Pass Creek Yurt

If you’re looking for a special kind of treasure hunt, make it a quest to rest your head in the many yurts tucked within the Colorado backcountry. Nomadic tribes of central Asia first crafted yurts hundreds of years ago to use as portable shelters as they followed their herds. It turns out, they were on to something. These round, tent-like structures offer a magical place to spend the night.

There’s nothing quite like lying in a toasty bed, wood crackling in the stove, as you gaze up at a spiral of ceiling beams that meet at a skylight dotted with stars. When morning comes, rub the sleep from your eyes, throw on a pot of coffee, and greet the crisp mountain air on your private hillside, surrounded by wilds that call you to explore.

The woods of Colorado are sprinkled with rentable yurts that range from simple to stately. Unlike Colorado’s backcountry huts, with yurts, you get the whole place to yourself. Most yurts sleep six, and come stocked with woodstoves and firewood, propane cook stoves, cookware, and beds with mattresses and pillows. (Tennessee Pass even provides bedding.) Be prepared to haul water from a stream and treat it, or melt snow in the winter. Bring a flashlight for navigating to the outhouse at night. Some yurts have lights, some don’t.

Keep in mind that winter backcountry travel involves avalanche risk. Get trained in avalanche safety, and bring beacons, shovels, and probes. You’ll have to leave Fido at home. Dogs are prohibited in the winter in order to keep the snowmelt pure.

Here are five backcountry yurt options to get you daydreaming:

1. Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, Cookhouse, and Sleep Yurts

Tennessee Pass Yurts
The Tennessee Pass Yurts are nestled in the woods near Leadville

Tennessee Pass

Nine miles west of Leadville, the Tennessee Pass Sleep Yurts come in at the swanky end of the spectrum, with comfy log beds, down comforters, fresh drinking water, and oodles of other creature comforts. If you’ve never ventured into the backcountry overnight, this is a great place to start. Four yurts are nestled in the woods just 1.3 miles from the trailhead. The folks at Tennessee Pass will even haul your bags, so you barely have to break a sweat—unless you opt to explore the 15+ miles of groomed snowshoe and Nordic ski trails on the property.

Tennessee Pass Sleep Yurts
The inside of the Tennessee Pass Sleep Yurts is comfy and inviting

Tennessee Pass

The yurts come stocked with cookware and dishes, but if you don’t feel like cooking, don’t despair. Just meander one-third of a mile down the trail to the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse—a fine dining restaurant where you can tuck into a gourmet four-course dinner. It’s also open for lunch on weekends. If you can’t break away from your cozy abode, order catered meals delivered to your door (breakfast year-round; dinner in winter only). Then throw another log on the fire.

Tennessee Pass Cookhouse
Diners journey one-third of a mile from the sleep yurts or a mile from the road to get to the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse

Tennessee Pass

The Tennessee Pass Cookhouse is also open to those who aren’t staying overnight. It’s just one mile up the trail from the road. Call ahead for reservations.

The Tennessee Pass Sleep Yurts rent for $225 per night and sleep up to six people.

Dinner at the cookhouse is $85 per head, which includes a headlamp and skis or snowshoes to get you there.

2. Colorado State Forest State Park Yurts

North Fork Canadian Yurt
North Fork Canadian Yurt in Colorado State Forest State Park

Never Summer Nordic

Plug Colorado State Forest State Park into Google Maps and you’ll see its claim to fame right next to the pin : "Enormous park featuring moose and yurts." This state park encompasses 71,000 acres of stunning mountain scenery just over Cameron Pass 75 miles west of Fort Collins. Never Summer Nordic Yurts operates seven yurts in the park and four just outside the borders, one-quarter to three miles from the road. Alpine bowls and ridges beckon backcountry skiers and riders in the winter. Hiking, mountain biking, and fishing provide plenty of summer fun.

You’ll need a flashlight, as there are no lights in the yurts, although a lantern is provided.

The Never Summer Nordic Yurts rent for $80-120 per night and sleep four to nine people. You’re welcome to cram three more people on sleeping pads on the floor, but that makes quarters pretty tight.

3. James Peak Yurt

James Peak Yurt
With its mellow approach, the James Peak Yurt is a great choice for families

Cameron Martindell

This rustic yurt—open weekends and holidays from Thanksgiving until the end of April—is nestled in Roosevelt National Forest off Peak to Peak Highway 16 miles south of Nederland. The two-mile approach crosses no hazardous snow areas, so this is a good yurt for those who lack avalanche training. Note that part of the route is often blown clear of snow, so be prepared to take off your skis or snowshoes for a spell.

