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Backcountry Powder Skiing & Snowshoeing at Red Mountain South of Ouray

  • Mar 22, 2014 · 7:00 AM
  • This location is no longer available

Premiere powder skiing and snowshoeing. Paul and I were here two weeks ago. Don't hesitate to go because you're new to backcountry, skinning, powder skiing, route finding, avalanche avoidance, trip planning and GPS navigation.  We only need to "walk" up trails already broken by other skiers!  A shovel, probe poles and beacon are recommended but not mandatory. You could rent skiis.  I have two pairs of snowshoes to loan.  

We could hit the Ouray Hot Springs and have dinner on the way back or dinner first then the springs, or the springs on both sides of dinner (the springs charge by the day)!  

All photos below are from the actual Red Mountain #3 area. Notice the one I noted as more steep than I would lead.  

12 miles south of Ouray just off 550; quick access to the slopes; minimal approach.  75 minutes from my house in Montrose.  

Area Description 


Can stay at Jeff's Friday night for the 7:00 am start. Post your questions here, phone me at[masked] or e-mail [masked].

Getting to the trailhead: Drive on U.S. 550 to the summit of Red Mountain Pass, 13 miles south of Ouray and 10 miles north of Silverton. There are several parking areas at the pass, the northernmost being the best if starting on County Road 14A, while the parking area just to the south is at the start of County Road 14.

Statistics and difficulty: For the intermediate tour to the Mountain Belle Hut, the trail gains 500 feet in 1.2 miles. The slopes of McMillan Peak offer moderate slopes for those wanting to practice their telemarking skills. More advanced skills (including routefinding and avalanche awareness) are recommended if you decide to continue on to ski the glades of U.S. Basin. Climbing skins are recommended for this tour.

Whether skiing the gentle slopes high on the flanks of McMillan Peak or the challenging tree runs in U.S. Basin, we have enjoyed memorable descents that demand that we skin up again and repeat.

On those occasions when the snow above treeline is windpacked, there are plenty of glades lower down that tend to hold good snow.

Head south on the CR 14 roadbed, probably tracked by skis and snowmobiles (watch for snowmobiles on the road). After one- half-mile the road turns east up an unnamed drainage and climbs quite steeply (skins recommended) to another road junction at mile 0.9. Here County Road 14 turns right (south) and is well signed to the St. Paul Lodge and Mountain Belle Cabin. Throughout this area you'll see some of the many old mine buildings still standing.

Stay on County Road 14 as it climbs up and past St. Paul Lodge and then the Mountain Belle Cabin. The skiing to this point is a very nice outing for intermediate skiers, but for those who want to practice their telemark skills or for the advanced skier, this is just the start. To continue on above treeline, head east in the vicinity of the Mountain Belle Hut onto the west flank of McMillan Peak. From here, choose your descent line, taking care to stay off the steeper terrain when avalanche conditions are suspect.

Here's the waypoints I've plotted and loaded into my GPS and printed a glossy map showing all of this.

Weather cameras at Red Mountain Pass:

This slope angle below I would not ski unless it was late in the season and a pit revealed little hoar frost and good consolidation, or if the trees were everywhere. 

A sweet bowl. 

Approaching the top of Red Mountain #3. You can see the slope incline is low.  

McMillan Peak, another safe and easy option Paul and I used two weeks ago, in the background. 

No avalanche potential here!  Just easy gliding from the top of Red 3.

Waypoints to ensure we know our exact location the whole time.   These aren't needed on a clear day. 

Potential ascents and descents.   

Hundreds of peaks above 12,000' viewable 360 degrees in this radical area of the San Juans. 

Shuss or wedelen, as you wish. 

Easy, pre-broken ascents. 

Summer appearance; notice the low slope angle on the right side. 

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  • Jeff H.

    Am I in the right Outdoor Group! This was awesome! Need to find some mountaineers!

    March 24, 2014

  • Jeff H.

    There will be groups on the mountain to "join' but it sure would be more fun to bring someone, especially if they've never been to this spectacular resource requiring so little approach.

    March 21, 2014

  • Paul S

    Jeff, I gotta back out, sorry. I've emailed you separately.

    March 21, 2014

  • Karen L.

    Mmmmm. Mine are 78cm. We May still do. SILs in town that would snowshoe. We have our own snowshoes.

    March 18, 2014

  • Paul S

    I hope to come on this, I'm a maybe at this point.

    March 18, 2014

  • Jeff H.

    You could easily walk up using my snowshoes and I can stuff them in my pack on the way down. These 12,500' bowls have better powder than the 12,500' bowls at Peak 8/7 at Breck, because of far less use. I you don't have at least 90mm waisted skiis you won't float much.

    March 18, 2014

  • Karen L.

    Is this doable for someone who just has alpine skis. Have never attempted backcountry but we ski bowls at Tride and CB. Breck, etc?

    March 17, 2014

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