Locals dish on their favorite Vail splitboarding routes
March 19, 2017
Know before you go
After an early-summer trip to Quandary Peak, local ski mountaineer Teague Holmes emailed me a brief list of essential for anyone heading into the backcountry. He also suggested two resources for self-education: courses with Ben Pritchett, a Crested Butte-area guide, and a cutting-edge resource from Powder Magazine he says is “probably the best online avalanche education tool I know of.”
1. Take an Avalanche Level 1 course.
2. Read the local avalanche forecast every day, available through the Colorado Avalanche Information Center app.
3. Learn what terrain can avalanche, what cannot and why.
4. Be honest with yourself about anything you don’t know for certain.
5. Always speak up, no matter who you are with, and bail if your gut speaks.
You've got the split kit. You've got the avalanche gear and the proper training to use it all. But where to go from there? Here's a few favorite Eagle County routes for splitboarding and alpine touring recommended by Chris Shump, general manager at Alpine Quest Sports in Edwards.
Beginner | Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek Resort
The local resorts can be good places for beginners to start practicing their uphill moves.
"You get a good workout going up somewhere where you don't have to break trail," Shump said. "You can go up Arrowhead, for example, and come back down in not too much time, an hour or so."
Both Vail and Beaver Creek have policies governing uphill access. Rules include staying toward the side of the trail, positioning yourself so you're visible from above, wearing brightly colored and/or reflective clothing and obeying all signage. Dogs are not allowed on either resort during daytime operations and must be leashed in the evenings.
Avoid areas where machinery is operating, and note that areas in which activities such as snowmaking, snowcat and winch cat operations are taking place may be closed. Ski area-provided emergency services are only available during normal daytime operating hours.
All uphill users are encouraged to call 970-754-3049 before heading up to find out where grooming operations are occurring and get suggested routes. Learn more at Vail.com or BeaverCreek.com.
Beginner to intermediate | Meadow Mountain
There's relatively low avalanche danger on Meadow Mountain, Shump said, making it a fairly safe place for beginner to intermediate splitboarding and alpine touring.
"There's a ton of terrain up there, and there's actually riding to be had," he said. "It's wide open. There's going to be quite a few people up there, but you can go out as far as you'd like. You can go all the way up to the cabin, which is 5 or 6 miles up, which is a pretty good trek for most people in a day.
"If you want to get away from the crowds, you have to work a little harder there for it. There will be people there, but it's still not like skiing at the resort on a Saturday."
Additional routes can be found by circling around to where the Meadow Mountain trails meet the Grouse Creek drainage, Shump said. Park at the U.S. Forest Service ranger station at Dowd Junction, and head up the trail that begins at the south end of the lot. Note that the lower part of Meadow Mountain is roped off and closed to skier traffic.
Intermediate to advanced | Vail Pass and hut trips
Head east on Interstate 70 and take Exit 190 to access the Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area. The area has a large variety of terrain to explore, Shump said.
"Up there, there's a ton of stuff — everything from going for a walk in an open meadow to pretty steep skiing and riding," he said. "There's a little something for everyone. There's stuff on the south side of 70, and on the north side, you have Uneva Peak, which has a lot to offer all ability levels. You can ski or ride a lot of different terrain without going all the way to the summit."
The $6 per person, per day use fee can be paid onsite or buy a season pass for $40, available through the Dillon Ranger District. Be aware of avalanche danger, and bring appropriate equipment and clothing for changing weather conditions. Trail maps and additional rules and information are available online at http://www.dillon rangerdistrict.com.
A handful of 10th Mountain Division huts — including Fowler and Hilliard and the privately owned Shrine Mountain Inn — also are accessible from Vail Pass, requiring a hike over terrain with varying degrees of difficulty.
"You have to consider distance versus elevation gain," Shump said of taking a hut trip. "If it's 10 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation gain, that's about as minimal as you can do on a 10-mile trek. Some that are 5 miles might be 4,500 feet of elevation gain.
"They're kind of all over the place, so you have to gauge what everybody's fitness level is in the group and only do as hard as the weakest person can do."
Some huts have better skiing opportunities than others, Shump said. Hut space is limited and must be booked in advance online at Huts.org.
Expert | Deeper into the Gore
Shump said you have to travel further these days to get away from people — around here, that means heading deeper into the Gore Range — but splitboarding and alpine touring are limited only by your knowledge, ability and how far you're willing to go.
"There's soul to it," he said. "People are with the group they choose to be with. You get out there; you're not dealing with all things involving the resort. The resort is great, but it's a different experience."
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