Splitboarding routes: Where to chase fresh tracks in Eagle, Summit counties | VailDaily.com

Splitboarding routes: Where to chase fresh tracks in Eagle, Summit counties

Krista Driscoll
Shannon Kennedy puts skins on her splitboard for a quick before-work skin on Friday at West Grouse Creek Trailhead in Minturn. Splitboards have made it easier for people to get off the chairs at resorts to make some turns.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com |

SUMMIT Splitboarding routes

Locals weigh in on their favorite Summit County routes for splitboarding and alpine touring.

Easy | Arapahoe Basin and resorts

Did you know that just about every resort in Summit County allows uphill travel before and after the lifts are spinning? Now you know.

Arapahoe Basin Ski Area is a favorite for early morning skiers, known for a route up High Noon that’s challenging but not too brutal. Breckenridge is another favorite, featuring five routes between Peak 7, Peak 8, Peak 9 and Peak 10. Rules at all resorts are slightly different, so be sure to study up before heading out.

The perks: there might not be bottomless powder like the backcountry, but there’s something special about solo corduroy turns on Springmeier.

Advanced | Baldy Mountain and Mayflower Gulch

A few of Summit’s most popular summer hikes are also perfect for splitboard and AT travel. Baldy is a favorite, known for easy access and a 3-mile uphill route that follows a mellow grade to west-facing trees, bowls and the occasional boulder drop. Simply park at the trailhead east of Breckenridge and follow the tracks to the Iowa Mill. From there, Baldy is your oyster.

Mayflower Gulch is another simple excursion, found about 10 minutes south of Copper Mountain Resort en route to Leadville on Highway 91. It’s another three-mile skin to the base of a natural amphitheater and long-gone mining settlement. The surrounding peaks offer dozens of lines, but be wary: avalanches are a constant danger. Travel smart, travel safe and always travel with a buddy.

Expert | Quandary Peak and the Tenmile Range

There’s nothing quite like cresting Breck’s hometown 14er in the winter. Quandary Peak is a favorite for high-adventure types and features three main lines, each ready by late spring: the East Slopes, Cristo Couloir and the North Gullies. All three are accessed by a 5.2-mile skin to the summit with a gain of about 3,900 vertical, but choose wisely. Slopes range from 25 to 45+ degrees — the sweet spot for avy danger — and all require a return trip.

Quandary is the sentinel of the Tenmile Range, and each peak between Frisco and Breckenridge is home to backcountry lines. For an in-depth look at each one, find “MakingTurns in the Tenmile-Mosquito Range,” a guidebook by Summit Daily columnist and backcountry guru Fritz Sperry.

You’ve got the split kit. You’ve got the avalanche gear — but where to go from here? Here’s a few favorite Vail Valley routes for splitboarding and alpine touring recommended by Chris Shump, general manager at Alpine Quest Sports in Edwards.

Beginner | Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek Resort

The local resorts can be good places for beginners to start practicing their uphill moves.

“You get a good workout going up somewhere where you don’t have to break trail,” Shump said. “You can go up Arrowhead, for example, and come back down in not too much time, an hour or so.”

Both Vail and Beaver Creek have policies governing uphill access. Rules include staying toward the side of the trail, positioning yourself so you’re visible from above, wearing brightly colored and/or reflective clothing and obeying all signage. Dogs are not allowed on either resort during daytime operations and must be leashed in the evenings.

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Avoid areas where machinery is operating, and note that areas in which activities such as snowmaking, snowcat and winch cat operations are taking place may be closed. Ski area-provided emergency services are only available during normal daytime operating hours.

All uphill users are encouraged to call 970-754-3049 before heading up to find out where grooming operations are occurring and get suggested routes. Learn more at http://www.vail.com or http://www.beavercreek.com.

Beginner to intermediate Meadow Mountain

There’s relatively low avalanche danger on Meadow Mountain, Shump said, making it a fairly safe place for beginner to intermediate splitboarding and alpine touring.

“There’s a ton of terrain up there, and there’s actually riding to be had,” he said. “It’s wide open. There’s going to be quite a few people up there, but you can go out as far as you’d like. You can go all the way up to the cabin, which is 5 or 6 miles up, which is a pretty good trek for most people in a day.

“If you want to get away from the crowds, you have to work a little harder there for it. There will be people there, but it’s still not like skiing at the resort on a Saturday.”

Additional routes can be found by circling around to where the Meadow Mountain trails meet the Grouse Creek drainage, Shump said. Park at the U.S. Forest Service ranger station at Dowd Junction, and head up the trail that begins at the south end of the lot. Note that the lower part of Meadow Mountain is roped off and closed to skier traffic.

Intermediate to advanced | Vail Pass and hut trips

Head east on Interstate 70 and take Exit 190 to access the Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area. The area has a large variety of terrain to explore, Shump said.

“Up there, there’s a ton of stuff — everything from going for a walk in an open meadow to pretty steep skiing and riding,” he said. “There’s a little something for everyone. There’s stuff on the south side of 70, and on the north side, you have Uneva Peak, which has a lot to offer all ability levels. You can ski or ride a lot of different terrain without going all the way to the summit.”

The $6 per person, per day use fee can be paid onsite or buy a season pass for $40, available through the Dillon Ranger District. Be aware of avalanche danger, and bring appropriate equipment and clothing for changing weather conditions. Trail maps and additional rules and information are available online at http://www.dillon rangerdistrict.com.

A handful of 10th Mountain Division huts — including Fowler and Hilliard and the privately owned Shrine Mountain Inn — also are accessible from Vail Pass, requiring a hike over terrain with varying degrees of difficulty.

“You have to consider distance versus elevation gain,” Shump said of taking a hut trip. “If it’s 10 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation gain, that’s about as minimal as you can do on a 10-mile trek. Some that are 5 miles might be 4,500 feet of elevation gain.

“They’re kind of all over the place, so you have to gauge what everybody’s fitness level is in the group and only do as hard as the weakest person can do.”

Some huts have better skiing opportunities than others, Shump said. Hut space is limited and must be booked in advance online at http://www.huts.org.

Expert | Deeper into the Gore

Shump said you have to travel further these days to get away from people — around here, that means heading deeper into the Gore Range — but splitboarding and alpine touring are limited only by your knowledge, ability and how far you’re willing to go.

“There’s soul to it,” he said. “People are with the group they choose to be with. You get out there; you’re not dealing with all things involving the resort. The resort is great, but it’s a different experience.”

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