The top of the world?
December 16, 2003
At 11,992 ft. Loveland Pass hangs onto snow long after the resorts are closed. Straddling the continental divide, Loveland Pass towers over most resorts. A longtime local favorite for back country riders, Loveland Pass offers some of the best free riding in Colorado, however, none of the safety of resort riding . The terrain accessible from the pass is unparalleled, steep open faces, big cornices, rolling hills, and tight trees.
Backcountry riding is not for the beginner. It is important to scout your run beforehand and be knowledgeable in reading avalanche signs. Beacons are highly recommended. Local knowledge and avalanche training cannot be compensated for – do you research before taking on the backcountry. Call the snow conditions hotline or check with the local forest service office to get information on weather and snow conditions. A surplus of fresh tracks awaits the informed and adventurous rider.
From I-70 west, take 6 west just before the Eisenhower tunnel. Once past Loveland Basin resort the road begins to climb steeply. Watch for riders hitch hiking, they can be waiting at every switchback. Keep your backcountry Karma fully charged by giving rides to as many as you can. This offers a good opportunity to get a feel for snow and avalanche conditions as well as the best lines. Three quarters of the way up it’s a good idea to pull over into the turnout and scope the Atlantic face (assuming you have no passengers). From this outpost you can see the entire ridge line and often, a group of riders sessioning a hit. Lunch table is the most famous of these kickers and returns season after season. It’s a good spot for pictures on a clear day..
Bring plenty of water, sugar and high protein bars, sunscreen and avalanche gear, as well as, your best wind breaking layer. The wind at the top of the pass can gust up to sixty miles an hour. Another important backcountry precaution, if the weather starts to change, even the slightest, get off the mountain. Conditions change very rapidly at this altitude and it’s not worth the risk of getting caught in a whiteout, or getting down the mountain and finding the pass closed, meaning you have no way back to the top.
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From the top of the pass there are several options for hiking and choosing a clean line. The southwest face, or Pacific side of the divide offers the steepest hike as well as the longest open face runs. This hike is very worth while, but also poses the highest threat of avalanche. Avoid hiking early season or after a heavy snow fall. Be cautious of an entirely track free face, more than likely it hasn’t been ridden for a reason. This side offers long runs all the way down to A-Basin if so desired. The Atlantic side of the pass follows a long curving ridgeline. The farther you hike the steeper the face and the bigger the cornices. This is a wide open bowl ready to be ripped. The same avalanche precautions are required but this side is much less susceptible to high winds (relatively speaking). This is a shorter run down to the highway depending on the line you drop, but still long when compared to most resort runs. If you are looking to dig a hit and catch an all day session, the turn outs coming down the pass on the A-Basin side offer some very nice options involving only a short hike. Any backcountry option you choose on Loveland pass is sure to satisfy. Remember, this is not a resort, pack out all trash an strongly enforce leave no trace rules when taking advantage of this incredible and highly accessible local favorite.