*This is Part 3 of a series I’m doing on a few of the areas in Colorado where you can often still find snow throughout some or all of the summer. Check out Part 1 Here and Part 2 Here. I am by no means an expert, so think of this more as an intro to the zones, rather than a comprehensive guide. These are all backcountry areas, so make sure you have the necessary experience, gear, and partners to travel safely in this kind of terrain*
Fireworks, grilling, beer, … skiing?
You might not normally associate the 4th of July with your favorite winter activity, but it’s certainly not out of the question this year. Despite sweltering heat in the Front Range, there’s still plenty of snow up high in certain areas. The aptly named 4th of July Bowl at Breck is an option, Independence Pass is another good one, but for this article I’ll be focusing on one of my favorite summer ski destinations:
Trailhead: Silver Dollar Lake
Trailhead Elevation: 11,235’
Approach Distance to Naylor Lake Chute: ~1.25 miles
Approach Distance to Murray Lake: ~2.15 miles
Map: Here (courtesy of frontrangeskimo.com)
Guanella Pass is a popular destination for hikers, campers, and fisherman during the summer. However, one of the main trails, Silver Dollar Lake, also grants you access to some fantastic skiing on Squaretop Mountain and Mt Wilcox. The combination of a short approach, persistent snowpack, and quality skiing makes this spot a great option for summer skiing.
My directions start from the upper Silver Dollar Lake Trailhead, which requires a little over a mile of steep, dirt road to reach. I’ve seen several sedans at the top, but evaluate your car’s ability to handle some rutted sections of steep dirt before heading up the road. If you don’t drive to the upper trailhead, you can park at the lot right next to Guanella Pass Road, and add on a little over a mile of hiking.
From the upper trailhead, follow a well-marked trail which will eventually put you above treeline, and on a ridge above the south shore of Naylor Lake (private property). After some time traversing above the lake, you’ll come across Naylor Lake Chute, one of the fun lines to ski in the area.
Up Naylor Lake Chute. 6.24.17
Naylor Lake Chute is fairly mellow, with the slope angle in the mid 30’s and is relatively wide. However, it has a very short approach and offers fun skiing from the ridge of Squaretop back down to the trail. Although it faces north, the chute gets sun pretty early, so I’d aim to be at the top around 8am for the best snow.
If you boot up Naylor Lake Chute, I’d also recommend taking a look at the East Bowl of Squaretop, which you can see from the other side of the ridge. It’s also got some interesting options, but I haven’t had the chance to ski them, so you can find more info here
Down Naylor Lake Chute. 6.24.17
Past Naylor Lake Chute, you can continue on the trail towards Silver Dollar and Murray Lakes. These are pretty popular hikes, so you’ll definitely be getting a lot of “what are those skis for?” questions along the way from the non-skiing crowd. This is a great opportunity to get creative with your responses: “Oh these are actually really wide fishing poles, not skis” or “Wait, are we not at A-Basin??”
Both lakes maintain a decent population of Cutthroat trout, so if you partake in pescatorial pursuits, I’d recommend bringing along a rod. Silver Dollar Lake doesn’t offer much in the form of skiing, but continue on and upward towards Murray Lake for more snow.
Directly above Murray Lake sits Mt Wilcox, where you can hike/skin up to to enjoy some long, mellow skiing on its east face, or if you want some shorter, steeper options, just head towards the several chutes right behind Murray Lake. If you get an early start, you could easily ski every one of these short but sweet descents, which each offer varying levels of difficulty.
North Face of Squaretop (left) and East Face of Mt Wilcox (right). 6.24.17
Although they are pretty thin at this point, the northern chutes of Squaretop also hold some snow, and can be reached easily from Murray Lake. These melt out faster than the other lines in this area, but if you’re looking for a longer descent, they might be worth a look.
Heading out with our tracks behind us. 6.25.17
If all of this seems like more than what you’re looking for in a day trip, you should definitely consider camping in the area to take full advantage of all it has to offer. My approach in the past has been to camp at the trailhead the night before, ski Naylor Lake Chute one morning, fish the rest of the day, maybe build a jump, camp up at Murray Lake, and ski Mt Wilcox the next morning. No matter what, you’ve got plenty of options, all of which have pretty short approaches and good skiing.
So if you’re looking for a unique way to celebrate the 4th this year, I think Guanella Pass is certainly worth a look. As always, feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or comments, and enjoy the holiday.