Lift-Accessed Backcountry: Ski the “aesthetically perfect” San Joaquin, Telluride

Comments by Tess Weaver/

web_DrDanHehir_BrettSchreckengost_SanJoaquinCOTelluride’s sidecountry is the closest thing we have to the Alps in the lower 48. The Alta Lakes and Bear Creek drainages offer an endless lineup of chutes, bowls, couloirs, complex routes, neighboring peaks and scenic alpine traverses.

But the king of all of them is the aesthetically perfect San Joaquin Couloir at the end of Bear Creek Valley. Visible from the eastern edge of Telluride Ski Resort, the couloir is a linear marvel. Starting at 13,460 feet, the shot drops 1,000 vertical feet at a near 50-degree sustained pitch. Between the dark rock walls, it’s an average of 10 feet wide but chokes to a ski length at the crux.

From the ski area, offload Revelation lift to your left, shoulder your skis and hike the Gold Hill access road. Skate and hike past Gold Hill Chutes to the closed gate on your left (long story: know before you go). Gain the south side of San Joaquin Ridge, traverse across to the prominent northwest face and enter the couloir from the obvious slot. Drop straight in down the gut. From the exit apron, veer right (east). There are multiple options for a descent out of Bear Creek. Some routes include mandatory airs or sliding down a rope over 30 feet of rock and snow, so you need to know where you’re going. The final trail out of the valley that leads back to town is obvious.

A snowboarder died in a slide in the Bear Creek drainage last winter. Also, the area is plagued with private property issues, so read up on current regulations.

Hike: 5
Ski: 9

Like this? You may also want to ski Brown Shorts at Revelstoke. Photo above of Dr. Dan Hehir, shot by Brett Schreckengost.

*Hike and ski ratings are in terms of difficulty: 1 being relatively easy, 10 being very challenging. This article originally appeared in the 2013 FREESKIER Backcountry Issue. Subscribe to the magazine, or get it on the iTunes Newsstand.