TBT Book: Skiing Colorado’s Backcountry

Nordic backcountry touring falls in that odd middle ground between cross-country skiing and telemark skiing  – Dave’s Nordic Backcountry Skiing page

. From Amazon

In 2017, the type of skiing I love above all else is out of fashion. The kind of skiing? Nordic backcountry.  It ain’t resort skiing. It ain’t skiing in groomed tracks. And it sure as hell ain’t going up a mountain, skiing down and then repeating.

This type of skiing is difficult to define. It can mean anything from skiing on maintained backcountry Nordic trails or pushing off-trail into the trees where no one goes.  As more than one person has described it, it is hiking on skis.  If you look at topo maps and wonder what’s in a particular area, you’ll probably enjoy this type of skiing.

Most people who enjoy this kind of activity have now gravitated towards snowshoeing.  And a growing number of people eschew snowshoeing and skis all together and use fat bikes.

And the guidebooks reflect the current interests.  Snowshoe guides with splashy photos are eagerly read.  And the big mountains are drooled about where turns can be carved in deep powder.   And, to be fair, traditional guidebooks are in turn being superseded by websites.

But for people wearing sun-faded fleeces, weather-beaten shells and duct-tape repaired packs who want to look beyond a handful of curmudgeon bloggers who write about this type fo skiing?

The last comprehensive book for this type of skiing in Colorado was written in 1989.  This book? Skiing Colorado’s Backcountry aka The Pink Book.

When I think of 1989, I  remember that I was fifteen years old. I associated winter with black ice and shoveling heavy as crap New England snow off the driveway. Skiing? That was something done by people well outside of my social circle.

Little did I know in 2005, I’d go to the ancestral village in Italy. And see a ski shop below the local ski mountain!


But when I finally did take up skiing, I fell in love with the skiing that is similar to my first love in the outdoors of hiking.

As with many people, I found about The Pink Book through word of mouth.

It has been in my collection for almost a decade now. And I still refer to it from time to time fo find something new.

The book is both a reflection of its time and this type of outdoor activity: Basic, no frills, just what is needed.

There are no splashy color photos. No stealth ads full of shiny puffies and colorful shells with beautiful people.

Notice “The Pink Book”!

It is just three-hundred pages of 150 tours throughout Colorado.  Everything from mellow three-mile tours excellent for a beginner and up to ambitious ski mountaineering feats that would be a challenging hike; never mind a ski!

The tours still hold up.  Ideas to stoke the imagination and to make map junkies rejoice.

There are two caveats, however. The first caveat is that the routing may have changed. Where a jeep road was in 1989 may be single track now. Or the trail is a little different. For a person who can read topography, not really an issue.

The second caveat? A very major one. Trail access may have changed or no longer exists. What was a quiet trailhead as recently as the early 2000s is no longer available in 2017.   Jenny Lind Gulch is an obvious example. A classic tour with a wonderful bowl for some turns in powder is now less of a tour and more a place to do laps due to access issues.

Bad? Good?

Naah..just different.

But for the person who enjoys exploring the backcountry on planks, consider picking up an old copy of Skiing Colorado’s Backcountry.  I suspect the typical person who enjoys this type of skiing won’t be adverse to a little map reading to get the current lay of the land in 2017.

And probably has clothing almost as faded as the thirty-year-old B&W photos, too.

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Doug K
7 years ago

I have that book.. bit sad that there’s not been a new one written.
It was always aspirational reading for me, still don’t have the skills to do anything but the beginner trails.. but I do have the thirty-year old fleece and battered goretex shell..

7 years ago

Same age as you I am, apparently. I grew up doing this in the Adirondacks. Still love leather in 75 mm! Now I live in NM, have hiked many of the areas in Northern NM that you like so much. Keep the faith, bro!

7 years ago

Thank you very much for this blog post. After moving to Colorado last year, everybody was asking me if I learnt skiing. However, going up a mountain and then skiing down in resorts seem to me like ‘buying’ entertainment. Only last week I was introduced to cross country skiing, and have already fallen in love with it. I wondered where the backcountry nordic skiing ended and alpine touring began. You summarized it well for me- backcountry nordic replaces use of snowshoes. I look forward to replace my snowshoes with such skis for my future winter hikes. Too bad that it… Read more »

7 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

Yes, though it didn’t snow as much as expected. I got Winter Trails Colorado (Andy Lightbody and Kathy Mattoon) from the public library, and rented some nordic backcountry skis (BC 70s), and skied in the Brainard Lake area today. Fun! Now whenever possible I’ll try wider skis and see how I feel. Thanks!