Classic Descent: Pikes Peak

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It has one of the more abrupt rises of any peak on the Front Range, and

"American the Beautiful" was written from its summit. Pikes Peak dominates the vista from Colorado Springs, and the toll road to the summit means you don't even have to hike up to enjoy the view from the top. You can even take a cog railway if you want, and there's a visitor center at the top, making it more akin to Disneyland.

Having said that, Pikes vast north face offers plenty of mountaineering and skiing challenges. Despite the fact that the old ski area closed in 1984, partly due to lack of snow, Pikes has several couloirs that provide very good skiing in late winter and into spring. Chief among these is the prominent Y Couloir that lies at the center of the north face.

Because of the road, there are several options for skiing that Y Couloir that make life easier than a standard ski mountaineering descent. Chris Davenport, for instance, as part of his ski the 14ers project, drove to the summit, clicked into his bindings, skied the route, then climbed back up to his car. You can also park your car at 13,000 feet at the prominent dogleg and do the Hero Rock Traverse out onto the north face and climb the couloir to the summit, then descend. Or, if you have two cars, you can really cheat and bypass climbing altogether, parking one at the Hero Rock Traverse and one on the summit, skiing down, traversing back to the second car, and drive back up.

The Y, which reaches an angle of 45 degrees in some places, can have variable snow conditions, depending on the time of year. Some skiers have found crusty hardpack, others velvet softness. Most years, there can be a short, huckable cliff band a ways down, but it is possible to stay on skis and go around it. Also, in a good year, you can ski farther down into the Bottomless Pit Cirque than the level of the Hero Traverse.

Here's a video shot in 2006 of a telemark ski descent of the Y.

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