Use the James Peak Yurt as base camp for snowshoeing, or ski 45 minutes to Jenny Lind Gulch, where mellow, open slopes give a great taste of backcountry skiing for beginners. (Avalanche training recommended.) When night falls, fire up the propane lights and amuse yourself with the yurt’s collection of books, magazines, and board games. Then tuck into your sleeping bag when the day’s adventures cause your weary eyelids to droop.

The James Peak Yurt costs $175 per night and sleeps six.

4. Leadville Backcountry Yurts

Leadville Backcountry Yurts
The Leadville Backcountry Yurts are perched at 12,000 feet

Leadville Backcountry Yurts

The Emma and Marceline yurts just outside of Leadville offer high-alpine living at 12,000 feet. It’s a healthy five-and-a-half-mile trek up, climbing 1,200 feet, so make sure your legs and lungs are primed for adventure, and your backcountry skills are in top form. Once you settle in, channel your inner lumberjack and split logs for the woodstove. (Flannel shirt not provided.) Play cards (provided) by the light of the gas lantern. Thousands of acres of public land out the door promise mountains to climb, bowls to ski, and breathtaking vistas.

In the summertime, you can drive a high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle right to the door.

The Leadville Backcountry Yurts range from $85-115 per night, depending on season, and sleep five.

5. Pass Creek Yurt

Pass Creek Yurt
Privacy, peace, and serenity reign at the Pass Creek Yurt

Wolf Creek Backcountry

Run by Wolf Creek Backcountry, the Pass Creek Yurt sits just below the Continental Divide at 10,250 feet in the San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado. It’s a one-mile bike or hike in the summer, or a three-mile winter ski to get to this yurt, which comes complete with hut shoes and astounding views. In the summer, bed down in the yurt by night, and explore the Continental Divide Trail by day. In the winter, heavy snow and challenging terrain can keep backcountry skiers busy for weeks.

Pass Creek Yurt
The Pass Creek Yurt has a well-equipped kitchen

Wolf Creek Bakcountry

The Pass Creek Yurt costs $119-169, depending on the month, and sleeps six in bunk beds.

Written by Avery Stonich for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Wolf Creek Backcountry

201612 BoulderColorado BackcountrySkiing Image4 Shredding AveryStonich IMG 8385

To go backcountry skiing or snowboarding in Colorado is to answer the call of the wild. Gone is the tame safety of inbounds terrain; instead you gain the satisfaction from a day spent scampering in the mountains and earning your turns. And when untracked lines take the place of lift lines, a smile is sure to spread across your face.

But take heed: Colorado’s backcountry is serious business. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Take an avalanche course.

If you plan to venture into the backcountry in Colorado, you must learn how to recognize avalanche terrain and avoid it when necessary. Our continental snowpack can be dicey, with weak layers that are prone to slide. Do yourself (and everyone else) a favor and take an avalanche course.

A Level 1 course is three full days—one day in the classroom and two days in the field. This will empower you with basic knowledge to start making terrain choices, and open your eyes to how much more you need to learn. At worst, it will scare the crap out of you. At best, it will instill a healthy respect for the backcountry and inspire you to learn more.

After taking a course, you have to practice. Check Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecasts, go with more experienced skiers, and ask a lot of questions. (And check out our story on the topic, Know the Snow Before You Go: Colorado Avalanche Awareness.) When in doubt, stick to slopes that are fewer than 30 degrees.

Hone your turns.

You don’t have to be an expert to go backcountry skiing or riding. But you should be comfortable in a wide variety of terrain and conditions (powder, trees, wind-blown crust, or whatever else Mother Nature throws your way). Hone your turns inbounds before venturing farther afield. And get in shape so you can rip even when your legs are wobbly from climbing. The stakes are higher out of bounds, where there is no warm hut or ski patrol to rescue you.

Get the gear.

A splitboard (left) is a snowboard that separates into two pieces for skinning. Alpine touring skies (right) are lightweight, with special bindings that maximize climbing efficiency.
A splitboard (left) is a snowboard that separates into two pieces for skinning. Alpine touring skies (right) are lightweight, with special bindings that maximize climbing efficiency.

