Filed under: Backcountry Guide. Tagged as: Backcountry skiing colorado, Loveland Pass Colorado, Loveland Ski Area.
Loveland Pass is a popular destination for Colorado Backcountry Users, veterans and beginners alike, with a wide variety of terrain that can challenge all ability levels. From spending a bluebird day linking turns down low angle bowls, to storm riding deep powder in steep, tight trees, to having your first Ski Mountaineering experience on a big mountain line, Loveland Pass can deliver the goods. The area is also well known as an outdoor classroom of sorts for learning the basic skills that can keep you safe in the Backcountry. Here are the details on how to get started with your first Backcountry experience atop the Continental Divide.
First off, of course, always have the basic safety gear in place before traveling in the Backcountry – shovel, probe, beacon (if possible), and partner. In addition, as much knowledge of safe Backcountry travel techniques, and key warning signs for snowpack instability, as you can get your hands on are also highly recommended (there are many good books and articles out there, and we will have more info here coming soon). Also, before you head out, let someone know where you are going and when you should be expected back. Doing the little things right can make all the difference should something go wrong.
By the way, don’t let anybody tell you that this is not Backcountry because Loveland Pass is “just a road shot”. There is no patrol here, no signs telling you it is closed when it may be dangerous, no marked obstacles, and no one will come looking for you should you nail a tree. If you are not Inbounds, then you are in the Backcountry. Have fun, but always keep that fact in the front of your mind. You will have to take care of yourself.
To get there, take I-70 west from Denver to exit 216, the turn off for Hwy 6 and Loveland Pass, just before the Eisenhower tunnel. After you exit I-70, you will pass the Loveland Ski Area off to your right, as you make the first sharp left turn and begin up the pass.
Along this first stretch of road, you will see the Seven Sisters slide paths to your right. These are a series of avalanche paths that load with snow from storms, and from snow being carried by winds crossing the divide, so they are especially prone to avalanches. According to Ethan Greene of the CAIC, Colorado Avalanche Information Center, ” the Seven Sisters have the dubious honor of being the most active slide area over a U.S. Highway”. Even though tracks can be seen from time to time down these avalanche paths, DO NOT attempt to ski these as they are permanently off-limits because, as mentioned above, the risk of avalanches and the impact they would have on passing vehicles. Also, never park in this area, because of the obvious danger, and because your car will be towed!
After you pass the Seven Sisters, the road will turn to the right and then you will come to a sharp hairpin left. This is an important stop on your introduction to this Backcountry area because this bend is also the major exit for most runs on the East side of the pass. In fact, this is where you will end up on your first run, so take note of the location. Also, if you see anybody waiting for a ride up the hill, pick them up and take them to the top of the pass. This is good karma you will need later on to get your own ass back to the top, and it’s also a great way to meet cool people and learn about the conditions.
In general, if you hitch rides on the pass, always be good a steward. This means being friendly, like thanking the person who gave you a lift, and always taking good care of their vehicle (i.e., clean off your boots before you hop in, watch the upholstery when you carefully place your gear in, etc…). You know. Also, when hitching rides on the hairpin, or Rider’s Bend – as some locals call it – make sure to stand on the side of uphill traffic, and always look before crossing to/from the pullout. The tankers haul ass around this turn, and there is less visibility than it seems. Many people have almost been hit, so watch out! In addition, if you hear a deep grinding noise heading your way, that means snowplow. You’ll want to hike up on the bank, and make sure to grab your gear, too, because they tend run close to the wall, and don’t like to slow down!
Loveland Pass Tip “The Noon Rule”: If you arrive at the main pullout after noon, in particular on weekdays, the traffic to A-Basin and Keystone usually slows to the point where you may want to insure your ride. This means parking your car in the dirt pullout, located to the left of the hairpin, and catching a ride to the top, which guarantees that when you finish your run, there is some way for you to leave. Otherwise, you may have to hike all the way up the pass to get your car! Bad news on a cold day, with night on the way.
Another important note about parking – once you pass Loveland Ski Area, you will notice a sign on either side of the main pull-outs that indicate parking is not allowed except in the designated area. This generally means the area inbetween the signs is where you are supposed to park, and be careful with this one, because the Colorado State Patrol is known for showing up and towing cars that are not legally parked. Don’t worry, there’s normally plenty of room, but the top can get crowded, so don’t be tempted to park beyond the cut off or less than 6 feet from the edge of the highway.
Continue on past another major hairpin and the exposed, windy stretch that ends at the pass. Once you get to the top, then just park to the left, or hop out to the right, if you caught a ride, and walk downhill from the Continental Divide/ Loveland Pass sign. There is a sign on the West Side and on the East, and this refers to East Side, the one you just came up from. So just get your gear together, and get ready for the easy part. Point ‘em/it and ski/ride.
There are many different runs that you can choose from by going left or right from the road. Some are steeper, or tighter, than others, but most would be considered black diamond and above. Going straight down with the fall line is possibly a hard blue. Just remember, that whatever way you go, all runs funnel down to the Rider’s Bend, so if you don’t know where you are, just keep heading down. Congratulations, you just had your first Backcountry experience!
Avalanche Closes Loveland Pass
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