Michael Barton of Mountain Goat Ski Guides in Silverton offers up this classic route off Red Mountain Pass. It’s more of an early-spring route than a midwinter tour, but now you can put it on the hit list. How good is this route? Says Barton: It’s out of my permit boundary, so I don’t even guide it, but it’s one of the best.” Here’s his description:
Length: 7 to 9 miles
Elevation gain: 3,500 feet
Elevation drop: 4,700 feet
Season: Best bet is late March or early April, as you need both stable snow and good coverage down to 9,800 feet.
Shuttle: Stash one car at the south end of Ironton Park, where Corkscrew Gulch meets Red Mountain Creek, or plan to hitch at the end of the day.
Map: Ironton Quadrangle
Tour highlights: Skin on southies, ski on northies; more skiing than skinning; views of Silverton Mountain; neat mining buildings and waterfalls.
Tour hazards: Massive avalanches, cornices, remoteness, sunburn, abandoned mines, nasty death-trap ravines.
Route: Start at the summit of Red Mountain Pass, and head east and then south up San Juan County Road 14 for the first mile. When this road turns abruptly south toward the St. Paul ski lodge, proceed northeast, aiming for an ascent of Red Mountain No. 3. The 12,890-foot peak is visible from this junction and has radio equipment towers on top. The best ascent is from the south side.
Ski north from the summit into Champion Gulch. If you are tired, escape is possible down Champion Gulch, staying skiers’ left out of the ravine. If you have it in you to go big, proceed up the southwest side of Peak 12,596′, along the ridge between Red Mountain No. 3 and No. 2. Ski northeast from this summit into Corkscrew Gulch. Now skin up the southwest side of Red Mountain No. 1. From the 12,529-foot summit, ski northeast again into Gray Copper Gulch.
Descend Gray Copper on skier’s left of the creek until you’re past Gray Copper Falls, then move across the creek and stay on the right or north side of Gray Copper Creek all the way down. You’ll eventually hit a mining road that leads out to the Ironton Park cross country-skiing area and a large mining reclamation project.