Avery Stonich

Unless you’re a telemark skier, you’ll need an alpine touring (AT) setup—lightweight skis with AT bindings, which allow you to lift your heels for climbing and lock them down for descents. Tech bindings are best because they are lightweight and efficient for climbing. You’ll also need alpine touring boots—lightweight boots that attach to pins in tech bindings and have two modes, "walk" and “ski”, to adjust the stiffness for uphill or downhill.

A common rookie mistake is to buy frame bindings that claim to "do it all." These are alpine bindings on a rail with a releasable heel. At first glance, they seem like a great choice because they perform like alpine bindings and allow you to free your heels for climbing. But they’re heavy. And when you unlock the heel, the whole rear of the binding comes with it, which is a heavy load to lift with each step. Trust us: Skip the frame bindings and get a true backcountry setup.

Snowboarders use splitboards (or snowshoes) for backcountry touring. A splitboard is a snowboard that separates into two halves and has adjustable bindings for climbing. If you’ve never skied, it will take some practice to get the hang of walking on two sticks. Consider going for a few short test runs before tackling a big climb.

Whether skiing or snowboarding, you’ll need "skins" for climbing. These faux-hair strips stick to the bottom of your skis or snowboard and glide in just one direction, allowing you to “skin” (aka glide or climb) uphill.

Other essentials include avalanche safety gear—a beacon, shovel, and probe. Take an avalanche class so you know how to use them. You also might consider springing for a special airbag backpack that can inflate if you’re caught in an avalanche.

Find a like-minded friend.

Never go backcountry skiing or riding alone. You need a buddy to dig you out or help you in an emergency. Find a friend and take an avalanche class together, then geek out about snow safety over beers afterward. Also tag along with people who have more experience than you and ask a lot of questions. But be wary of the "expert halo," and don’t assume that someone with more experience has all the right answers for you. Ask questions to find out why they make certain decisions, learn enough to make terrain assessments on your own, and pick ski partners who have the same goals and risk tolerance as you.

Sign up for a group tour.

Guided ski club trips by Paragon Guides rotate among various locations, a great way to get familiar with different places.
Guided ski club trips by Paragon Guides rotate among various locations, a great way to get familiar with different places.

Avery Stonich

The best way to learn how to backcountry ski is to go backcountry skiing. If you’re looking for company, or want a chance to pick up tips from the pros, sign up for a backcountry tour. Vail’s Paragon Guides backcountry ski club heads out at least weekly from December to April. Join for a day for $99 or sign up for a six-pack for $500.

If you’re a lady and want to learn without the pressure of testosterone, sign up for a Chicks with Stix clinic out of Ouray or a Backcountry Babes course out of Breckenridge.

Try cat skiing.

If you want to try skiing or riding in the backcountry but don’t want to buy all the gear (yet), try cat skiing. This will give you the feel of being in remote, unpredictable terrain without having to work too hard for it. For beta, read our story, Cat Skiing in Colorado: What to Know and Where to Go.

Go on a hut trip.

Jackal Hut is one of many 10th Mountain Division huts to choose from
Jackal Hut is one of many 10th Mountain Division huts to choose from

Ed Ogle

Once you’ve had a taste of the backcountry, sink in a little deeper by spending the night. Colorado has dozens of backcountry huts where you can reserve a bed. Check out our stories, Colorado Hut Trips: 8 Insider Tips for Planning Your First and Cozy Up in a Colorado Yurt: 5 Unique Backcountry Stays, for all the intel you need to turn your backcountry outing into an overnight adventure.

Written by Avery Stonich for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Avery Stonich

These inbounds runs in Colorado will surely test your skills (and give you serious bragging rights).

While Colorado's ski resorts boast oodles of awesome terrain, they're a little short on seriously steep inbounds runs: those spine-tingling drop-offs and slopes that brush your hip when you turn, and elicit a deep sigh of relief once you conquer them. But this hardcore terrain is out there, just waiting to be shredded by the most fearless souls on skis and snowboards; you just have to know where to look. Inspired by fellow hard-charging powderhounds, we set out to find the steepest shots in the state.

Before you read further, a heads-up: No doubt this list is prone to subjective scrutiny. Measuring steepness isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. It can refer to maximum grade or average grade. Cliffs can skew ratings. And a slope’s angle can change over the course of the season as cornices build up, or snow fills in and softens the grade.

For our purposes, runs on this list had to flirt with 50 degrees, based on our own clinometer measurements in the field as well as resorts’ claims. We don’t count cliffs or mandatory air, focusing instead on runs where skis or snowboards can remain in contact with the snow. Yet without question, you’ll find plenty of cornices and cliff jumps in this challenging terrain.

