Five Classic Backcountry Adventures in the West


Tired of expen­sive tick­ets and long lift lines? Check out these clas­sic back­coun­try adventures.

Berthoud Pass, ColoradoBerthoud Pass, Colorado
When you’re tired of the crowds at the Col­orado resorts, find snowy soli­tude just 70 miles west of Den­ver. Berthoud Pass, with 1,000 acres of diverse ter­rain, is a back­coun­try skier’s dream—and the area’s best-known back­coun­try tour is a five-mile, all-day tour from the Sec­ond Creek Drainage to Win­ter Park Resort. Be pre­pared for altitude—the area’s base is at 11,300 ft—and brush up on your avalanche skills and/or ski with an expert, because the snow­pack is noto­ri­ous­ly unstable.

Sawtooth MountainsSaw­tooth Moun­tains, Idaho
For an off-the-grid adven­ture, Idaho’s the place to go. With back­coun­try ter­rain that ranged from gen­tle rollers to near-ver­ti­cal couloirs, the Saw­tooths are the per­fect des­ti­na­tion for skiers and split­board­ers to incre­men­tal­ly build their tour­ing skills. The clas­sic route: a three-day adven­ture from the Red­fish Lake gate to the Bench Lakes Hut, which includes a 1,500 ft descent down an angled couloir on the 10,299 ft Mount Heyburn.

Stevens Pass, WAStevens Pass, Washington
Just two hours from Seat­tle, High­way 2 winds into the Cas­cade Moun­tains, bisect­ing one of the country’s biggest back­coun­try play­grounds. Start by get­ting a feel for the snow at Stevens Pass Resort, then point your ski tips into the moun­tains. “You can lit­er­al­ly dri­ve the high­way look­ing for fun lines,” says one local guide. “Pick a pull-off, stretch on your skins, and go. It’s choose-your-own-adven­ture out here.”

Purcell Mountain Range , British ColumbiaBoul­der Hut, British Columbia
The Pur­cell moun­tain range isn’t well known, but only because locals work hard to pro­tect their secret: inte­ri­or British Colum­bia boasts some of the best pow­der in North Amer­i­ca. And the 6,500-ft Boul­der Hut—which is heli­copter-access only and sleeps up to 12 people—is the per­fect jump­ing-off point for explor­ing the area on skis or a split­board. Nes­tled between Mount Hig­gins and Mount Levesque, the area offers diverse tour­ing options. You’ll find tree ski­ing, bliss­ful glades, tech­ni­cal moun­taineer­ing objec­tives, and—in most years— con­sis­tent­ly fluffy pow.

Teton RangeCom­mis­sary Ridge, Wyoming
No West Coast back­coun­try round-up would be com­plete with a shout-out to the moun­tains of Wyoming, which offer down­right ridicu­lous lines. The oppor­tu­ni­ties for explo­ration end­less: there’s cham­pagne pow­der for days, the jagged, breath­tak­ing beau­ty of the Tetons, and nobody will judge you if you ski in a cow­boy hat. Look­ing for a place to start? Check out Teton Back­coun­try Guides, who have been oper­at­ing yurts in the Tetons since 1986.

When­ev­er you ven­ture into the backcountry—especially in avalanche terrain—make sure you have the gear, edu­ca­tion, and skills to trav­el safe­ly. When in doubt, seek qual­i­fied instruc­tion: take an avalanche course (or two!), hire a guide, or find expe­ri­enced partners.