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25 Jan 2021
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WinterSkiing

Love skiing Telluride but seeking a little more of a challenge and more of the mountain to yourself? We've got just the thing: Sidecountry skiing.

Sidecountry skiing provides adventure enthusiasts with a way to get all the goods but without skinning up the entire mountain. You essentially the best of both worlds: taking advantage of the ski resort's lifts but entering the backcountry through designated spots. 

Our friends over at Mountain Trip are Telluride's only AMGA-accredited guide service and offer amazing sidecountry tours for those seeking a new adventure. Want to learn more? They've got you covered.  

Alpine Lodging: What exactly is "sidecountry" skiing?
Mountain Trip: It’s the stuff of skier’s dreams: untouched snow, no crowds, long descents and a big variety of terrain! Sidecountry skiing is essentially the best of both worlds between resort and backcountry skiing. Lift access helps minimize the hiking required and maximize your downhill reward. The term “sidecountry” generally means accessing backcountry ski terrain through approved gates out of the boundaries of the ski resort. Telluride is home to undoubtedly some of the best sidecountry-accessed skiing in the country.

Alpine Lodging: What makes it different than skiing at the resort or backcountry skiing?
Mountain Trip: As we mentioned above, it blends both, but it’s important to remember that you are still skiing in backcountry terrain with inherent risks and hazards. Those risks are not eliminated because you are close to the ski resort.

In pure backcountry skiing, you’re accessing your descent with all human power—ie: hiking up to the top of your ski line with skins and alpine touring gear. While skiing at the ski area, you’re always within defined resort boundaries, following signs and clear runs, and on terrain that has been carefully mitigated for avalanches by the ski patrol. In sidecountry skiing, you’re traveling on the resort to reach a gate that leaves resort boundaries and enters the backcountry.

Sidecountry off of the ski resort does not see any avalanche mitigation, so terrain assessment, knowledge of conditions, and proper rescue gear are paramount. Route-finding may often be very challenging in these areas, and in Telluride in particular, crucial. Some descents that look enticing may end in a 40’ cliff. Avalanche risk is ever-present.

Sidecountry Skiing Mountain Trip
Alpine Lodging: Why should people try it out?
Mountain Trip: If you like skiing untracked powder snow, the sidecountry may be for you! Sidecountry skiing is also a great option for those who want to explore the backcountry without having to spend as much time hiking (or as it’s called in backcountry skiing lingo, skinning) uphill. It’s pretty incredible to drop off of the ski resort and ski entirely wild and untracked terrain with phenomenal views, all the way back down to town where you can conveniently grab an après ski snack and a cold one at the end of the day.

Alpine Lodging: What areas do you take people sidecountry skiing?
Mountain Trip: We are permitted to take guests out of all of the approved backcountry gates at Telluride Ski Resort, including the Bear Creek access points and Alta Lakes. From there, the possibilities are nearly endless for the motivated backcountry skier. We can link up adjacent basins, head out to nearby backcountry huts like the OPUS Hut, ski an aesthetic big couloir, or simply enjoy the snow and scenery.

Alpine Lodging: What kind of skill level should you have to go sidecountry skiing?
Mountain Trip: We can access terrain that’s suitable for all levels of skiers, but you’ll likely have more fun in the sidecountry if you can comfortably ski black runs on the ski resort.

Backcountry snow conditions are sometimes a mixed bag, and while the goal is always to ski the best snow possible, you might encounter short sections of challenging conditions, like sun-affected snow, tight tree skiing, or rocky areas. For those hoping to ski into Bear Creek, we definitely recommend expert skiing ability, which means you feel confident skiing every run on Telluride Ski Resort, including Palmyra and the Gold Hill Chutes.

Sidecountry Skiing Mountain Trip

Alpine Lodging: What kind of gear do you typically wear? What do you provide for the trips?
Mountain Trip: Generally, it’s advisable to have ski gear capable of both uphill and downhill, even if no skinning uphill is involved in your plan for the day. Sometimes it may be pertinent to make an exit back uphill to the ski area for unforeseen circumstances. We have a full fleet of rental AT gear, skis, skins and boots for rent for those joining us on trips, if needed. You can find a full gear list on our website, but the outerwear looks a bit different from resort skiing. You’ll want to bring along some layers so that you can regulate your temperature better for higher output rather than sitting on the chairlift most of the day. We do recommend that guests wear helmets for skiing into the sidecountry.

Alpine Lodging: Do I need a Telluride Ski Pass to partake in sidecountry skiing with Mountain Trip?
Mountain Trip: Yes, since we will be traveling on the ski resort to access the terrain. Either a day pass or season pass works. Be sure to check blackout dates before booking your trip, or make a pass reservation in advance.

Alpine Lodging: Do I need any prior experience in the sidecountry?
Mountain Trip: If you are planning on entering the sidecountry off of Telluride ski resort unguided, we strongly suggest having extensive prior experience skiing in backcountry terrain. It’s important to always enter through proper gates to avoid private property and high hazard areas. Everyone exiting resort boundaries through backcountry gates should make sure to, at minimum, have a pack with a beacon, shovel and probe (and knowledge of how to use them), food and water, and navigation tools.

We highly recommend going with a local professional guide, even if you do have previous backcountry skiing experience, to gain some familiarity with the zone, as it is quite complex and easy to lose your way. Bear Creek can be particularly intense for those who have never skied it and requires constant vigilance of terrain features and a good sense of place to navigate and manage risk.

Alpine Lodging: Should I take avalanche training in advance?
Mountain Trip: It’s not required but certainly recommended. It’s best if participants have at least a basic understanding of avalanche rescue techniques, how their gear works, and an idea of what type of terrain features to avoid for avalanche mitigation. There are a handful of companies offering avalanche education in the area (Mountain Trip included) and it’s always a good idea to get the proper education if you plan on recreating in backcountry terrain, even with a guide.

Want to learn more about sidecountry skiing or book an excursion with Mountain Trip? Click here for more information.