Rio Grande National Forest
Cross-country skiing is becoming an increasingly popular sport on the Conejos Peak Ranger District. Past glacial activity in this area has produced wide valleys and gently rolling hills and plateaus, a terrain ideally suited to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Many areas are accessible during the winter and offer excellent opportunities for both day and overnight trips.
The most popular area for cross-country skiing is the Cumbres-La Manga Pass area. Snowmobilers also use the area but the vast open and forested spaces offer plenty of opportunities for solitude. Up to three cross-country ski races are held here every year.
Although Highway 17 is maintained during the winter, most of the roads that intersect it are left unplowed and make excellent ski trails. Forest Road 250 to Platoro is usually unplowed above Rocky Mountain Lodge. Unplowed roads offer a wide track and a gentle grade that can be easily traversed by skiers and snowshoers. In addition to the trails and roads, there are plenty of areas where the tranquility of untouched snow can be enjoyed. Plowed roads that offer access to other unplowed side roads include Highway 160, Highway 149, Pinos Creek for the first 10 miles south of Highway 160, Beaver Creek to the south end of the Beaver Creek Reservoir, Embargo Creek for three miles, Park Creek to the Summitville Mine, West Frisco Creek to the Forest Boundary, and the Natural Arch Road (FDR 660) for three miles.
In addition to unplowed roads, there are several ski routes specifically marked for cross-country skiers. The trailheads are marked with the cross-country skier symbol and the routes are designated by blue diamond markers. (Orange diamond markers indicate snowmobile trails.) Obtain maps before traveling unfamiliar routes. Cross-country ski equipment is available for rental in South Fork and Alamosa.
Food, lodging, and ski rentals are available on either side of the pass: in Chama or along the Conejos Canyon highway. Specific areas to ski are described below.
A lack of access limits the cross-country skiing opportunities on the Conejos Peak District. Long treks along roadways are required to reach areas that offer good skiing. Depending on annual snow conditions the following areas can be reached with little effort and provide excellent skiing when there is adequate snow:
Cat Creek Area
Numerous parks spread over gently rolling hills.
Jacob's Hill Area
Numerous roads passing through a forest of mixed aspen and conifer over rolling terrain. There are no developed cross-country ski trails on the Conejos Peak District. Depending on snow conditions, most roads on the District will provide an enjoyable experience for the beginning skier. District roads are not patrolled or plowed during the winter months. Please inquire about road conditions before starting out.
Conejos Canyon Area
Skiing and snowshoeing opportunities within the Conejos Canyon vary considerably depending on snow conditions. While snow conditions may be good all winter in the upper portions of the canyon, the quality of snow below Elk Creek Campground is likely to fluctuate. In mid-winter, snows may be deep enough to ski along the Coneps River below Elk Creek Campground. The meadows of the river valley above Elk Creek are popular for skiing and the unplowed road above Rocky Mountain Lodge is often used by skiers. Some of the trails that lead west from the Conejos River offer routes for the more adventurous skier: the South Fork of the Conejos River (Trail #724) and Elk Creek (Trail #731). These routes are often more challenging due to variable snow characteristics and the difficulty of following the trail. Caution must be used when crossing the Conejos River.
Osier Mountain Area
The sparsely forested slope of Pinorealosa Mountain, Rio de Los Pinos below Highway 17, and other portions of the Osier Mountain Area offer terrain suitable for skiing. These areas are accessible by Highway 17 between La Manga and Cumbres Passes. There are numerous pull-outs along the highway where skiers may park. The Osier Mountain area is also one of the most popular areas for snowmobiling on the District.
Conejos Piateau Area
The most popular area within the Conejos Peak District for cross-country skiing is the land surrounding Cumbres Pass. Excellent snow conditions exist here from late fall through spring and the routes available are practically unlimited. Skiers often follow the trails to Red Lake (#733) and the Continental Divide Trail (#813). Neff Mountain and the Grouse Creek Valley are popular areas for those preferring to make their own trail through virgin snow. The road to Trujillo Meadows Reservoir is left unplowed during the winter and provides a good trail for skiing, but is also frequented by snowmobilers. Skiers interested in longer trips can continue beyond the reservoir up the Rio de Los Pinos, following Road #118. The Cumbres Pass area is a favorite place for both snowmobilers and skiers. They should, therefore, respect each other's trails in order to avoid conflict.
Chama Basin Area
Although Chama Basin offers excellent opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, it is seldom used because of its remoteness in wintertime. The six miles of unplowed access road makes access to the area difficult. Chama Basin, however, is an ideal location for an extended ski trip for those seeking the quiet solitude of winter. One may follow any of the major streams in the basin and find ideal skiing terrain in addition to spectacular winter scenes.
Snowshoeing opportunities on the Del Norte District is only limited by steep slopes and by road access to areas with deep snow. Beaver Creek and Wolf Creek Pass are two areas with easy access and sufficient snow depth for snowshoeing. The cross-country ski trails on the District are suitable for snowshoeing. The National Forest is combining cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trail descriptions and maps.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication