Learning Backcountry Skiing Skills In-bounds
Peering over the edge of the bowl, all you see is a patchwork of rocks and ungroomed snow. “Take it carefully and remember what we discussed,” says your guide. Sliding into the first turn, you carve carefully around a rock and onto a big plot of snow. “I can do this,” you think. And you can. It’s late morning and you’ve spent the last hour on the North Face working with a trained Crested Butte Mountain Guide to learn backcountry ski skills.
The Adventure Guide Program at Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s Ski and Ride School educates adventurous skiers and snowboarders about skiing in the backcountry during guided in-bounds and out-of-bounds programs. In groups of four to eight people (or in private lessons), a guide starts with a few ski-off runs on single black-diamond trails, and on the crud snow alongside a trail. Once the students’ skiing or riding abilities have been assessed and deemed competent, the guide will move the group over to the North Face, with its un-groomed, double-black diamond terrain. (This is where the U.S. Free Skiing Championships are held.) The choice of runs available on this section of extreme terrain at Crested Butte depends upon the snow conditions and weather on a particular day, but could include serious steeps on the North Face Bowl, or even Third Bowl, if the students are good enough. A guide might take very skilled skiers or riders into Sock-It-To-Me Ridge or Staircase, both technical rocky chutes.
The Adventure Guide Program is offered as a half-day or full-day experience. Per the director of the Ski and Ride School, skiers and snowboarders should be at least advanced intermediate or more skilled. When calling the ski school to make reservations for the program, discuss your skill level and comfort level in un-groomed terrain to see if this is the right program for you. The program is a joint partnership between the Ski and Ride School and Crested Butte Mountain Guides. If you really want to immerse yourself in backcountry skiing, take the CB Backcountry Guide 2-Day Program. Day 1 is spent on the mountain learning backcountry skills, safety procedures, and how to use backcountry equipment, including skins and avalanche transceivers. Day 2 is spent exploring the backcountry with your guide.
Crested Butte, in southwestern Colorado, is a historical mining town turned resort community, with many good restaurants and lively bars. The slopes on Crested Butte Mountain Resort are a few miles up the road. Here you’ll find plenty of slopes for beginner and intermediate skiers. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are also popular in this area. There’s plenty of lodging at the base of the slopes and down in town. Everything is connected via shuttles. —LF
When to Go: Dec (if there’s enough snow to open the North Face) through mid-Apr.
Gunnison, Colorado (28 miles/45km).