Thanks to its proximity to a popular fourteener, the Guanella Pass road is lined with cars all summer, but the fun doesn’t have to end when the winter road closure takes effect each November. The long-closed Geneva Basin Ski Area, situated a few miles south of the Guanella Pass summit, boasts an annual snowfall of 300”—on par with Aspen Highlands and Crested Butte, sans the long commute—and enough high-quality runs to keep skiers entertained all day. Backcountry travelers willing to skin the three-and-a-half miles to the base of the ski area are rewarded with a quiet, off-the-beaten-path experience—even on a sunny Saturday.
What Makes It Great
Like much of Clear Creek County, Geneva Basin Ski Area has a colorful history: it was owned for nearly a decade by former Colorado governor Roy Romer, who once joked that buying a resort was cheaper than lift tickets for his seven children.
Rumors of a ghost—the spirit of Edward Guanella, son of the pass’ namesake—circulated in the 1970s. When a ski lift collapsed in 1984, the resort closed for good, and nature has taken its course in the intervening decades: an old patrol hut (backcountry skiers often spend the night here) and a couple of tiny storage shacks are the only hints that Geneva Basin saw nearly 25,000 skiers in its last season. The beauty of backcountry skiing at an abandoned ski area—aside from the adrenaline rush of skiing through a Michael Crichton thriller set in wintertime—is the number and variety of runs, each just a few minutes’ skin apart. Newcomers to the backcountry will delight in the wide, gentle slopes near the top of the mountain, opting to ski the old cat track back to the meadow when the trails funnel into steeper tree runs—an expert skier’s dream, especially when there’s no shortage of fresh tracks to be had.
Who is Going to Love It
Thanks to the variety of runs, this tour has something to offer everyone from first-timers to seasoned backcountry veterans. Skiers comfortable on blue or more difficult runs at the resort will enjoy this outing the most; narrow runs, unmarked obstacles, and deep, ungroomed snow could present challenges for more novice skiers. The trade-off for a resort without the crowds is that there’s no one to mitigate avalanche danger for you—it’s up to you to know and avoid the dangers. Always carry rescue gear (and know how to use it) when venturing into avalanche terrain.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Geneva Basin can be accessed from the Georgetown side, but to maximize your backcountry experience (and shorten your skin), avoid I-70 traffic and take US 285. The Guanella Pass turnoff is in the little hamlet of Grant, about 60 miles from Denver—look for signs on the right-hand side of the road. From here you’ll drive just under seven miles to the winter closure gate and park on the east side of the road. It’s paved and fairly well maintained, but AWD and good snow tires are recommended. No permits or fees are required, and if you’re lucky, you might see the resident posse of majestic bull moose in the meadows southwest of the parking area.
Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].
Featured image provided by Jeremiah LaRocco