Be prepared to earn some turns as many of these runs require hiking. And be prepared to test your mettle on all of them.

1. Highland Bowl, Aspen Highlands

Highlands Bowl
Highlands Bowl rewards sweat equity with sweet steep turns.

Aspen Skiing Company

The whole of Highland Bowl is a mother lode of steep, noteworthy enough that the Aspen Highlands trail map list the pitch of every run, a range of 38 to 48 degrees. The only catch (and rite of passage) is the hike—30-40 minutes up to the top of the bowl at 12,392 feet. A free snowcat ride shaves off the first stretch, bringing you within drooling distance of the steepest of the steep. Resist the temptation to drop in early since you run the risk of sun-baked snow on the south-facing slopes, aptly named the Hot Y’s.

Grunting up the edge of the bowl, you pass the Y’s (south-facing) and B’s (in the middle) before reaching the G’s (north-facing), named after yellow, blue, and green ski wax that corresponds to the temperature of the snow. Save the Y’s for spring. Hands down, the best snow all season is off the top, in the G’s. Views from the summit will keep you entertained until you’re ready to rip.

2. Gauthier, Arapahoe Basin

The sign for Gauthier is a few turns down 4th Alley.

Adrienne Saia Isaac – Araphaoe Basin Ski Area

Arapahoe Basin ’s Pallavicini Lift serves some of the steepest terrain in Colorado’s central mountains, with Gauthier clocking in as the most extreme pitch, at about 46 degrees. Locally known as the 5th Alley, Gauthier dives down a gulley at the far west boundary of the ski area. It’s short and narrow, with rock outcroppings to keep you on your toes.

To get there, get off the Pali lift and traverse down the snow fence along Pali Cornice all the way skier’s left, past 2nd and 3rd alleys. Head down 4th Alley and make a few turns. You’ll see the sign for Gauthier on the left. One at a time in the narrow chute works best.

3. Crazy Ivan 2, Breckenridge Ski Resort

Crazy Ivan 2
You might brush your hip against the 49-degree slope of Breckenridge's Crazy Ivan 2.

Vail Resorts

Crazy Ivan 2, one of the butt-puckering runs in Breckenridge ’s Lake Chutes area, isn’t marked on the trail map, which adds to its allure. Be prepared to launch off a cornice onto a 49-degree slope, making tight turns between rock outcroppings before the run flattens out.

To get there, take the Imperial Express Superchair, then hike 15 minutes up the boot pack to the summit of Peak 8, which is a hair under 13,000 feet. Click into your skis or snowboard and follow the ridgeline down past 9 Lives.

Lake Chutes map
Use this insider treasure map to find your way to Crazy Ivan 2.

Vail Resorts

Crazy Ivan 2 is just to the right of Zoot Chute as you look at the trail map (use the above photo as your guide). Once at the top, you’ll have to follow your nose since there are no trail signs; just look for the steepest line. For help finding it, stop at the Ski Patrol shack at the top of the Imperial chair and ask them to point it out.

4. Senior’s, Telluride Ski Resort

Senior's drops down a couloir from Telluride's Palmyra Peak, through the snow-coated notch to the right of the towers.
Senior's drops down a couloir from Telluride's Palmyra Peak, through the snow-coated notch to the right of the towers.

Avery Stonich

Senior’s is a hair-raising couloir that drops off the summit of Telluride ’s high point, 13,320-foot Palmyra Peak. This is big mountain terrain like you rarely find inbounds in Colorado, and nothing about it is suitable for the meek. The hike alone filters out anyone who might waffle. It’s two hours up a boot pack that can feel precipitously steep. On top, rest on the small summit and ponder the only way down—a jittery shot between rocks, on a slope that measures 52 degrees.

To get there, take Chair 12 (Prospect Express), exit left, and take off your skis. Lashing them to a backpack is your best bet for the trek up. Bring water and snacks since you’re doing a huge hike, at very high altitude, before you even start to ride. It can be tempting to peel off early into Black Iron Bowl, but you won’t earn full bragging rights unless you reach the peak.

5. Rambo, Crested Butte Mountain Resort

You might want to pause and ponder the sustained pitch of Crested Butte's Rambo, the steepest cut ski run in North America.

