With the fresh snow of winter engulfing Ouray, the call of the wild can be heard from peak to peak. Skiers, get your gear on; backcountry and cross-country skiing is definitely on the cards! Additional Ouray attractions include climbing at the world-famous ice park and relaxing in the healing mineral water of the hot springs.
Ouray – Gateway to Skiing Bliss
Visitors to this beautiful Colorado area may ask “What is Ouray known for?” In short, it’s celebrated as the Switzerland of America, boasting sky-scraping mountains surrounding the picturesque town on three and a half sides – a winter sports heaven! This primordial amphitheater sits at an elevation of 7,792 feet.
Nestled in the San Juan Mountains, Ouray is the ice climbing capital of the USA, and with backcountry and cross-country skiing opportunities readily available in season, there is no greater winter vacation imaginable.
Backcountry skiing differs from cross-country skiing in that it involves going off-track and exploring unmarked – often harsh – terrain on the mountains, rather than the more sedate trails set out for cross-country skiing. While backcountry skiing can be dangerous, it is an exceptional adventure that is enjoyed most when sensible precautions are taken.
An Elevated Skiing Experience
To have the best backcountry skiing experience, ensure that you have the correct training, information, gear, and company. Several training and guide facilities operate in the area and can prepare you adequately for excursions into the Ouray backcountry. You will also find many outfitters who can provide the necessary equipment and gear. Various resources are available online to check for avalanche forecasts and weather reports, as well as establish optimum mountain routes. Ensure that the group members you choose to ski with are well prepared and equipped.
Gear up for Backcountry Skiing
Skiers visiting Ouray should prepare a backcountry pack with space for an avalanche airbag, a shovel, and a probe, as well as hydration and food supplies. The backpack should have two straps, one across the upper chest and one across the waist, for optimum comfort and mobility.
Clothing should include an adaptable, lightweight base layer and good quality ski socks; the middle layer should also be light and flexible, and must fit comfortably under the outer layer; outerwear comprises a jacket and pants that protect against snow, water, and wind. Finally, a beacon, gloves, goggles, and helmet are essential items to be worn.
Venturing into the winter backcountry is inherently hazardous as you are traveling at your own risk, even on groomed trails. The San Juans are noted for their often unstable snow conditions. When combined with their steep slopes, it makes for extremely hazardous avalanche areas.
Avalanches may occur on almost any slope if loaded with snow, so no terrain is completely risk-free. Even small hillocks or roadside grades can pose as much of a hazard to the hiker or skier as the larger avalanche chutes.
For your safety, follow these tips:
- Always carry an avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe.
- Never ski alone. Travel with a friend or, even better, a professional guide.
- Don’t exceed the capability of the least experienced in your party.
- Check out the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) before setting off to see the current mountain weather, snow, and avalanche conditions in the area.
Out and About in Ouray
When you’ve had enough of the slopes for one day, be sure to stop in at some of Ouray’s mining heritage sites, as well as the acclaimed mineral hot springs – a delightful way to heal the aches and pains from the numerous falls that are a given when backcountry skiing. And for dinner, there is a great selection of local Ouray restaurants to dine at, replenishing your strength in anticipation of more snow adventures tomorrow!