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May 19, 2021 5 min read

Words & Images: Ted Mahon

In the late 1800’s, prospectors pioneered a route over a high pass from Leadville into the Roaring Fork Valley in search of mining fortunes. On July 4, 1879, silver was discovered and a mining town sprang up overnight. The town and the pass used to get there were named in honor of that date— Independence.

Now 150 years later there’s not much silver coming out of the ground up at Independence, but there is a wealth of good spring skiing that can be reaped each spring by those willing to prospect for snow.

At 12,095 feet, Independence Pass is one of the highest paved crossings of the Continental Divide in the U.S. The road is closed in the winter, but around Memorial Day weekend each spring, the snow is plowed and the road is opened for the season.

Once it opens, skiers can head up Independence Pass to get their last turns of the season. From easy valley tours below the Geisslers near Independence Lake, to the steep chutes of the Palisades, to longer lines off the 13,761' summit of Twining Peak (a.k.a. Blue), there’s something for everyone.

By making use of various summer trailheads, and arranging a second shuttle car on occasion (or having a willingness to put out your thumb and hitch a ride), there are tons of possibilities. Find a partner, pack the cooler and grab some flip-flops for afterwards, and head on up.

Below are some thoughts on skiing the Pass close to Aspen, arranged by the different trailheads and pullouts along the road. Please reference the satellite imagery at the bottom of this post for noted locations.

 

INDEPENDENCE PASS SPRING SKIING

  • When: Thursday before Memorial Day until the snow melts
  • Where: Independence Pass, Colorado
  • What: Human-powered and shuttle-supported spring backcountry skiing

IN THIS ARTICLE

  • Lower Lost Man Trailhead
  • Independence Ghost Town
  • Upper Lost Man Trailhead
  • Independence Pass Parking Lot
  • Bigger Adventures
  • Annotated Satellite Imagery

 

Skiing East Geissler mountain
Christy Mahon skis East Geissler Mountain on a sunny morning in early June.

  Skiing in Upper Lost man on Independence PassChris Carmichael and Naija find powder in the valley above the Upper Lost Man Trailhead. 

 

LOWER LOST MAN TRAILHEAD

  • 39.12198, -106.62395; Google Maps
  • Access for: Williams Mountains, Lost Man Loop, Green Mountain

 

Use this low trailhead for out-and-back tours up to the Williams Mountains, or as an exit from longer tours starting at the Upper Lost Man Trailhead.

 

Skier headed towards frozen lakeChristy Mahon skis down towards a frozen Lost Man Lake en route to skiing the complete Lost Man Loop. 

 

INDEPENDENCE GHOST TOWN

  • 39.10677, -106.60359; Google Maps
  • Access for: Independence Mountain, 4th of July Bowl, Palisades

 

This is a series of pullouts starting near the the ghost town and heading up the valley for a couple of miles. They offer access to Green Mountain, and various northwest facing runs off Independence Mountain including Fourth of July Bowl. Park further up the road below Independence Creek to reach the Palisades and the East Face of Independence Mountain (a personal favorite).

These routes all involve crossing the Roaring Fork River (really more of a creek at this elevation) on the way in and out. There are no bridges so plan on having to scout for a good place to get across to keep your feet dry.

 

Skiing East face of Independence Mountain
Anda Smalls skis the East Face of Independence Mountain, on the south side of Highway 82, above the ghost town. Grizzly Peak can be seen in the distance.

 

UPPER LOST MAN TRAILHEAD

  • 39.12456, -106.58172; Google Maps
  • Access for: Linkins, Giesslers, Blanery, Twinning, Williams Mountains

 

This trailhead is the most popular starting point for tours on the north side of the Pass, most of which don’t require car shuttling. You can usually find really good corn snow on the east faces of the Geisslers, or the couloirs above Linkins Lake. You can also do a mellow valley ski (or even nordic crust ski) up to Independence Lake or Lost Man Pass.

For a longer adventure you can start at this trailhead and ski over Lost Man Pass to reach the Williams Mountains, or complete the “Lost Man Loop” and finish at the Lower Lost Man Trailhead. It’s also a popular starting point for an out-and-back of the South Face of Twining Peak.

  

Snowboarder preparing to ski Independence PassStrafe designer Pia Halloran sneaks up on her moto before the gate opens to the Upper Lost Man Trailhead and preps her splitboard (Photo Zach Hayes).

 

INDEPENDENCE PASS PARKING LOT

  • 39.10846, -106.56396; Google Maps
  • Access for: Twin Gullies, Mountain Boy, Upper Lost Man basin, North Fork Lake Creek descents

 

From the 12,095 foot parking area, head north as an alternate way to reach Twining Peak, and Blarney, a 13er south of Twining. Both summits offer long, east facing descents down past Blue Lakes and into the North Fork of Lake Creek, finishing at the lower (third) hairpin.

Alternatively, you can head south from the parking area to access Mountain Boy, one of the “classic” Independence Pass ski lines. Ascend the long ridge and take your pick of east or north facing runs that lead down to the second hairpin.

If it’s later in the day and the snow is too soft on east aspects, or if you’re looking for a second run for the day, head a short way up Mountain Boy Ridge and then traverse west to the Twin Gullies. These shorter, northwest facing lines descend back to Highway 82 above the Independence townsite. There is a river crossing involved.

 

Independence Pass sign
A quiet Independence Pass on a sunny summer morning. On Memorial Day Weekend it can be quite festive after skiing, with campers, coolers, and even a gas grill or two serving up some food to celebrate the skiing and the start of summer.

 

BIGGER ADVENTURES

  • Grizzly Peak
  • Williams Mountains

 

If you want to step out into larger terrain, the pass offers this as well. The rarely-skied granitoid Williams Mountains are a great adventure. The more often-skied 13,988 ft Grizzly Peak, has a classic North facing couloir that holds snow late into the summer. For these, you're on your own, good luck!

 

Max Taam en route to ski Williams Mountain

Max Taam and Pete Gaston en route to ski Williams Mountain, 13,382 feet, at the head of the Lower Lost Man Valley.

  

Collage of ski photos from mission to Williams Mountain on Independence PassClockwise from top left. Pete with steep skiing turns on Williams. Max enjoying the granite at the summit. Post-ski Pete. Skiing sunny corn back down to the Lower Lost Man Trailhead.

  

ANNOTATED GOOGLE EARTH IMAGERY

 

Google Earth view of Independence Pass North
An aerial north side view of the Independence Pass terrain.

 

Google Earth view of Independence Pass SouthAn aerial south side view of the Independence Pass terrain.

 

CLOSING THOUGHTS

 

These notes aren’t enough by themselves to be able to plan a ski day up on Independence Pass. Find a map, locate some of the trailheads and mountains, consider the options, check the avalanche and weather forecast, and make a plan. There’s no better way to send off the ski season and welcome the arrival of summer than to spend a sunny spring day skiing one final time up on Independence Pass.

If you're looking for more information, Lou Dawson's online guidebook is a great place to start. North and South Chapters.

Remember the road typically opens around Memorial Day weekend each spring which is right around the corner. So don't put away your skis just yet, hope to see you there!  

 


 

More images below of Strafe employees and friends enjoying spring skiing on the Pass! We're so lucky to have this resource in our backyard.

Snowboarder riding motorcycle up to Independence Pass
Pia Halloran riding up on dirt bikes to get some Indy laps and test gear (Photo Zach Hayes).

 

Snowboarder frontside  on Independence Pass
Jordie Karlinski enjoys late-season powder (Photo Zach Hayes).

 

Split boarding up to a run on Independence Pass
You gotta earn your turns, but the road helps (Photo Zach Hayes).

 



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