The Backcountry Where No One Owns Skins
Loveland Pass is a high pass, nearly 12,000 ft, between Denver and Summit County. It is one of the hot spots of the Front Range. On the Summit County side is A-Basin Ski Area, a beloved local ski area. After skiing Cristo Couloir on Quandary Peak, Jacob and I went up the next afternoon to the A-Basin side country to ski “Shit For Brains”, a classic west facing couloir.
After a brief approach through the trees, we were staring up at the line. It looked like plenty of parties had skied it recently, which made us feel good about stability. It was also west facing, which meant it was unlikely to have persistent problems.
The line is decently steep, close to 45 degrees, and often quite narrow. As far as Colorado couloirs go, it is a pretty technical line. It tops out around 13k and is narrow for about 1,000 feet.
The snow was pretty tracked out and even had moguls through the narrowest section. It was an exercise in jump turns, and our form slowly degraded the further we got.
The snow was straight mush in the apron, which made us reconsider our plans to ski a similar aspect the next day.
We took some time to dig a few pits, one on a west aspect and one on a north aspect. On the west aspect, we found the mid-March weak layers to be rounding pretty well. On the north aspect, the biggest concern was basal facets near the ground. In one spot where a rock made the snowpack only about two feet deep, we were able to get the entire snowpack to collapse on a column test. It really demonstrated to me how these persistent problems are minefields – hit a shallow part in the snowpack and you might get really unlucky. It was good to do some digging in such a different snowpack.
Armed with new knowledge, we changed our weekend plans. The next day, we headed up to Loveland Pass proper to ski low angle north slopes, hoping for some powder. Kurt, our friend from Gonzaga, was able to come up from Denver and join us, which was a treat. The last time we skied together was my third day ever on skis and Kurt was on a snowboard. Now he had learned to ski and we were all out in the backcountry together!
It was an easy 30 minute skin to the top of a 12,500 ft peak with great views of Summit County. We had it all to ourselves because most other backcountry skiers at Loveland Pass do not own skins or backcountry gear, just car shuttling between bends in the highway. Colorado is so funny.
Our theories of dry snow on the north aspects was correct. Not blower pow, but sufficiently fun and fast boot-top powder. The gut was resort-tracked by all the people car shuttling in downhill gear, but there was good snow to the sides. There were also giant booters built all over the place. Sometimes there were a series of jumps and gaps.
We took a few laps, finding a few short steeper sections to drop.
When Jacob’s friend Sam arrived to meet up, we told him to meet at the hairpin turn on the highway, so we skied down to him and leveraged a car shuttle for a little free vert Colorado-style.
Kurt was tired and said goodbye, but Jacob and I skied a few more laps with Sam as the light slowly became flat.
We spent two half days around Loveland Pass – one skiing a steep couloir and the other skiing low angle hippie pow. Loveland is definitely a vibe with the boomboxes and Front Range crowds, but it is pretty fun!