Uphill skiing at ski resorts on the Front Range has historically been limited to Winter Park, Loveland, and Arapahoe Basin. Each resort has uphill pros and cons, and the cons can influence us to look for an uphill jaunt that is not as far away from Denver. It is hard to stomach driving past the awesome terrain at Berthoud Pass to skin uphill at Winter Park Resort. Arapahoe Basin can be a haul, especially if you have to fit a tour in the window of the Basin’s allowable uphill time between resort operating hours and the start of your job. Loveland offers uphill skiing on two designated routes during most times, and these can get boring after awhile. This year, Eldora opened to uphill skiing but with restricted access times and costs. This works if you live in Boulder and Nederland, but nowhere else.
An alternative to the resort skinning is Jones Pass. The snowmobiles and the Powder Addiction snow cats carve out the high roads all winter long. The pitch of each road is never too steep, and Powder Addictions has done a great job of establishing a network of roads in the Jones Pass and West Fork of Clear Creek.
The hardpack feel of skinning up these roads is similar to the ski area, but the avalanche and terrain hazards are not not. Keep in mind that traveling in the Jones Pass area includes travel through avalanche terrain. The snow slide hazards start just up the road from the trailhead as you pass the Jones Brothers chutes and continue through out the tour. Come prepared with snow safety equipment, a good read and awareness of the CAIC weather forecast and snowpack observations, a level head, and the humbleness to turn around if conditions are not optimal.
We should all give a special thanks to Powder Addictions. Snowmobiling and backcountry skiing have preceded the cat skiing in this area by decades, but the dedicated work of the Powder Addictions team has resulted in a packed road network available all winter. If you see the snow cat on the roads, politely move out of the way, wave, and say thanks for packing the trail and clearing the trees!
The two main up-tracks at Jones Pass lead to the Jones Pass Bowl and the West Fork of Clear Creek. There is a high saddle between Point 12,118 and Point 12,673 that can be used to connect Jones Pass and West Fork bowls.
Jones Pass Road climbs steadily through avalanche terrain to the high basins below Jones Pass and Bobtail Peak. The road climbs gently for about a mile before swinging west through forested avalanche terrain below Point 12,118’s south side. At tree line you may find that Powder Addiction has established several diverging road paths. The most commonly used are a short eastern path towards Solar Bowl and Jones Trees, a direct path to approximately 12,200’ between Bobtail Benchmark and Point 12,673, the path of Jones Pass Road to over 12,000’, and possibly a path into Jones Pass Bowl. You can find more directions and pictures of Jones Pass Road on our Jones Pass page.
Jones Pass Summary:
Length: 2.77 miles
Vertical Gain: 1,800’
West Fork of Clear Creek follows the start of the Jones Pass route and the splits to the north after about eight tenths of a mile at the clearing below Point 12,118. Continue north following the snow cat or snowmobile trails. You will pass below several large avalanche paths descending from the north side of Point 12,118. Continue into the large open bowl of the West Fork. The snow cat track continues northwest in the bowl, and then climbs steeply and terminates at a knoll above twelve thousand feet below Point 12,666. You can find more directions and pictures of West Fork Bowl on our Jones Pass page.
West Fork Bowl Summary:
Length: 2.7 miles
Vertical Gain: 1,700’