Take Me Touring: The Colorado Mountain School’s Yurt in Cameron Pass

Abandon the notion of "earning your turns" in favor of "earning every second” as backcountry skiing encompasses not only thrilling descents but also the beauty and inspiration found in the climb.

Backcountry skiing
Photo by Zach Lovell.

Backcountry skiing is the ultimate Colorado sport. It amalgamates many passionate pastimes into one alpine adventure. Hikers cherish the solitude of sparsely traveled terrain, free spirits revel in forging their own path with every step, nature enthusiasts embrace the remote wilderness they have the privilege to explore, and, of course, skiers develop a deeper appreciation for the pristine powder fields as they bounce their way to bliss. 

Colorado’s backcountry serves as the daring adventurer’s playground, a realm where wanderlust makes the rules and Type II fun has the final word. It’s not so much an exclusive club (though it comes with a lot of clout) as it is an open invitation to the intrepid. Instead of your name on the list, all you need are skins on your skis, providing an instant invitation to this world of adventure and adrenaline. Accept the invitation and you will find yourself elevated above the mundane, above the I-70 traffic, above the lazier skiers waiting in lift lines, and most importantly, you’ll feel above the day-to-day grind. Up here, grocery lists and errands fall away in favor of putting one ski in front of the other.

Global Stage

Backcountry skiing, also known as alpine touring, ski mountaineering, and skimo, experienced a significant increase in popularity in 2020 when resorts stopped spinning their lifts. In America that is. In Europe, backcountry skiing was already very popular. So much so that the 2026 Olympics held in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, will include a skimo competition for the first time ever. The race is likely to favor hometown skiers, as the Italians are known to be the best in the world at conquering the mountains with nothing but their own power and persistence. The French and Swiss are also expected to provide tough competition in this Tour de Force.

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Although the backcountry skiing scene in America has been comparatively slower to develop, there is a burgeoning interest in the rugged sport just waiting for you to step out of the lift line and give it a go. Colorado offers a wealth of epic terrain that’s not covered by the Epic Pass, or any pass, for that matter. The untouched powder bowls, glades, steeps, and chutes provide an incredibly diverse range of skiing experiences that are sure to satiate the cravings of any powderhound. Most importantly, proper preparation is paramount. Backcountry skiing isn’t restricted to the best skiers but rather the smartest ones. So, while you may not be training for the 2026 Olympics, it’s essential to educate yourself adequately before heading out.

Group with splitboards
Photo by Sahale Greenwood.

Getting Schooled

If you’re wondering, “Am I a good enough skier to go touring?” you might be asking the wrong question. Instead, ask yourself, “Am I prepared enough to go touring?” As someone who has only skied for a few seasons and recently started feeling comfortable on black diamond runs and variable terrain, I was initially hesitant about the idea of backcountry skiing. While the pristine snow and solitude called my name, the avalanche of recent tragedies in the backcountry kept me securely in the lift lines. However, when the knowledgeable and experienced folks at the Colorado Mountain School offered me the opportunity to stay at their yurt in Cameron Pass for a weekend of backcountry ski touring, I eagerly accepted the invitation. Since I had no prior touring experience, they recommended taking the day-long Introduction to Backcountry Skiing and Splitboarding course that runs out of the school’s outpost in Estes Park. 

In this course, we learned how to work our gear (rentals for many of us newbies), transition our gear from walking to skiing mode, break trail through the snow and make kick turns uphill, use our avalanche beacon, spot avalanche terrain, and the best part, find the best snow. For anyone else interested in trying out the sport, I recommend starting with this class as well. Guided tours offer numerous advantages, including the added safety of a rescue-trained professional and the knowledge of someone intimately familiar with the area and, best of all, can find the freshest powder stashes. Once you gain some experience, you can venture out with friends (solo touring is never recommended). If you’re unsure about buying the gear just yet, Bentgate Mountaineering in Golden or Neptune in Boulder offers high-quality rentals, boot fittings, and even provides demonstrations on how to use the equipment.  

What stuck with me the most from the day, aside from the fact that I love alpine touring, is that your awareness, athleticism, and attitude matter a whole lot more than your technical ski skills. This was a big relief for me but the realization was a wake-up call for some of the more seasoned skiers who may have impressive technical skills but lacked the endurance training, both mentally and physically, required to make it to the top of our routes. As a result, they ended up missing out on some of the best turns by cutting their hike short, only making it up half of the bowl. These were not turns you wanted to miss with deep and dry powder. To be well-suited for alpine touring, you must be in good shape. To prepare for my tours, I ran three to five miles every day and treated myself to an IV bag at Hydrate IV Bar before departing. This kept me energized and hydrated all day long—even for weeks afterward.

