanosh
What to pack: ski gear, hiking boots, lightweight ski pants, gloves, sunglasses, sunscreen, cell phone, plenty of water, first-aid kit and waterprooof windbreaker. Also, pack a warm coat, in case the weather turns nasty. Climb in your hiking boots. Avalanche danger is low in early summer, but check at a local ski shop before heading out.