5 Dawn Patrol Skis in Boulder's Backcountry

First light at Berthoud Pass
First light at Berthoud Pass Ed Ogle
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Jackson Hole has Teton Pass. Salt Lake City has Little Cottonwood Canyon. Bozeman has Bridger Bowl, and Bend has Tumalo Mountain. Boulder, Colorado, has, well, nothing analogous that caters to ravenous dawn patrollers, those of us who like to fit in a backcountry ski before work.

Nevertheless it's not impossible for Boulderites to squeeze in a_ _ski at first light—and still be at the office by 10 am. It just takes a little extra work and planning, but the rewards (an invigorating workout, bragging rights at the water cooler) are well worth it.

1. Caribou Trailhead, Nederland

There are still ruins from this former town’s mining days, but mostly you’ll find undulating hills, a well-established track, and a mellow 25-degree slope good for a few laps.

Getting there: Drive west up Boulder Canyon to Nederland, and at the first roundabout take Highway 72 north. Just past the fire station, turn left onto Caribou Road. Follow the road until it dead ends. The total drive is about 40 minutes from Boulder.

2. East Portal of Moffatt Tunnel, Rollinsville

The early bird gets the smiley face near Moffatt Tunnel and the East Portal Trailhead.
The early bird gets the smiley face near Moffatt Tunnel and the East Portal Trailhead. Creative Commons

Plan to drive about 45 minutes from Boulder to the trailhead at Moffatt Tunnel , and then to skin for another 45 minutes to the low angle, forested slopes. If you’ve got more time—and conditions are safe—you can make more of an expedition by skiing to the top of Radio Beacon Peak.

Getting there: Head south out of Nederland about five miles to Rollinsville, and then turn west onto East Portal Road. The trailhead is about eight miles down the road.

3. Hidden Valley, Rocky Mountain National Park

Make sure to leave well before first light to make the hour-long drive up to this now-defunct ski area in Rocky Mountain National Park . The skiing is mellow and lower angle, but the views are absolutely epic. Who doesn’t want to start the day waving to 14,259-foot Longs Peak and the surrounding mountains?

Getting there: From RMNP's Beaver Meadow Visitor Center, follow Trail Ridge Road into the park to signs for Hidden Valley Picnic Area at 6.8 miles.

4. Berthoud Pass

First light at Berthoud Pass
First light at Berthoud Pass Ed Ogle

Find high alpine bowls, chutes and glades at this former ski area on the 11,307-foot pass that straddles the Continental Divide on Highway 40. A former ski area, this is now a popular backcountry spot with big crowds on any given weekend. Come the crack of dawn at midweek, however, you might enjoy a solo pre-descent sunrise.

Getting there: Plan on at least an hour and 15 minutes to drive 66 miles from Boulder to Berthoud Pass. Drive south on Highway 93 to Interstate 70. Take I-70 west for about 25 miles to exit 232, US-40W toward Granby, climb up the east side of the pass, and park at the summit.

5. Bear Peak, Boulder

When the stars collide and Boulder gets the occasional blizzard dump (generally in late March and early April), the town’s extensive trail network is transformed into ski trails. While you can’t actually ski from the summit of this 8,459-foot peak (too many cliffs), you can ski up Bear Canyon Trail to the Mesa Trail and get a solid workout—with some turns thrown in for fun on the descent.

Getting there: Head west onto Table Mesa Drive at the Broadway and Table Mesa intersection. After 0.7 miles, turn left onto Lehigh and take the immediate right onto Bear Mountain Drive. The trailhead is a half-mile ahead on your right.

 

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