Seven Utes Yurt in Cameron Pass
Photo by Sahale Greenwood.

Bouncing Our Way To Bliss

The Colorado Mountain School offers a unique opportunity to stay at its Seven Utes Yurt in Cameron Pass, providing access to incredible terrain along with luxurious amenities. Located just an hour and a half drive from Fort Collins, the area experiences very few crowds making it one of Colorado’s best-kept secrets in the backcountry skiing scene. You can drive right up to the yurt, which is equipped with solar energy that powers the lights, kitchen appliances, and heating. Inside, there is a cozy loft, a fireplace, and a reading nook to relax and warm up after a day of skiing. Being disconnected from cell service allows you to fully unplug and connect more deeply with those around you. It’s an excellent opportunity to escape the constant buzz of technology and immerse yourself in nature. The yurt can accommodate up to 16 people and costs $1,400 for two nights.

For my trip to the yurt, I brought two whole books, convinced I would be drowning in downtime. But, I didn’t even crack the cover. Instead, the group spent our time together building a fire, cooking dinner, sharing ghost stories, and telling each other about our grand adventures and even grander misadventures. When the weekend started, we were all strangers to one another: two journalists, a North Face snow sport appereal designer, a Dynafit rep, and Matt, our IFMGA/AMGA-certified CMS guide. But over the course of our tours, we bonded over shared snacks at the bottom of the run, traded gear tips, and, most importantly, stepped out of our comfort zones.

South Diamond Peak
Photo by Rob Writz.

Day One

On the first day, we toured the South Diamond Peak area and were greeted by a winter wonderland. We hiked up through the pine trees covered in fresh flakes from last night’s storm that sparkled in the day’s sunlight. Conditions were ideal: about four inches of fresh snow, a comfortable 20 degrees, a cobalt-blue sky, and mild wind speeds topping out at about 15 mph. Our steady breathing and the rhythmic sounds of our skis crunching the crystals beneath us set the soundtrack for the day.

We warmed up with two laps in the South Diamond Glades and Trees, a run that would be considered a blue at a resort. The powder was fluffy and deep, but since it was the closest run to the road, we weren’t making fresh tracks. However, in the backcountry, there is no shortage of terrain to explore so we embarked on a half-hour trek to North Diamond Peak East Face where we skied the bowl down to the North Diamond Trees. During the trek, we crossed through some avalanche terrain where the cornices above us threatened to give out. Our guide Matt had us spread out from one another so that if there was an avalanche, only one of us would get caught in it. Not exactly a comforting thought, but a smart one. The bowl was well worth the trek and the potential threat. The powder here was dry, pillowy, and best of all, completely untouched. At first, the landscape seemed harsh and intimidating. It wasn’t until I was nestled right in its arm, between the cliff above me and the descent below, that I realized I never had anything to fear. The mountains wanted me there, they were hugging me back, sheltering me from the wind and showing me the way down. There were many whoops as our group of senders floated over the fresh pack.

Seven Utes Mountain
Photo by Rob Writz.

Day Two

On the second day, we headed to the Seven Utes Zones, which have also been nicknamed “Little Alaska” by the CMS guides due to the striking angular mountains and distinctive rock formations. Matt pointed out a ridiculously steep and narrow chute that runs down through the rocky peaks called Rocks for Brains, which made me very glad we were heading in the opposite direction. After a 40-minute trek on a jeep trail, we began our climb up Seven Utes Mountain. 

There was not another soul in sight, and it felt like we had the entire valley to ourselves. We picked our own way up through the trees, stopping often to marvel at one thing or another. First, it was the moment when the sun peeked through the clouds and glistened over the snow fields we were headed towards, promising to soften the icy crust formed overnight. Then, we stumbled upon delicate tracks etched in the snow, igniting lively debates about the potential owner of these mysterious imprints. These conversations swiftly evolved into an exploration of our spirit animals. (Mine is the charming and cunning fox—the creature I hoped had graced us with those very tracks.) Our group chatted the entire time, some of it about skiing, but most of it about our lives off the slopes. Matt, with a decade more wisdom than the rest of us, shared invaluable life lessons, from learning to let go of things that aren’t working for you to tips on purchasing a first home. 

