Considering I work at Liftopia and spend my days thinking about how we can get people to buy more lift tickets, sharing the best non-lift-served terrain in the lower 48 might seem a bit odd. But we are equal opportunity ski enthusiasts here, and sometimes you just want to earn your turns.
Arguably some of the best backcountry exists north of the border in British Columbia or within the wilds of the 49th state. However we’ll keep this list focused on the best of the continental U.S (in no particular order):
- Berthoud Pass, CO: Located in the Front Range of Colorado, west of Denver, Berthoud Pass is a defunct ski area that now offers some great backcountry runs. There’s around 1200 acres of skiable terrain, some of which can be accessed right off the pass itself. Many runs end below the pass and may require a vehicle shuttle.
- Big Cottonwood Canyon, UT: Home of Brighton and Solitude ski areas, Big Cottonwood Canyon sits east of Salt Lake City in the Wasatch Mountains. Easy access, seeming endless terrain and 500 inches of snowfall a year make this spot one of the most popular backcountry ski destinations in Utah.
- Tuckerman Ravine, NH: Tucks is located on the southeast face of Mt. Washington, one of the gnarliest peaks on the eastern seaboard. The record-setting winds atop Mt. Washington deposit boatloads of snow from the surrounding highlands into this ravine, lending to skiing well into the spring and early summer. The best time to go is April, in my opinion. Skiing Tucks is a right of passage from many New England skiers.
- Tamarack Peak, NV (Tahoe): Near Mt. Rose resort in North Lake Tahoe, Tamarack Peak is a fairly quick skin/hike from the road and is conducive to car shuttles. Once you reach the top you are rewarded with great views of Lake Tahoe and hopefully some smooth turns in fresh pow down the Hour Glass Gully.
- Mt. Baker, WA: Mt. Baker ski area is renowned for it’s heavy snowfall, in fact in 1999 it broke the record for most snowfall ever measured in a single season – over 1100 inches! So you can only imagine how epic the backcountry surrounding the resort must be. When winter winds down and the snow begins to melt on the forest roads, backcountry terrain becomes even more accessible well into summer.
There are few activities more thrilling that descending through untouched powder unfettered by development or crowds. Just you and your ski buddies soaring through the fluffy white stuff…it can be what ski dreams are made of…but those dreams can quickly turn to nightmares. Going out in the backcountry is dangerous. You should have proper avalanche training and the appropriate gear (i.e. beacons, shovels, probes, etc). Make sure your friends are competent in rescue techniques as well. Your master beacon searching techniques won’t do you much good if you are the one buried in the snow. Visit avalanche.org for more information, tips, and education opportunities.
Have more spots to add to this list? Let us know what we missed! We promise not to poach all of your favorite lines….
No mention of the backside of Wyoming’s Grand Targhee? I can’t speak for the other 4 resorts, but it is certainly better than Mt.Baker’s backcountry IMO.
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