* This is part 1 of a series I’ll be doing on a few of the areas in Colorado where you can often still find snow throughout some or all of the summer. These are all backcountry areas, so make sure you have the necessary experience, gear, and partners to travel safely in this kind of terrain *
It’s that time of year again, when people don funny caps & get handed diplomas, days get longer, and many people swap their skis for bikes, fishing poles, or copious amounts of alcohol in order to fill the time between now and next year’s ski season. However, if you happen to live in, or near Colorado, your season doesn’t have to be over quite yet. With plenty of high-elevation mountains, the state offers many skiable lines that stay in throughout the summer. However, summer skiing is pretty different than what you might be used to, so this series is an effort to shed some light on a few popular destinations and give you a better idea of what’s in store if you want to ski all year.
First up are two iconic landmarks for those familiar with the Cameron Pass area: the Nokhu Crags and Lake Agnes. Situated in one of the least originally named parks in the world, State Forest State Park, these two areas offer great skiing in an extremely scenic area. Here’s a few specs on the location to give you an idea of what the area entails:
Distance from Fort Collins: 68 miles
Distance from Boulder: 104 miles
Distance from Denver: 133 miles
Trailhead Elevation: 9,700’
Parking Fee (free with state park pass): $7/day
And here’s a great map with the routes and approaches from frontrangeskimo.com (which also has a bunch of great info on the area): https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1sAzEWpZ16VuCI2R7O0w_GRF_9BY&ll=40.483755769549695%2C-105.89275899268188&z=16
Approaching the Crags, with the Breakfast Couloir visible near the center
Distance from TH to base of the Crags: ~3 miles
Elevation gain from TH to base: ~2,500’
Elevation of summit ridge: ~13,150 (~800’ gain from base)
The crags are a bit of an icon in the northern Front Range, and offer several options for spring and early/summer skiing. I’ll be focusing on the couloirs, but the apron and rolling hills around the area also offer more mellow options and can provide fantastic corn skiing. The approach is pretty straightforward from the Lake Agnes trailhead: follow the trail south until you see a sign that says “Crags Campground.” split left here, go over or around the metal gate, and continue up the forest road for about 2 miles. This road is mostly shaded, and is usually covered with snow through May and into early June, so skins are a great idea during these times. You will eventually cross another forest road. Cross this and follow the creek drainage southeast. Once above treeline, you’ll see the crags. Climb the rolling hills and make your way along the east side of the ridge to the base.
There are several camping options near the Nokhu Crags
Pretty much all of the skiing at the Crags is east-facing, so these lines warm up fast and don’t stay in as long as the ones near Lake Agnes. The area offers several steep and relatively short couloirs. The Three Sisters are the first you’ll encounter once you’ve entered the basin, and are all pretty narrow. The Third Sister (furthest South) is the widest and most-mellow of the three, although it’s upper section is still around 40 degrees. These lines melt out the fastest as they face directly east, but are a good option if you’re looking to challenge yourself with some tight chutes.
Heading up the Third Sister, 4/16/17
As you move further southeast, you’ll get to Grand Central Couloir, Nokhouloir, and the Breakfast Couloir, listed lookers right-to-left. Although wider than the Sisters, these lines are still fairly steep. Nokhouloir is the most mellow, and a great starting point. Grand Central and Breakfast Couloir are steeper, and the Breakfast Couloir stays shaded a bit longer than the others, so if you want to tick off more than one, I’d hit this one last. These lines do shed a lot of snow and rock when warmed by the sun, so make sure to get an early start and be off the snow before you start seeing warning signs like roller balls or deep, slushy snow.
Up Nokhouloir, 5/7/17
Lake Agnes, 3/17. The saddle and the bowl can be seen at the upper left of the image.
Distance from TH to south shore of Lake Agnes: ~2.5 miles
Elevation gain from TH to the lake: ~1,000’
Distance from lake to ridge: ~1 mile
Lake Agnes is probably Cameron Pass’ most popular hike during the summer, but the north-facing bowl above the lake is also a great option for summer skiing that usually stays skiable through early July. Before the road is clear of snow (which is usually till mid-June) the approach is about 2.5 miles along the clearly marked road from the lower trailhead. Once the road is clear and you can drive up to the upper trailhead, the hike to the lake is only a mile, which makes it one of the shortest approaches to snow at that point in the season.
At the top of the saddle, looking back at the lake. 5/14/17
To reach the lake, head up the road from the lower trailhead and continue to follow signs for Lake Agnes (continue straight at the junction where you’d head left for the Crags). This road is also pretty shaded, so skins are highly recommended till it’s clear of snow. After about 1.5 miles on the road you’ll come to the upper trailhead, identifiable by the cabin and pit toilets. You can continue to follow the trail, marked by occasional blue arrows, up to the lake. Once at the lake, head around the east shore to the south side, and continue south to the saddle between Mt Richtofen on looker’s left and Mt Mahler on looker’s right. Pick whichever route still has the most consistent snow to the top of the saddle. By July you’ll likely have to get in and out of skis a few times during the ascent and descent, but the snow usually sticks around for a while at the top of the bowl. The skiing is lower angle, around 35 degrees at the top, and there’s a few different aspects you can hit depending on the time of day. During the spring, there are a few steep, tight couloirs on Mt Mahler that offer more challenging alternatives to the open bowl.
Lake Agnes conditions, 7/3/16
Heading down what's left of the lower snow at Lake Agnes, 7/3/16
One of the nice things about summer skiing is the ability to combine it with other sports, and Cameron Pass is a great place to do so. Lake Agnes offers great fishing, and if you’re heading up in late-June or early-July, be sure to check out the Arctic Grayling run at Joe Wright Reservoir. It’s one of very few places in the lower 48 that you can catch this rare breed of fish. There’s also plenty of camping options in and around State Forest State Park, and the Never Summer Yurts are another solid option for overnight trips.
Options abound for multi-sport days. Also there are moose. 7/3/17
So, if you’re trying to continue living in denial and believe that ski season never really ends, check out the Cameron Pass area. I’ll be posting summaries of some other destinations, so keep your eyes peeled and let me know what locations you'd like to see and what kind of information might be useful. Feel free to comment or PM me with questions, comments, feedback, or if you need someone to ski with this summer.