Of all the spring ski/snowboard mountaineering prizes on the Front Range, 14,267-foot Torreys Peak is the crown jewel. With four trailheads, two just off I-70, you can access the peak via various trails from various points. And come late April through early June, Torreys is covered with long, perfect ski and snowboard descents that set up with perfect corn snow if you catch them at the right time of day.
The standard approach routes to Torreys are accessed from the Grizzly Gulch and Stevens Gulch trailheads, just off I-70 at exit 221 (Bakerville). The road to both trailheads is too rough for most low-clearance vehicles and, depending on the snow year, you may need to walk a mile or so to the trailhead. There are a number of ways to access the peak. Purists frown on it, but you can take a long, slow, fairly easy approach to Torreys by traversing over from its not-as-imposing sister peak, Grays (14,270 feet). Or you can take the tough route-slogging up the north side of the peak and powering through more than 3,500 vertical feet straight to the top. Yes, it’s a rugged lactic-acid-inducing trek, but pure and smart because it provides the chance to assess the route you will ski down. A third option is to park on Loveland Pass and traverse along Torreys’ west ridge to the summit, but, like the Grays route, this doesn’t give you a look at what you will be coming down and you’ll need to leave a shuttle vehicle at the trailhead.
Once you’re in your bindings at the top of Torreys, several enticing options beckon. Just east of the summit is Dead Dog Couloir, which is as steep as 50 degrees at the top and drops like an elevator shaft 1,000 feet down to Stevens Gulch. But enter it with care: Climbers may be heading up it and the eastern exposure means you have to hit it very early, before the snow softens up. The Northwest Face is the big, open crowd favorite, offering 2,000 verts back down to Grizzly Gulch at a pitch that holds good snow. With stunning views of the Front Range and a steady pitch, it’s one of the best ski descents around and arguably the best introduction to skiing Colorado 14ers. It’s also a safe bet if snow conditions look questionable. But, when it comes down to it, we at Elevation Outdoors think the north face is the premier ski on the peak. The perfect line is Emperor-a 3,000-foot-vetical steep, straight shot from the summit down to Grizzly Gulch. It must be skied in good conditions, but besides a tight squeeze between cliff bands about 500 feet down, it’s fairly open, making it a thrilling, leg-burning descent. If the conditions don’t look great, there is an alternative, obvious side couloir down the ridge from the summit that is slightly easier and joins Emperor about 1,000 feet down.
Pick up Gerry Roach’s guidebook Colorado’s Fourteeners (Fulcrum, 1999).