Colorado has a long and illustrious history with skiing. It’s the home to famed resorts known worldwide and some of the best snow on Earth (Utah likes to contend the facts but I beg to differ). Along with the powerhouse names, that bring skiers and snowboarders by the millions to the Rockies, there are still hidden stashes of solitude and powder, if only one is willing to endure the burning calves to get there.
Hidden in Colorado’s mountains are a number of abandoned ski resorts, many which had their heyday from 1940 to 1990, which are relics of Colorado’s ski past. Some were closed for financial reasons, other waned over time because of the competition from famous neighbors, and some were just too small to operate. But while the lifts no longer operate, the runs cut between the trees have become a powder-haven for those who can skin, climb, and make their way to the top of the runs.
A few weeks ago, my roommate Jorge and I set off for a dawn patrol excursion to Hidden Valley, set deep in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. From 1955 to 1991, Hidden Valley was the only ski area in the park, but a lack of expansion and vendors forced its closing, leaving the runs open and accessible, with spectacular views overlooking the valley and the Continental Divide.
When we got out of the car around 7:30 AM, the only ones in the parking lot, we were immediately blasted with a fierce wind, which funnelled down the valley and swirled snow all around us. We decided to check conditions in the basin under the runs and noticed the wind died down nearly immediately, so we went to grab our skis and start heading up.
The ski trails are immediately obvious from the main tubing and sledding area, with a variety of angles and terrains to play with. There are a number of low angle mellow runs, some powder skiing through the trees, and a drop in from the top of the lift line. Many of the trails connect to Trail Ridge Road high above and skiers frequently drop into the bowls high above to then ride all the way into the valley. With the recent snow conditions, our plan was to stick to the low angle trails and good snow conditions.
We started by veering right and entering a trail known as Ptarmigan, a former green run which traverses a beautiful green woodland with easy skin tracks and a long run to the bottom. The trails were mostly nice and icy and it was only when we got to the steeper powdery slopes that we decided to ski down and avoid disturbing any potential hazards. The low angles made for fun, easy, non-intensive skiing, and I was even able to find a few tiny jumps.
We next made our way just to the left and skinned up the brush to a dense tree-lined slope, where the snow lifted to our shins with every step. Fresh powder. While I was a little nervous about slides, the angle was low enough that after a few kick turns and some relatively firm snow, I felt much more at ease with the conditions. After traversing several side trails, we found ourselves surrounded by forest, and so we ripped off our skins and started to ski some wonderful untracked tree-powder. When we popped onto the main trail, we bounced across some small moguls before riding to a stop in the basin.
Our enthusiasm was uncontainable, and although we were tired from two long uphill runs, we were raring to go for one more. We started by going up the main track right in the center line, and found that it steepened very quickly. We later noticed that this was the old lift hill that goes straight to the top of Trail Ridge Road. The snow was mostly packed powder with icy patches in between. Skinning up was extremely difficult as we had to keep our weight on the back of our skis to keep from sliding off backwards.
After a long and difficult slog, we finally made it to the top of the lift hill and dropped in. The first few turns were a little difficult, having to navigate hard packed steep moguls with some vegetation in between. But as we hit the lower sections, tough turns became smooth sailing, as I tightened up and deftly rode the last turns back into the basin.
Hidden Valley is a fun introduction to backcountry in Rocky Mountain National Park. While one should always be aware of hazards and conditions, it makes for easily accessible lines, fun, varied terrain, and the option for a long drop from the top of Trail Ridge Road. On a good day, it’s some of the most easily accessible and entertaining backcountry skiing on this side of Colorado.