Trekking across snowy mountain face
Photo by Sahale Greenwood.

After a warm-up lap down the Agnes Glades, a green-caliber run if it weren’t for the feet of fresh, untouched powder, we made our way to the Braddock Peak Glades’ z-face runout. We took turns descending so we could truly experience the run ourselves, unimpeded by other’s turns. Being the slowest skier in my group of pretty bad-ass shredders, I brought up the rear, sometimes marveling at my friends’ straight-lined tracks, other times crisscrossing their seasoned rhythm. But mostly I made my own tracks down the gentler grades Matt would point out for me. Every turn I made in the deep powder bounced me right into the next, creating an exhilarating flow just fast enough to get my adrenaline up, but controlled enough to cut every turn exactly as I pictured it. The only better feeling in the world is taking off my ski boots after a long day of earning every second.

Group on snowy mountain side
Photo by Matt Hartman.

Know Before You Go

The best time of year to go alpine touring is spring. You want a snowpack that is thick and wet, not cold and hard. The season ramps up in March, but come early April persistent slabs stop being such an issue, allowing tours to climb higher into steeper terrain. April and May offer some of the best avalanche conditions and snow, but you can keep ski mountaineering into June. That late in the season skiers usually turn their attention to the 14ers.

Five Signs of Avalanche Danger

Not all avalanche signs are created equal. The first three are more important than the last two. Be especially cautious if you start to see more than one warning sign at a time—that may be your sign to head home.

  1. 1. Recent avalanche activity
  2. 2. Cracking or whoomping sound
  3. 3. Significant amounts of new snow 
  4. 4. Strong wind 
  5. 5. Drastic temperature rise 

Weather Resources

When it comes to alpine touring, you are not chasing the storm, but rather cold, clear conditions with minimal wind and a bit of new snow. These resources go above and beyond what you will learn from your phone’s generic weather app.

Colorado Avalanche Information Center: With daily condition reports on backcountry ski zones’ snowpack and avalanche danger, this should be the first thing you look at before heading out for the day.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Use the map feature to look at the weather patterns for a more in-depth meteorology report. This site can miss nuances, though, like claiming six feet of new snow, but if you look at the wind conditions, you can tell that snow will not sit on the peak but instead end up in the valley.

Windy TV: This is a site you could dive into for weeks. There are many resources backcountry skiers may find useful like the real-time map that shows what conditions are currently cycling through your area.

Seth’s Weather Report on Facebook: A CMS program graduate at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (ATOC) writes extremely detailed posts multiple times a day about snowpack and weather conditions.

Other Resources

AspectAvy: This app will show you the safest route home through avalanche terrain. Employing high-definition LiDAR (lasar) precision mapping, it accurately shows slope angle and associated risk.

Front Range Skimo: This website is great for beta, tracks, and general info for some popular backcountry ski zones. It also has a great synopsis of Front Range Weather and the timing of objectives.

Avalanche.org: If you are traveling around the U.S., this is a great resource for snowpack and weather data and links you to local forecasts. It also has tons of learning and accident information to help your progression.

AMGA Ski Videos: A deep dive, but you can gain a little information here about what guides are up to these days. Every backcountry rider should watch the uptrack videos.

Beacon Guide Books: Rodney Ley, a Fort Collins local who has skied Cameron Pass for 50+ years, recently authored the most extensive guidebook to Cameron Pass to date. It has detailed information about the area, from ideal uptracks and downtracks, to slope angles, avalanche terrain information, and more.

Seven Utes Yurt in Cameron Pass
Photo by Sahale Greenwood.

Drop in Anywhere

Find your fresh lines at these other backcountry skiing destinations that cater to everything from the hardcore to the hand-holding.

Ultra Luxury: Aspen Heli Charter, Bridal Veil Backcountry Ski Camp

Comfortable: Alfred A. Braun Hut System, Friend Hut, Maroon and Forest Queen Cabins, Mount Hayden Backcountry Lodge, Campfire Ranch Wash Gulch and Thelma Hut backcountry cabins

Beginner-Friendly: Loveland, Berthoud, Vail Pass, Hidden Valley RMNP, Geneva Basin, Indian Peaks Wilderness, Butlers Gultch, Mayflower Gultch, Dry Gultch, Quandary Peak

Bluebird Backcountry, in Kremmling is Colorado’s newest backcountry ski area that is ski patrolled and open to all abilities. Here, you get the best of both worlds: earning every second while also knowing that professionals have evaluated the terrain and conditions for safety.