Backcountry skiing: Butler Gulch

While deep powder lines beckon many skiers in Colorado, when venturing into the backcountry, those lines have the potential to be exceptionally dangerous to the unaware. The unfortunate truth is that avalanche hazard is highest on slopes that are most attractive to skiers, in terms of the steepness.

However, there are places to go backcountry skiing where enjoyable lines can be found on virtually avy-free slopes. In the Front Range, many a budding backcountry skier has been drawn to Butler Gulch for a true first-time backcountry experience (as opposed to skiing off Loveland Pass, which is fun, but feels more like backcountry lite).

Butler Gulch is located on a turnoff from the first switchback on the ascent to Berthoud Pass. If you are heading towards the Pass from Edwards, it's a left turn onto the access road (Road 202). Drive past the Henderson Mine and bear right onto Jones Pass Road, and park at the big lot. From the lot, put your climbing skins and head up past the gate. After a quarter of a mile, the road forks. The right hand road heads to Jones Pass; take the left side road up to Butler Gulch.

The approach gains 1,460 feet of elevation in three miles. Most of the approach is flat, but the last part below treeline climbs several switchbacks and takes you up a moderate slope with several lines through the trees that look like cut ski trails. Above the treeline are several lines in open bowls that can be a great ski if the avalanche danger is low. If the danger is high, ski  the lines that cross the switchbacks. Many skiers will run laps on these slopes, taking several different lines, then skiing back up to try others.

The descent can either be done on the trail, which is usually packed out, or in the trees to the side of the trail, which can offer magical tree skiing after a storm.

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Candace Horgan