It's no secret that here at Ascentials Pro- we love the outdoors. We recently chatted with Sergei Poljak, who is no newbie in hitting the slopes and an author for the popular Ski site, SnowBrains. Sergei covers everything from living out of a van to the best bike tours in Aspen. So when meeting up with this adventure junkie- we had to ask what his top Backcountry Ski Spots were! Check out his must-see spots!
Hey, I'm Sergei! As a lifetime lover of the slopes- let me show you spots you won't regret taking the hike for. You may not know that humans invented the ski, perhaps 10,000 years ago, to traverse the otherwise unnavigable snowpack and hunt for game. To me, backcountry skiing goes back to our roots.
When it comes to BackCountry Skiing, there are several things to take into account, including but not limited to the following:
- The duration of the snow season
- The avalanche risk
- The diversity of terrain
- The weather and climate
- Snow quality
- Guidebooks or guiding outfitters
These are the criteria I considered for making this list of the five best spots to go backcountry skiing. Without further ado, let's dive in.
1. Roger’s Pass- British Columbia, Canada
Located at the heart of Canada's Glacier National Park, Roger's Pass is one of the finest locales for pure, unadulterated backcountry skiing. Because it is a national park, the environment is pristine.
The snow is falling at Roger's Pass when the leaves are falling at your house. Conditions are often stellar by December and only improve until April. Perched at 51.3 degrees north latitude, even south-facing slopes will retain powder during the heart of winter.
The coast range of B.C. is known for getting rain, but Roger's Pass has an entirely different climate. It is further inland and receives less moisture, more cold air, and lighter snow. Storms come and go over days, not hours, and a typical storm might drop a few inches of snow a day for a few days in a row.
The avalanche risk falls into the "medium" category due to its designation as intercontinental snowpack. Accidents have occurred here, but there is plenty of tree skiing for big storm days.
The terrain ranges from beginner-friendly, low-angle tree skiing and alpine slopes to steep couloirs atop cascading glaciers. There is something for everyone here, and fitness will be as crucial as ski ability because there is no cheater line (helicopter) to the top.
Douglas Sprohl has written a beautiful guidebook for the area, and guiding services can be found in both the towns of Revelstoke and Golden on either end of the pass. Be sure to check in with the National Park Service at the top of the pass before you start your mission; it is a park, and there are fees. Camping is available at the top of the pass and a few parking lots along the way up. There are some people around, but the area is vast, and you'll be the only folks around with a bit of knowledge, will, and creativity.
2. Red Mountain Pass- Silverton, Colorado
Silverton, CO, what it lacks in latitude, Silverton makes up for in altitude. This sleepy Victorian mining town of 600 residents sits at 9300 ft and is legendary for the fluffy powder that can fall in huge quantities. In between storms, bluebird skies abound in classic Colorado style.
Not only are there big ski lines within walking distance of town, but this is also a staging area for nearby Red Mountain Pass. Every road in and out of Silverton is littered with skiable terrain. Skiing here starts early. Turkey Chute, a Silverton classic, is named because it's usually skiable by Thanksgiving.
The best powder can be found between December and April. April and May are also excellent since the snowpack bonds with the warmer days and higher sun angle. The big lines that Silverton is known for become safe and ready to ski.
Unfortunately, Silverton is one of the country's most dangerous places regarding avalanche risk. Nearly every winter, the snowpack is riddled with facets, ball-bearing like crystals that form when the temperature of the ground and lower snowpack is warmer than the temperature of the air above. This is common for mountains far from the sea; hence, it is a continental snowpack.
Luckily, the area around McMillan peak on Red Mountain Pass is very beginner friendly, and the avalanche danger is minimal at 15-20 degrees. It is also the only place you will find crowds in Silverton.
3. Tuckerman’s Ravine- New Hampshire
Tuckerman's Ravine, N.H. Tuck's is a unique, gritty place that has served as a proving ground for East Coasters for generations - it was first skied in 1914.
This amphitheater-shaped glacial cirque fostered its unique ski culture in the following century. Many people think of mountains in the Appalachian range as not that exciting, and while that may be true for many parts, Tuck's brings adventurers from far and wide.
The approach is 3 miles and some thousands of feet up to the base. From there, nearly all skiing requires boot-packing straight up the mountain, preferably with an ice axe and crampons. The runs here range from 40-55 degrees in pitch and are roughly 1000 vertical feet long. In hard-pack snow, it is too steep to arrest a fall.
The weather station atop Mt. Washington holds the record for one of the highest wind speeds on earth. The entire mountain is covered in rime ice for winter. Conditions can get real on this mountain, and it can happen fast. The cirque often flushes itself with avalanches, but from my experience skier triggered slides are relatively rare. The cirque is simply too steep; anything a skier would trigger has already slid naturally. In addition to weather and slide-for-life, ice fall is a hazard, especially during the melt season. Precipitation commonly takes the form of snow, rain, freezing rain, freezing mist (yep, it's a thing), graupel, and hail.
With a cabin and plenty of camping platforms at Hermit pond shelter, there is no shortage of camaraderie; weathering the brutal conditions in hopes of a window of good weather has become a tradition. In the spring, crowds of skiers come to bask in the sun and sip a beer. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more authentic scene in skiing.
4. Grand Teton National Park- Jackson Hole, Wyoming
The first resort to open its boundaries to the public, and still the best for lift-access backcountry today, it's no secret that Jackson has some of the best terrains.
There is so much to explore in this incredible region. The town is built in a "hole," which is to say, a deep, wide valley surrounded by mountains. These mountains receive monstrous amounts of snow each winter, and an abundance of widely spaced trees makes storm skiing delightful. The key to Jackson is to use the lifts or Teton Pass when it's snowing, then venture further afield on a blue bird day and escape the crowds. Beginners can check out the southside of Teton Pass for the first taste of Cowboy powder. Those looking to break into the side country should start with the "Why Not" gate accessible from the Tram or Sublette chair. For the true expert, an unlimited array of cliffs, bowls, couloirs, and steeps are accessible from the lifts.
However, it's essential to keep an eye on the avalanche report. Some of the lines here need to be steep enough to slide naturally but will react to the weight of a skier. Overall the snowpack doesn't collect facets susceptible to the weight of a skier the same way Silverton does. Like Roger's pass, this is an intercontinental snowpack.
The best part about Jackson is that it is one of the few places in the U.S. where you can ski in a National Park. Even now, Grand Teton National Park offers a lifetime of exploration with incredible access. While there is nothing here for a beginner, Wimpy's or 25 Short are achievable objectives for budding backcountry aficionados. There are also many guide services on tap, such as the celebrated Exum guides.
5. La Grave, France
Many skiers have heard of La Grave. It is no longer a "secret," but amongst the skier community, I've found that few of these skiers have ever visited.
I'm here to tell you that La Grave is a dream spot for backcountry skiers. It is the perfect combination of land and fulfills all of my criteria for a backcountry base.
The extent of north-facing terrain accessible from the top is mind-boggling. The snow, which can sometimes fall in copious amounts, stays chalky in the shadows. The ease of access with the lift is unparalleled, allowing for many different adventures each day. From low-angle glaciers to the steepest of couloirs, there is terrain for every skier. Due to the influence of the mediterranean sea, there are many dry, bluebird days. The season runs from December to May. There are only crowds in late February and March, mostly on weekends. There are incredible people from all over the world and a selection of some of the finest mountain guides to show you around.
With that being said- it's time to get out there! See it for yourself; all backcountry skiers with an eye for adventure deserve to visit these spots at least once.
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