Earn Your Turns
The mountains around Ouray are extremely popular with backcountry skiers. This unique sport blends the excitement of downhill skiing with the physical challenges and rewards of backcountry winter travel. The Red Mountain Pass area in particular hosts an abundance of different tours for a variety of different skiing abilities. Easy access and incredible snow conditions make the high peaks and wooded glades of the Pass a winter playground for those willing to “earn their turns.” Once you’ve skied a truly untracked powder stash far from any lift lines you’ll know why some locals never ski at resorts.
Photo courtesy of San Juan Mountain Guides
Those new to the sport of backcountry skiing should approach it cautiously. The San Juans are known for their avalanches and it takes some experience to enjoy the winter backcountry safely. All skiers should always carry and know how to use an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe and possess good avalanche training. Most importantly, never ski alone. Before setting off on any outing, check out the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) in Durango for current mountain weather, snow and avalanche conditions in this area. Better yet, travel with one of our professional guides, who are always available, knowledgable, and ready to show you a great time on the snow!
The San Juan Mountains are noted for their often unstable snow conditions which, when combined with their steep slopes, makes for extremely hazardous avalanche areas. Avalanches may occur on almost any slope if loaded with snow, so no terrain is completely risk free. Even small hillocks or roadside grades can pose as much of a hazard to the hiker or skier as the larger, more easily recognized avalanche chutes. Therefore, if venturing off the relatively safe groomed trails, you should learn to recognize and avoid potential avalanche slopes and terrain traps, carry and know how to use avalanche beacons, probes and a shovel, and of course, never ski or snowshoe alone. Before setting off on any outing, check out the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) in Durango for current mountain weather, snow and avalanche conditions in this area.
If you don't have the proper equipment, both cross-country can be purchased or rented at Ouray Mountain Sports on Main Street. If you wish to call ahead of time, you can contact them at 970.325.4284.
Remember that venturing into the winter backcountry is inherently hazardous and you are traveling at your own risk, even on groomed trails. Prepare yourself accordingly and don't exceed the capability of the least experienced in your party.
Purchase a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue Card, available from local merchants for $3 per year, which helps reimburse the local Search And Rescue for rescue costs. Respect private property and historic structures. And, above all, enjoy yourself and our beautiful San Juan Mountains.