Moderate Peaks to Climb for Assessing Spring Conditions

Spring is upon us in the high country!  The days are longer, the snowstorms are gaining moisture content, and the Front Range ski lines that were windswept all winter are starting to fill in.  It is time to get out there and higher than you have all winter!

With the excitement of spring comes a hesitation: what is the snowpack like?  This is a complicated time due to varying conditions during the isothermal transition.  The south and east faces are turning to corn, west faces still have breakable crust, and the north faces may be harboring winter conditions including persistent slabs.  This is a challenging time to assess the snowpack.

We had several users email us on this topic and they asked for recommendations of peaks and routes to “safely” climb and ski, and be up high so they can get a sense of the snowpack.  We have included several recommendations below.

First, we recommend a review of Front Range Ski Mountaineering’s Conditions page.  Use this for a basic understanding of the dynamics occurring in the transforming spring snowpack.  Second, make sure to stay up to date on avalanche conditions and reports via the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.  Although it is spring there are still winter conditions in the snowpack!

Here are several recommendations for great peaks to ski during this transition period to get a sense of the conditions:

Saint Vrain Mountain is a peak that you can ski throughout the winter and spring with relative snow safety.  That is, if you can stand the wind!  The spring advantage for Saint Vrain is that it is not steep, it has South, East, and North aspects to explore, and it gives you a great view Mount Audubon, Sawtooth, Red Deer, Saint Vrain Glaciers, and Wild Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park.

 Saint Vrain Mountain from the Northeast.  Photo: Rob Writz

Saint Vrain Mountain from the Northeast.  Photo: Rob Writz

In the James Peak Wilderness we highly recommend the Southeast Flank of James Peak and Frosty Mountain.  We haven’t posted James Peak to this website (yet), but we have included a picture below.  James Peak is quickly accessed from the Saint Mary Glacier on the Fall River Road.  It is an easy climb to the summit and the views include the South Boulder Creek Drainage (Heartbeat Peak, Frosty), and the North side of Mount Bancroft. 

 James Peak from the top of Saint Mary Glacier.  Photo: Rob Writz

James Peak from the top of Saint Mary Glacier.  Photo: Rob Writz

Frosty Mountain is a classic that sits on the Continental Divide between James Peak and Rollins Pass.  It is a longer excursion than Saint Vrain and James Peak, but it is a moderate descent and the approach allows you to inspect the North, East, and South facing aspects in the bowl surrounding Frosty.  The east-facing descent directly from the summit of Frosty into the basin should be getting primed with corn conditions now.

 Frosty Mountain as seen from the approach from Moffat Tunnel.  Photo: Rob Writz

Frosty Mountain as seen from the approach from Moffat Tunnel.  Photo: Rob Writz

Golden Bear, or 1310 as the Loveland Ski Patrollers call it, is a great peak for early spring ski descents.  Golden Bear has slopes of varying steepness and exposure including North and East.  The tour up Dry Gulch will allow you to inspect the South side of Citadel and Hagar Mountain.

 Golden Bear from the South.  Photo: Rob Writz

Golden Bear from the South.  Photo: Rob Writz

Finally, we recommend Cupid from Loveland Pass.  The Southeast Face is a moderate ski descent and has been cooking in the sun the past month.  The climb back up the basin to the Continental Divide and the summit of Cupid is an easy skin.  You can ski Dave’s Wave to the highway near Arapahoe Basin, ski the various chutes facing south to the switchbacks below Loveland Pass, or hike down the ridge to Loveland Pass.

 Cupid from the East.  Photo: Rob Writz

Cupid from the East.  Photo: Rob Writz