Avery Stonich

Crested Butte has no shortage of steeps, with 542 acres of “Extreme Limits”—inbounds, double-black diamond terrain that will make you feel like you’re in a Teton Gravity Research film. It’s no wonder extreme skiing competitions take place here. Run laps on the High Lift and North Face T-bars, feeding your hunger for adrenaline with runs like Headwall, Teocalli, Spellbound, and Phoenix Bowl.

But it's Rambo, which tickles both sides of 50 degrees, that gives Crested Butte its claim to the steepest cut ski run in North America. The advantage of Rambo is that it’s a sustained pitch, unlike some of these other runs that level out after a few turns. Test your endurance by hitting The Glades on the way.

6. 52° Trees, Wolf Creek Ski Area

Knife Ridge
You'll feel joyful jumping off Wolf Creek's Knife Ridge.

Avery Stonich

For a relatively small ski area, Wolf Creek has an impressive helping of extreme, including a run aptly named 52° Trees, tucked in the Waterfall Area. Use it as the capper for an epic descent that starts from the top of Alberta Peak, accessible via an easy skate/hike from the top of Treasure Lift. Drop down the face, then into one of the Peak Chutes (we measured #11 at 46 degrees) before cutting left to the Waterfall 4C entrance to get to 52° Trees.

For an easier-to-find alternative, head to the Knife Ridge Chutes, which you can scope to the left from the Alberta Lift. From below, it’s tough to pick out a doable line. But don’t be deterred. Climb the boot pack from the top of the lift and skirt the edge of the knife-like rock outcropping, finishing with a short section of metal stairs. Once on the ridge, you have your pick of lines. Big Cornice measures 49 degrees. Expect a few boney jump turns before hitting a buttery bottom section that collects snow from above.

7. All of Silverton Mountain

Silverton Mountain
When it comes to Silverton, the whole mountain is really freaking steep.

Silverton Mountain

It’s tough to nail down precisely which part of Silverton Mountain is the steepest, because the whole place is really effing gnarly. Runs plunge down either side of a sharp ridge and include big-mountain couloirs, narrow gulleys, and high-angle trees. Some runs even start with rappels. Don’t worry about finding your way around—for most of the season, guides are required. (Trust us, this is a good thing.)

The pace at Silverton is too fast to pause with a clinometer, so if you’re up for the challenge, just go judge for yourself. Tiger Claw, a narrow couloir that plummets off the west face of the ridge, is a good choice for rattling the nerves. You’ll grunt 30 minutes up a lung-busting boot pack to get to the Claw, which requires a delicate entry through a rock band into a wind-affected chute. Pick your path around the rock outcropping that splits the 50-degree gulley in half.

8. Mexico, Monarch Mountain

Monarch's steepest run, Mexico, dives precipitously through the trees.

Avery Stonich

The most challenging terrain at Monarch is in Mirkwood, accessed via a 15-minute hike up from the top of the Breezeway Lift. Just when the slog stops being fun, the 11,952-foot summit appears. Runs down from here are universally steep, with the added challenge of tight trees. Mexico isn’t on the trail map—it’s just to the right of East Trees. Access it by heading skier’s right from the summit and traversing past Staircase. Stay on the lookout for cliff bands and other potential hucks that sneak up on you.

Staircase, East Trees, and Mexico all hover in the mid- to upper 40-degree range. Finding someone to guide you is handy, since it’s tough to navigate on your own through the trees.

9. Wild Child, Loveland Ski Area

Wild Child
Loveland's Wild Child will satisfy your wild streak.

Dustin Schaefer

Loveland can appear a tad tame as you drive past it on I-70, but don’t be fooled. Hidden out of sight is a decent serving of extreme terrain, most off Chair 9, which tops out on the Continental Divide at 12,700 feet. Wild Child is arguably the steepest run, surpassing 50 degrees. Peering over the edge can be nerve-wracking, particularly if you’re perched on top of the mega-cornice that builds up above the right side. If you’re not prepared to launch, head skier’s left to the entrance that doesn’t require air. The run is short and sweet, mellowing out as it descends.

To get to Wild Child, get off Chair 9 to the left and traverse skier’s right to the south. When you reach Super Bowl, take off your skis or board and hike about 10 minutes to the top of Wild Child. This slight schlep deters the masses, so the snow out here stays soft longer. If you want to snoop out other steep options at Loveland, try Over the Rainbow, Super Nova, and Velvet Hammer.

Written by Avery Stonich for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Zach Dischner