There are a myriad of reasons why the dedicated ski area atop 11,307 ft. Berthoud Pass failed. Weak ownership, scarcity of snow-making water sources and an inability to compete with other neighboring ski areas may have all played roles. Whatever the cause, the ski lifts that had operated since 1937 were shut down in 2001. The resort lived on for two years as a ski-cat serviced area until that endeavor also proved to be unprofitable. By 2005, the trademark lodge was removed, the chair lifts were sold off and the area was earmarked by the forest service to return to a more natural state of being.
What Makes It Great
The good news is that the quality of powder and diversity of ski runs was never a problem. The area lives on today as one of the most popular backcountry ski areas, thanks to well-established runs, easy access and a propensity to reap quality snow from Front Range storms. A non-profit group called the Friends of Berthoud Pass informally monitors the area while providing free seminars and classes on avalanche safety -- knowledge that is vital to safely enjoy the Berthoud Pass area. Each winter, there are well-established skin tracks that lead to runs that echo the resorts family-friendly design to truly gnarly glades, cliffs and steep hills.
The phantom ski area is still well-suited for the 500 inches of snow the pass annually receives. The ski community quickly establishes good skin tracks and from there, it’s up to your imagination what lines you want to hit. On a powder day, the glades ski extremely well and the trees are naturally gapped out to set up zippy runs that provide options for mellow exits or extreme, cliffed out lines.
Who is Going to Love It
Backcountry skiers and riders who are well versed in safe avalanche travel will find a wealth of incredible runs. Both the east and west sides of the pass have terrain worth exploring, though the east side of the pass has more established lines (since it once hosted the ski area). For those relatively new to backcountry adventures, the old blue runs on right out of the parking lot on the east side are the perfect place to get acquainted with wilderness conditions. The majority of locals are happy to share their thoughts on avalanche conditions, good runs, powder stashes and may even share a cars to help shuttle skiers and snowboarders on the longer runs.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Denver or Boulder, it’s about 65 miles -- an hour and a half -- to get to Berthoud Pass. From the intersection of I-70 west and CO-93 / US 6, get on I-70 west and follow it about 27 miles to exist 232 to US-40 west towards Empire/ Berthoud Pass. It’s 14.8 miles to the top of the pass along a paved road that is steep at times -- 4x4 or all-wheel drive is recommended. The large parking area at the top of the pass rarely fills all the way up. There are restrooms and a warming hut at the parking area. You’ll see the relics of the old ski area to the east, where a collection of communications remains at Colorado Mines Peak at the top of the hill. There are no fees to ski at Berthoud Pass.