words by CHRIS KASSAR, photo by Cameron Martindell
For a true backcountry experience with sweet lines just an hour from Denver’s 16th Street Mall, head to Butler Gulch, a winter playground that provides a solid workout and powder stashes for those looking to earn their turns. The area’s beauty, accessibility and open bowls make it popular with snowshoers, cross-country skiers and both budding and experienced backcountry shredders. Butler Gulch sees high visitation and often gets hammered by the wind so hit this spot as early as possible on weekends or after a storm if you hope to score freshies. Carry the right equipment and be smart and educated on avalanche danger if you spend any time in the backcountry, too (for valuable information no matter your level check out EO’s Backcountry 101 primer here j.mp/EO-BC101).
Butler Gulch Trailhead
From Denver, drive west on I-70 and take Exit 232 (Winter Park/Route 40). Stay on Route 40 through Empire until you reach the tiny town of Berthoud Falls. Turn left onto the Henderson Mine Road to Jones Pass and follow it for 1.8 miles. Turn onto a small road off to the right and follow it for about 800 feet to the winter trailhead. If this road is snowed in, park in the large lot to the left. The trailhead is on the other side of the parking lot past the Forest Service signs. Follow the trail west.
Show Some Skin
Stay on the Jones Pass summer road for .25 miles until you reach a sign indicating Butler Gulch to the left. Head left along the oft well-defined skin track that parallels the creek and meanders up the heart of the valley.
Fork in the Trail
Approximately 1.45 miles from the car, the skin track splits. Go right to Butler Gulch West or left for Butler Gulch East.
Butler Gulch West
Follow an old jeep road right for about .5 miles until you reach treeline where you’ll get a good chance to scope out the lines below. It’s easy to get in a few laps here since most routes end up at the creek and you’ll have to climb back to the skin track anyway. If you’re new to the sport, hit Butler Bowl, a forgiving wide-open basin with tons of possible lines. If you’re feeling adventurous drop into Creek Chute, a narrow low-angle gully with towering rock walls. Try Power Line, a run that begins in an open expanse, but quickly travels into tight trees or test your skills on the Point 12,085 Glades run, a challenging bowl-to-glade-to-trees route that drops east off Point 12,085. Note: Typically, the skin track ends at 11,600 feet so to access the northern end of Butler Bowl, Power Line, and Point 12,085, you’ll need to traverse the bowl.
Butler Gulch East
If you opt for this way, continue south at the split in the skin track. Take a lap or two down the Headwall Glades, a short-but-fun cruise through wide-open meadows that flank the skin track. After that, continue to Central Gully. You’ll reach a second split in the skin track: Head left to hit the steep East Chutes, which provide the longest runs in the area. Travel right to reach the north-facing Central Gully, a slide-prone trench below the saddle between Butler Gulch and Woods Creek. Beware of avalanche danger in the Central Gully area, including the traverse above the East Chutes.
No matter which route you choose, a day in Butler Gulch will leave you smiling ear-to-ear. Climb back to the skin track and descend to the car on the trail or, for a few more powder pockets, hit the trees adjacent to the track.
G3 Boundary 100
This ski does it all. With an alpine construction, wood core, freeride rocker and 100 mm underfoot, the Boundary moves effortlessly from resort groomers to deep and steep backcountry powder. G3 also offers a women’s specific Boundary 100 W, engineered with a flex that responds better to lighter riders. $650 (M), $590 (W); genuineguidegear.com
G3 Targa T/9 Ascent
A new take on G3’s time-tested favorite, this touring telemark binding is stable and dependable. The T/9 Ascent comes with interchangeable pre-compressed spring cartridges, adjustable cables to fit your boots snugly and is extremely easy to repair in the field. But, it’s the easy abilty to switch between tour and ski mode that we appreciated most at Butler Gulch. $300. —C.K.