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I get quite a few emails asking how one goes about finding mid-winter backcountry powder turns in Colorado. While the state has a reputation as a ski haven, that’s more because of our many ski areas and backcountry hut systems — not because we have exceptional backcountry skiing snow. Our continental snow climate means we have a thinner snowpack that’s more prone to slides than regions such as the Sierra. More our avalanche danger tends to persist longer after storms, and is harder to evaluate.
My tips for this problem: First, season is everything. Colorado’s snowpack changes from scary to reasonable some time in late winter, once it builds up nice and thick (assuming it’s not a drought year), and daily average temperatures climb. At our higher altitudes, a spring melt-freeze cycle begins some time in late April or May, and once that happens you can wait for clear night and cold mornings, and ski velvet corn snow that’s nearly 100% avalanche safe (in the morning, before totally thawing).
Beyond season, it’s all about terrain. Some places just seem to have fewer avalanches — perhaps because the terrain isn’t as conducive to slides, or perhaps they just get skied frequently enough to add stability to the snowpack. The best way to learn the terrain is hook up with locals. Every mountain town in Colorado has nearby areas that provide relatively safe backcountry skiing, but you have to learn the specifics from people who go there often.
Yes, it’s easier to find safe backcountry skiing in places such as the Tahoe Sierra, yet Colorado does yield amazing powder skiing, we have more blue-sky days than just about anywhere, and the spring corn season is usually superb. Make the best of it.