Posts Tagged ‘san juan mountains’

Backcountry Snowboarding–Red Mountain Pass (near Ouray, CO)

Monday, February 16th, 2009

On our recent Valentine’s weekend getaway to Telluride (fantastic area–ride it if you have the chance!), I made sure to work in a side excursion to Red Mountain pass, above Ouray. Sunday provided some very good conditions for the backcounty. It had been a few days since the last snowfall, and the snowpack seemed relatively stable.

Although I’ve never done any riding off Red Mountain pass, I’ve driven over it on two past trips to Silverton. The stunning scenery of the San Juans along with the seemingly isolation of the area had stuck it in my mind ever since. What is a classic mainstay for locals also makes for a worthwhile road trip for any front-range rider.

Being unfamiliar with the pass, I went straight to the map posted at the parking area. Various areas were outlined: motorized and non-motorized. I have heard of the current struggle between various recreational users on Red Mountain Pass, from various groups such as Backcountry Snowsports Alliance. It looks like the groups made some headway, for I identified an area on the west side of the pass that was designated as ‘non-motorized’.
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View up the intended route on the west side of the pass.

We started climbing up a skin-track that was already laid down recently. It looked like it climbed up the fluffy rolling hills directly west of the parking area, so we decided to stick with the track as opposed to trying to find our own way. The snow conditions were variable along the climb. Although the east-facing snow was soft, the skin track bent onto a south aspect that was very icy. (The steep icy face caused me to briefly flashback to my scary experience not too far away on Kendall Mountain last April)

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The stunning backdrop of the San Juan mountains!

Along the climb, I was looking back toward the east at the face on the other side of the highway. There were a lot more tracks on that side, and I had wondered if the conditions would be better over there.

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Here we are hiking up on the first route. In the background is the cliffs and tracks described in the second route of this TR.

Nevertheless, after climbing about 800 feet, we reached treeline and decided not to go any farther. From there, we mounted our snowboards and made some excellent turns on the nice rolling terrain.

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I am looking down my line before dropping in

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Miss V. cruising the soft powder

Back at the car, we decided to head up the west side of the road. The face I had admired was a very steep aspect with various cliffs, although I could make out many lines between the cliffs that had obvious ski tracks in them. Once more, this area also had a snow-covered county road that led us on a moderate climb up and around the mountain.

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Here we are hiking up the county road on the east side of the pass. The treed glades in the background are the first route of this TR.

We encountered more people on this route. Most of them were skiing or boarding down the road. However, since we saw tracks directly on the west face of the hill, I knew there just had to be a way up to the top. Sure enough, as the road rounded the south side of the hill, a skin track appeared and climbed steeply past the ruins of a few mining cabins and up the backside of the hill.

At the top of the track, we were surprised to see a hut. No doubt, it was part of the San Juan hut system. No one was at home. We snowboarded down past the hut and found some excellent powder lines in the trees. When we approached the cliff band, we followed the tracks out around to the left, and made the final thrilling descent down the steep face–the powder was excellent.

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Soft powder in the trees.

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Making the final descent.

On a side note, we had a wonderful time in Ouray at the [urlhttp://www.wiesbadenhotsprings.com/]Wiesbaden Motel [/url]. Having just picked it off the website, it turned out to be a great find. The motel features a natural underground vapor cave and hot spring pool, along with quiet and comfortable rooms. It was a very tranquil and relaxing way to end the trip and I recommend staying there if ever in Ouray.

V and I in Ouray
Back down to beautiful Ouray!