Low Angle Terrain for Midwinter Fun

The Front Range has been hit with a spectacular series of storms during the past week. While these storms bring much needed snow, they also escalate the avalanche hazard. If you are headed into the backcountry, now is a good time to explore low angle terrain and play it safe. This blog is a brief overview of lower angle winter backcountry terrain described on this website. When the avalanche hazard is elevated, lets keep the slope angles down!

Here is the current avalanche status: The storm during the week of February 1 brought significant snow to the Front Range mountains, followed by the formation of wind slabs near and above tree line. On Thursday, February 4 CAIC messaged via Twitter that the Front Range avalanche conditions are “Considerable”… “Conditions remain dangerous. Wind slab avalanches near and above tree line and persistent slab avalanches are possible at all elevations.” Another smaller storm approaches for Friday, and then high pressure will set in for the foreseeable future.

There are no “safe” places to backcountry ski and snowboard during the winter. The avalanche hazard may decrease during the future high pressure, but in Colorado the risk of sliding should always be considered “high”. Even in more stable conditions, Colorado’s continental snowpack is considered dangerous and difficult to predict. For more information on how the Front Range’s snowpack evolves during the winter, see our Front Range Conditions page in the “About” section of the website.

The safest place for you to ride is at the ski area. If you are not comfortable with the backcountry risks, then keep farming runs inbounds. The Front Range ski areas have numerous stashes that hold snow for weeks. 

Where are the places where riders can get out and still have fun during storm snow and higher avalanche conditions? There are many spots across the Front Range to do this, and we have highlighted several of these below. We have also included links to the guides on the Front Range Ski Mountaineering website that describe the zones and routes in more detail.  The routes described below are also great terrain for beginners and moderate backcountry skiers. This terrain is mostly lower angle and good for first time exploration, storm skiing, and enjoyable tours.

Great Glade Skiing

The Boulevard is the large gladed tree terrain on the southeast flank on Mount Trelease. You can get a good view of this terrain when driving up Loveland Pass. Look across Interstate 70 and see the good-looking glades facing southeast. The terrain is moderate, but the approach involves an uncomfortable scramble from the highway trailhead into the woods. Additionally, there is avalanche hazard above this terrain that can funnel into The Boulevard. Even if the terrain is moderate, always be aware of what lurks above.

Vasquez Trees are a south facing glade in the Jones Pass 12,118’ Zone.  Because they are south facing, they are subject to a shallower snowpack and developing a sun crust. Get to these during a storm or just after. They are particularly good during the colder months of a winter with a deep snowpack. The sun has less influence during these months and the snow stays cold.

The Middle 110s of Current Creek have some of the best glade skiing on the Front Range. This area faces southeast and east so you will want to get here just after a storm. The trees are spread out enough that it would be hard to see the terrain during a storm. The lower flanks of the 110s area are steeper, and there is slide potential in the exit near the 110 Cliffs. To avoid this, stay in the trees on the skier’s left.

The old Berthoud Pass Ski Area terrain has numerous glades and runs to explore that are lower angled. Powder Line, Bonanza, Bell Trail/Dunn’s Run at Berthoud Pass East are just above the parking lot and have minimal slide potential. CDT West and Mainline at Berthoud Pass West are just above the road and easily accessed from the trailhead. If you explore skier’s left of Mainline at Berthoud Pass you will quickly be in avalanche terrain and in the West Side Cliffs.

The Zimmerman Lake trailhead in Northern Colorado accesses Montgomery Pass and Hot Dog Bowl. Hot Dog Bowl East contains open lower angle terrain that then drops into low angle tree skiing. The approach is more complicated than the ski into Montgomery Pass, so it is a great area to both ski and work on route finding skills. The terrain of Hot Dog Bowl West is extremely hazardous. Be aware of this danger and stay clear of   this face. Skiers traversing the terrain below it have triggered avalanches on Hot Dog Bowl West; be careful here!

Fun Bowls

The Butler Gulch Bowl is a great place for post storm skiing. The winds affect this area so you will want to get here quickly after a storm. This expansive area has multiple low angle lines at the edge of tree line that eventually drops into denser forest. The approach from the Jones Pass trailhead is very relaxed, and this is a great place to bring a beginner or someone new to the area and snowpack.

Jones Pass Bowl is similar to Butler Gulch Bowl. The aspect is north facing, but the angle is similar to Butler Gulch Bowl. Jones Pass Bowl is accessed via the same trailhead, and is a slightly longer approach via the Jones Pass Road. If you follow the Jones Pass Road to the Bowl you will cross several slide paths and avalanche hazard areas. Be on the lookout for these. The Jones Pass guide on our website describes a short cut that avoids this hazard area by climbing a trail paralleling the creek.

The small bowls flanking Hidden Knoll in Current Creek at Berthoud Pass have low angle terrain that is fun alternatives to the steeps surrounding them. Each of these bowls has some exposure to avalanche hazard from above, so tread carefully in here. Moonlight Bowl is on the north side of Hidden Knoll. This low angle bowl is exposed to slide hazards from Current Creek Bench. There is a great bowl located below the South Chutes of Hidden Knoll. You can see this in the picture of Hidden Knoll on our Berthoud Pass North Guide.  The bowl and small ridge is located where the “S” skin track label is on the left side of the picture.

In the Northern Front Range, the Montgomery Pass area has copious bowl and glade skiing. This area is quite vast, and our guide on touches on a few of the more popular bowls. The approach into Montgomery Pass is a cross-country ski trail that climbs through the forest. There are numerous tree lines to descend from the base of the bowl towards the trailhead. The bowl itself is very popular. Despite the heavy traffic and lower angle, it is still avalanche terrain above tree line.