Ski Industry News

It’s January–Are the Steeps Open?

by Greg Colquitt | January 10, 2020

The butt puckering starts now.

We’ve all been through years where the new year is marked with a low base and low hopes for skiing.

Fortunately, the period around the new year brought much-needed relief to several areas of the Western US. Along the intercontinental region, Big Sky got a foot and a half, Jackson Hole got a nice helping of fresh snow every day, and Jackson’s neighbor, Grand Targhee, received over three feet in the same span. Not to be outdone, Whitefish got pounded the following week, with still over 40″ on the way. The same is true for Whistler and most of California, which have been getting dumped on, breaking a much-needed drought.

Take a look at the forecast for mid-to-late January and you’ll find gold every direction you turn. Even one of the states with the least snow in the forecast, Colorado, is looking at 2-4 inches every day for the next couple weeks. While one to two inches a day might not seem like much, those bits are critical for building the snowpack. It also typically means that the weather has stayed colder AKA higher quality and more consistent snow. Add all that up over the course of the month and you have yourself some great skiing conditions.

Where are the best steeps?

Better snowpack means the steepest most butt puckering intense terrain starts to open up. Since this December was fairly light on snowfall, plenty of these have been delayed until around now. But ain’t it funny what a few feet can do?

Here are a few steeps to think about when you’re planning your next trip:

In the Trees

  • Alta Chutes | Jackson Hole, WY
    • Visible from the Sublette Lift, these chutes are downright sexy and and are usually littered with the locals jumping off the rocks dotting the hillside. Powder pockets hide in the trees, and a north-facing exposure keeps the snow underneath soft. You can expect a bunch of it to come down with you so get there early!
  • Mary Jane Chutes | Winter Park, CO
    • Mary Jane is more well known for its bumps, but let us not forget about the steeps. The Mary Jane chutes offer plenty of pitch, tight turns, and heaps of pillows if you’re feeling bold. The run dumps out into a basin with more pillows and another half-mile of bumps, so make sure you eat your Wheaties.
  • Mirkwood | Monarch Mountain, CO
    • One of the best kept secrets in Colorado (so burn this after reading), Mirkwood is a nice hybrid of hike-to terrain and steep deep trees. You can access it via the Breezeway double chair–and the occasional roaring winds–and then dropping in the aptly-named Orcs or cut lower into Mirkwood Trees or Staircase to find yourself completely alone in powder bliss.
  • Pallavicini | Arapahoe Basin, CO

    The runs off the Palli chair

    • Another set of steeps/glades, the Pallavicini (Palli [PAW-lee], for short) area of A-Basin is a powder seeker’s haven. While it’s tempting to get up to Montezuma and the Beavers, you can snag your share of tight, technical, and deep turns on the established runs and in between the trees off Palli. Then catch your breath on the lift, have a snack, and debate which one of the Steep Gullies you’re going to have for dinner next.

 

Exposed Terrain

  • Headwater Chutes | Big Sky, MT

    The approach to the Headwaters terrain

    • While all of these mentioned above have certain hair-raising elements, nothing makes you question your life more than a hike up an exposed ridge right before dropping into a deep and long chute. Located in a less accessible position than the gondola-serviced triple black diamond runs, these chutes all pose some elements of risk; the reward, however, of looking back up the hill, knowing you slayed some serious terrain and got some knee-deep turns in the process is enough to turn your frown upside down. Permanently.

 

  • Black Iron BowL | Telluride, CO
    • Last but not least, just short hike from the Prospect Express lift leads you up to the Black Iron Bowl. On the way up to Palmyra Peak you’ll have to fight the urge to drop into the untouched entrances of Confidence, Crystal, and other tempting chutes. Those who love heights as much as political talk at Thanksgiving might want to seek out some turns down the face of the bowl midway, but the thrill of the dropping in from the very summit of the mountain is the stuff dreams are made of.

 

Keep an eye out for openings at these mountains. Most have well-posted signage that can keep you in the loop, and if you’re lucky enough, you’ll snag the first set of tracks!

Check with us to find cheaper lift tickets to these mountains, and ski these bad boys firsthand.

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