This relaxed ski tour wanders through a forested valley littered with mining remnants, and culminates at an expansive high mountain cirque. It’s truly a choose your-own-adventure trip: You can make it a quick, mellow tour into the high country, or—if you’re avalanche-travel trained and have the correct equipment—tackle one or more of the peaks ringing the vast bowl. No matter your ability or preferred mode of transportation—snowshoes, fat boards or skinny skis—Mayflower Gulch makes for one sweet winter treat.
To reach the trailhead: From Denver, drive west on I-70. Take Exit 195 for Copper Mountain/Leadville and merge onto Highway 91. Head south for 6 miles until you reach the trailhead and a large parking lot on the left.
1. Getting Started
From the trailhead at 10,980 feet, turn your back to the highway and follow the access road as it climbs through the pines and parallels Mayflower Creek. Vast wetlands and a beautiful riparian corridor, which typically remain snow-covered from December to April or later, decorate the northeast (left) side of the trail as you travel south up the valley.
2. Travel Back in Time
Signs of the area’s rich mining history being to appear. A dilapidated ore-loading chute and rusty bits of equipment adorn the west side of the trail, while the ruins of a ramshackle cabin rest on the east side of the road.
3. Pacific Peak Turnoff
Though we aren’t providing a detailed explanation of the climb up Mayflower Hill (12,440 feet) or Pacific Peak (13,950 feet) here, this is an important intersection, since you may see tracks heading left. Expert skiers and climbers seeking turns on the two peaks should leave the road and head toward the south side (right) of Pacific Creek, crossing Mayflower Gulch through a snowy and/or willow-filled basin (depending on conditions). If you want mellower terrain, continue straight.
4. Decision Point
The trail gently ascends into the Mayflower amphitheater, a spectacular basin enveloped by Fletcher Mountain’s (13,995 feet) craggy ridge, which looms directly ahead. The rugged monoliths of Pacific, Crystal (13,852 feet) and Atlantic (13,841 feet) peaks stand like sentinels to the east (left). The trail soon breaks free from the forest and reaches a fork in the road. From here, depending on skill level and plans for the day, backcountry adventurers can choose from a number of lines that range from low-angle slopes and tree shots to larger, expert-level chutes (please have the proper training and most recent avalanche reports, no matter what you decide to ski). To follow our track, curve south (right) as the road climbs uphill gradually toward Gold Hill (11,645 feet), one of the most popular and safest spots in the area.
5. Hard Right for Gold Hill
Follow the road as it turns sharply north and climbs more directly, for Gold Hill. Be sure to look back for vistas of the mine and the rugged peaks encircling this marvelous basin.
If you’d like to tour around the mining ghost town here, follow the left fork, which parallels the brook as it delves into Mayflower Gulch and heads southeast toward Boston Mine. For a bigger challenge, continue past the abandoned cabins on the northwestern slopes of Fletcher Mountain, and ski the treeless basin behind them, keeping in mind that though this tour is relatively safe, the avalanche danger increases beyond the cabins. From here, veteran ski mountaineers may want to try Fletcher Mountain and Atlantic Peak.
6. The pot of Gold
Fun, low-angle lines—open slopes, tight trees, glades with rollers—give you plenty of options from the top of Gold Hill. Enjoy the solitude amidst this pleasing scenery for as long as you’d like. After you’ve exhausted your legs with repeated laps, choose your last line wisely in order to hit the road and cruise all the way back to the trailhead.
This lightweight ski moves seamlessly between backcountry and resort, ideal for those of us who can only afford one option. It’s quick to respond and stable in mixed conditions, meaning it will boost your confidence on off-piste steeps and in tight trees, and simply shred mellow glades or groomers. Available in 100mm ($629) and 108mm ($679) and a 100m Elle ($629), a women’s specific ski delivering all the same features but with sizing and flexing engineered for lighter adventurers. genuineguidegear.com
Outdoor Research Skyward Pants
These stretchy, supple waterproof pants move with your every turn. Smart features including thigh vents, an internal gaiter with a slot for your boot’s power strap and plentiful pockets make them ideal for ski touring. The men’s version ($299) comes with a removable bib that we want in the women’s ($285), too. outdoorresearch.com