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Southern Colorado in mid-May?

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  • Southern Colorado in mid-May?

    I will be in Santa Fe in mid-May and I was wondering if any soothsayers in this forum would care to hazard a guess whether there will be enough snow left in the southern Rockies making it worthwhile for me bring bring my backcountry skis. Based on what I see on Windy.com, things look very thin in the mountains around Santa Fe and Taos, but I do spy in excess of 45 inches to the east of Pagosa Springs, Co a couple hour drive from Santa Fe. I imagine there will be another storm or two as well. Anyone know this area? Thoughts? Any bowls right off the road where I could crank a few turns?
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  • #2
    I am not in the Rockies anymore so take what I say with some salty grains. In mid May you are going to want to get into the alpine.

    The point where your flag is planted on Windy is deep in the South San Juan Wilderness area, a vast roadless mountain region that would be really interesting to explore.

    I would not place a lot of accuracy in point values on snowpack in Windy. It is extrapolated from satellite microwave data and does not give a good idea of what is actually on the ground in complex terrain. It would be better to look at ski areas. The nearest, Wolf Creek Ski Area is currently reporting 108" at the top. Alberta Peak, which is in the Wolf Creek Ski Area, will certainly be holding a lot of snow in May. But beyond the rugged peaks around Sheep Mountain to the west of the pass, there is not much other alpine terrain.

    The Sangre de Christo mountains, running from near Salida, CO south to the Santa Fe area, include some high peaks that will hold some snow but they do not usually get as much snow as the San Juans to the west. There are no road runs and no ski areas in the Colorado Sangres but they are rad. Taos Ski Valley is reporting 71" at the top and is in the middle of some sick terrain. It is mostly very steep and high peaks. Ski Santa Fe is currently reporting 58'.

    It's a longer drive but I would suggest going to the Red Mountain Pass zone above Silverton. Silverton Mountain is reporting 76" with 120" at the top. The options for backcountry skiing on Red Mountain Pass are endless but be careful of terrain traps and old mine shafts. If it snows a lot, well, it's all avalanche terrain and CDOT bombs the $#!+ out of slopes that threaten the highway all along its length. It is some of the best backcountry skiing in Colorado.

    I am in Japan, where we have over 150" at the top of Niseko but that doesn't help you at all since foreign tourism is still closed due to the pandemic.
    Last edited by cesare; 27 March 2022, 12:54 AM.

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    • #3
      As cesare stated one of the best options off the road is Red Mountain pass. It’s excellent ski terrain! This is the northern San Juan’s but not a terribly far drive north of Durango. You can drive and park at around 11,200 ft. and ski from there. It’s all alpine terrain at the top but you can access tree’d terrain on both sides if they’re still holding snow at that time. If you head up there be aware of the potential for wind loading off the ridge lines and subsequent avi dangers with that. Best to check in with the CAIC website before venturing out anywhere.
      Function in disaster, finish in style.

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      • #4
        Why are you so focused on right off the road? If you are in Santa Fe, there are plenty of tall peaks nearby. I don't think there will be much left that late in the year, but hiking up Santa Fe ski area gets you to lots of lines such as Nambe chutes, Big T, etc.... which are good earlier in the year. In May, maybe go up to Taos Ski Valley, take the short hike to Williams Lake, and look at all the tall peaks around you and see if any have snow. The tallest peak in the state, Wheeler, is right there, and there are lots of non-technical options on different peaks around the lake. It will take a lot less time than the drive and Taos is great to visit and if there is no snow the hike to Wheeler is a nice one anyway. I skied Wheeler from the summit to the lake continuously 2000' vertical years ago in early May....might not be possible anymore in May.
        Last edited by xmatt; 27 March 2022, 02:38 PM.

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        • #5
          Very helpful info, cesare-san, but as far as the resort reports, wouldn't some of that include man-made, and besides, how much can you really trust the resort reports? Not saying that Windy doesn't have its issues. I was surprised how early the Colorado resorts are closing, like April. Any idea who might be open through May based on the current snowpack? If not southern Colorado what those along the i70?
          Last edited by PeteMatul; 28 March 2022, 04:38 AM.

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          • #6
            PeteMatul,

            Based on recent travel through S. Coloweedo, mid-May will be too late for good skiing in Colorado. You'll find something in the San Juans but I don't know the area well enough to point you in the right direction. I know Cali hasn't had much since December but I'm betting there will be some fresh added in the next few weeks to make that the better choice for a spring tour. And if not the Sierra - consider Shasta or the Cascade volcanos in OR or WA.


            ain't no turn like tele!

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            • #7
              Nope. Snow reports are unpacked natural snow. Wolf Creek and Silverton do not have snowmaking and I'm not sure about the NM areas. But the point is, snow reports are not machine made snow. San Juans in general are 100% of normal per SNOTEL, which means there will be skiing in the alpine zone for sure. But if you are not up for climbing couloirs and skiing no- fall zones, Dostie may be right. Again, I am not there so no first hand knowledge from me.

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              • #8
                Thanks for all the tips. Maybe I'll bring my skis just in case. I'm not sure I want to drive 14 hours to the Sierra, but we'll see. Thanks for the Snotel tip. Good idea, but, so far, I haven't been able to get in.

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                • #9
                  My bet is that red mountain pass will be your best bet from an elevation, snow depth and access standpoint. Use SNOTEL and not the ski area stats (Silverton). Just make sure to do your due diligence of the conditions before you start climbing.
                  Last edited by Allan Fici; 28 March 2022, 07:35 PM.
                  Function in disaster, finish in style.

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