7 Classic Colorado Backcountry Ski Summits

by Wagner Skis / Mar 10, 2021

Ah, spring, when the sunlight grows stronger and less watery, the loamy smell of melting snow and dirt is in the air, and the terrifying snowpack of winter becomes solid again… It’s time to plan your ski objectives and go harvest some sweet corn!

Here in Colorado, where Wagner is based, our high elevation keeps the snow in its glorious freeze-thaw cycle sometimes through June. Here are our top-seven classic spring objectives, one in each mountain range, with some (very) basic beta, too.

Not to sound like your mother, but please be safe out there. Review current avalanche dangers and be aware of lingering avalanche conditions (we're looking at you, persistent slab!). Also, start skinning early (we mean early—we’d recommend skiing most of these by 9:30 a.m. on a warm day), know your stuff, always ski with your partner, and don’t forget beers for tailgate cheersing after it’s all over. Happy spring!


Dead Dog Coulior on Torreys Peak
Photo: www.14ers.com

Dead Dog Couloir, Torreys, 14,267 feet
- Rating: Intermediate
Trailhead: Stevens Gulch
Distance: 6.5 miles round-trip
Vertical gain: 3,000 feet
Maximum angle: 50 degrees
Average angle: 40 degrees

Torreys is a 14er, so you get bonus points for that. Dead Dog is a long, picturesque couloir that sees a fair amount of traffic. At the top of the couloir, you’ll have a 200-foot hike to the summit, where you’ll be at the second highest point on the Continental Divide with views of Summit County and the Gore Range.


Silver Couloir, Buffalo Mountain, 12,777
- Rating: Intermediate
- Trailhead: Ryan Gulch Trailhead
- Distance: 7 miles round-trip
- Vertical gain: 3,500 feet
- Maximum angle: 40 degrees
- Average angle: 37 degrees

This classic is the gift that keeps giving, because every time you drive on I-70 you’ll get to relive your epic turns. Located just outside of Silverthorne, Buffalo Mountain is easy to access and very popular. The Silver Couloir is wide and obvious. 


The snowy east face of Quandry Peak, Colorado
Photo: followyourfeet.com

East Face, Quandary Peak, 14,265
- Rating: Intermediate
- Trailhead: Quandary Trailhead
- Distance: 6.8 miles round-trip
- Vertical gain: 3,600 feet
- Maximum angle: 32 degrees
- Average angle: 28 degrees

Quandary, just 9 miles southwest of Breckenridge, is one of the mellowest 14ers to climb and ski. The East Face is one of the most suitable routes for those just getting into the sport. In good snow years, it’s possible to ski all the way to your car.


Thomas Lakes Bowl, Mt. Sopris, 12,953 feet
- Rating: Intermediate
- Trailhead: Dinkle Lake Trailhead
- Distance: 12 miles round-trip
- Vertical gain: 4,600 feet
- Maximum angle: 35 degrees
- Average angle: 30 degrees

Sopris, as seen from the drive from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, is so dominant and picturesque, it’s hard to believe it’s not a 14er. The terrain of Thomas Lakes Bowl is relatively tame (topping out at 35 degrees), but it makes up for in slogging what it lacks in steepness.


Vintage photo of Cross Coulior
Vintage photo of Mt. of the Holy Cross and Cross Couloir by William Henry Jackson, 1873

Cross Couloir, Mount of the Holy Cross, 14,005 feet
- Rating: Extremely Difficult
- Trailhead: Half Moon Trailhead
- Distance: 12 miles roundtrip from Halfmoon
- Vertical gain: 5,600 feet
- Maximum angle: 47 degrees
- Average angle: 40 degrees

The iconic Cross Couloir is visible from I-70 and the Back Bowls of Vail. It’s one of the most famous in the Lower 48 for obvious reasons, and was first captured on film by William Henry Jackson in 1873. It’s extremely dangerous and difficult. If you’re considering skiing this line, you certainly don’t need us to tell you about it.


Deadwood Gulch, Grand Turk, 13,180 feet
- Rating: Difficult
- Trailhead: US 550
- Distance: 4.5 miles point to point (with a car shuttle)
- Vertical gain: 3,700 feet
- Maximum angle: 48 degrees
- Average angle: 40 degrees

This tour starts near the summit of Molas Pass outside of Silverton. Drop a car near the bottom for the shuttle. Deadwood Gulch is on the northern flank of Grand Turk, and you’ll get incredible views of the San Juans and Weminuche ranges.  


The Southeast flank of Humboldt Peak
Photo: 14ers.com

Southeast Flank, Humboldt Peak, 14,064 feet
- Rating: Intermediate
- Trailhead: South Colony Lakes
- Distance: 6.75 miles roundtrip
- Vertical gain: 4,200 feet from upper trailhead
- Maximum angle: 40 degrees
- Average angle: 36 degrees

Humboldt Peak is another 14er, located 10 miles southwest from Westcliffe. There’s often inconsistent snowfall in the Sangres and, because this is southeast-facing, you’ll want to make sure there’s good snow coverage. If there is, you’ll be treated to 3,000 vert of fresh, sweet corn.


Article by Kimberly Beekman

Kimberly Beekman is the former editor-in-chief of the late, great Skiing Magazine (RIP), and a longtime editor of SKI Magazine before that. She currently uses the title of “freelancer” as a beard to ski powder all over the world. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her wonderful daughter and terrible cat.