by Wagner Skis / Jan 16, 2015

A Local's Guide to the Best Backcountry Ski Spots in Aspen

Aspen is home to an insane amount of backcountry skiing terrain, ranging from easy and safer to all-out extremo. If you’re visiting Aspen for the first time, here are a few places to point your up-track.


Avalanche danger got you down? The resort at Buttermilk Mountain is known for beginner and intermediate terrain, and it offers the same easy-going shots right outside of its ropes in the Sugar Bowls. Park at the West Buttermilk base area (which is just a dirt parking lot with a couple of picnic tables) and cross the slopes trending slightly upwards to the Government Trail gate. Follow the Government Trail for about 0.9 miles as you enter an open area and start heading uphill through the Aspen trees. After about a quarter mile you will find yourself in an open area with low-angle cruiser terrain in a beautiful isolated atmosphere.


A beautiful 11-mile drive up Castle Creek Road to the ghost town of Ashcroft will bring you to a variety of options for skiing. Park at the lower parking lot and look to the East. Across the field, notice Express Creek Road cutting up and along the hillside. About 2.5 miles up that road, you will reach the 10th Mountain Division’s Markley Hut. Passing the hut, work your way through the willows and across the creek to the start of Green Mountain. You may find the skin track on the climber’s left of the opening, winding its way through the trees. As you hit a bench resist the urge to gain altitude—stay in the valley for a short distance before you see an obvious saddle up and left. A climb to there is rewarded by great skiing all around, with laps for all abilities. Take care: The approach on the road crosses more than one large avalanche path; proper travel techniques and trip planning are a must.


Mount Hayden, while a rather large climb, still provides mostly moderate angles. Drive Castle Creek road for 8 miles from the roundabout to reach a large pull-off on the right. There is no sign for the trailhead, but as you pull in you should be able to see the large face that will be your destination. Cross the creek and follow a not-so-obvious trail up the drainage. A map will be useful here. The trick is to not stray too far to the right. As you break above treeline, the Stamberger face will be up to your left. Stay right and gain the long snowfield to the summit above. To keep things moderate, roughly retrace your skin track on the way down. If you feel good about the conditions, the Stamberger face will certainly add some spice to your day, with 45-plus degree skiing and moderate exposure.


For the fit, Mount Sopris, located 25 miles south of Aspen near the town of Carbondale, has a half-dozen different options ranging from cruiser powder laps to steep, committing couloir skiing. During the snow season, your journey will start where Prince Creek and West Sopris Creek meet at the crest of the hill. Walk the next 2 miles to the upper trailhead and take a right on the trail for Thomas Lakes. From here, the standard bowl route leads up to the summit, and retrace your steps on the descent. All routes on Mount Sopris involve avalanche terrain so pay attention to current conditions.


While Montezuma and Pearl Basins offer many options for big steep skiing, Castle and Conundrum peaks provide some of the biggest terrain. These are best done in the spring. Drive as far as road closures and snowpack allow on Castle Creek Road and pass the Mace Hut below treeline. After a couple switchbacks up the road, you will reach a junction. Turning left takes you into the many moderate to advanced lines in Pearl Basin, as well as to the East Face of Castle Peak, where you can expect 45-degree plus skiing over no-fall exposure. Take a right and you end up in Montezuma basin, with options as far as the eye can see—the biggest objective being the north couloir on Castle Peak’s Conundrum Couloir. You should have your steep skiing jump turns dialed. Crampons and ice axes are a must for most of this terrain.