Glenwood Springs & Fourmile Area - Chapter 1

 

Introduction

Located on Colorado's western slope, at the foot of the Roaring Fork Valley just off Interstate Highway 70, Glenwood Springs is a hub for all manner of recreation. As a ski center, the town is not a high mountain enclave such as Aspen, but it has the advantage of a central location, reasonable prices, and its own ski touring in the rolling foothills and lower mountains to the southwest.

Glenwood's nearby wilderness area, the Flattops, offers interesting terrain. Sadly, winter access to the Flattops is difficult, requiring long slogs up snowcovered jeep trails or the use of a snowmobile. The Flattops are not covered in this book but are worth a trip if you're after undocumented adventure.

The town of Carbondale, 12 miles up Highway 82 from Glenwood Springs, is the gateway to Mount Sopris (see Chapter 4) and the Crystal River Valley via Highway 133. Winter recreation out of Carbondale covered here on BackcountrySkiingCO.com takes place a few miles west from town, in the Jerome Park & Marion Gulch area, as well as Thompson Creek.

 

Roads and Trailheads

USFS Vistors Map: White River National Forest
USGS Maps: Carbondale, Cattle Creek, Center Mountain, Gibson Gulch, Quaker Mesa, Stony Ridge.

 

Fourmile Park Trailhead & Fourmile Road
Fourmile Road leads to Sunlight Ski Resort and Fourmile Park. Start from Grand Avenue on the south (Aspen) side of Glenwood Springs. At Grand Avenue and 23rd Street, follow obvious signs for Sunlight Mountain Resort, which will lead you down South Grand Avenue, Midland Avenue and a hard right turn onto Fourmile Road. At 10 miles from Glenwood, take a hard right turn on Road 300 (if you go straight, you’ll end up at Sunlight Ski Resort). To reach parking for Williams Peak, continue 2.9 miles. Pay to park at a snowmobile tour operation or park on the roadside if it’s plowed wide (8,760 feet). To reach Fourmile Park Trailhead, continue 1.7 miles up the road to snow closure at the east end of Fourmile Park (8,880 feet). The amount of plowing at the end of Fourmile Road varies by year and budget. Expect mid-winter plowing to end near the above mentioned paid parking area. (Due to road construction, the first part of this route may change slightly and will be indicated by signs on Grand Avenue.)

 

Marion Gulch Trailhead
Follow Highway 133 to Carbondale. At the stoplight intersection of Main Street and Highway 133, turn W on Main Street. Continue W and Main Street becomes the Thompson Creek Road. Stay on the paved Thompson Creek Road as it climbs a long hill to Jerome Park, a basin of beautiful high ranch lands. At 6.2 miles from the stoplight, the spur to the Marion Gulch Trailhead turns off to the right (W). Continue up the spur a short distance to a snow plow turnaround (7,940 feet) used mostly by snowmobilers. To reach the Spring Gulch nordic trail system, continue up Thompson Creek Road 1 mile to obvious signs and parking (7,720 feet). Thompson Creek Road snow closure is usually just past the Spring Gulch parking area.

 

 

Route 1.1.1 Fourmile Park

Climb rating: Easy, nordic wax or skins Ski rating: Novice, D1 flats or D3 hills Recommended season: All with snow Starting elevation: 8,880 feet Summit elevation: NA Elevation gain: minimal, varies with route Round trip distance: Varies with route Day trip? Yes Map: Fourmile West, see below.

Fourmile Park is a broad valley in the foothills near Glenwood Springs. The area abounds with options for mellow ski touring. Several trails are shared with snowmobiles, while others are used mostly by skiers. Drive from Glenwood Springs to Fourmile Park Trailhead (see Introduction). For relaxed touring or skating during the week, use packed snowmobile trails (avoid such trails on weekends). For steeper touring, enjoy the hilly area to the northwest of the trailhead.

 

 

Route 1.1.2 Bald Mountain from Fourmile Park

 

Climb rating: Easier skins

Ski rating: Intermediate, S2

Recommended seasons: Mid to late winter and early spring

Starting elevation: 8,880 feet

Summit elevation: 10,361 feet

Elevation gain: 1,500 feet

Round trip distance: 6 miles

Day trip? Yes

Map: Fourmile West

 

This tour rewards you with a few turns after a short trek across low-angled terrain. Drive to Fourmile Park Trailhead (see Introduction). Follow the main trail about 1 ½ miles SW through Fourmile Park (avoid on weekends because of snowmobile traffic). Leave the main trail where an open area leads up a draw to the northwest and continue through timber to the summit of Bald Mountain. For turns, do laps in the east face glades.

 

Route 1.1.3 Williams Peak north side

 

Climb rating: Easier skins

Ski rating: Intermediate, S2-

Recommended seasons: Mid to late winter and early spring

Starting elevation: 8,760 feet

Summit elevation: 10,079 feet

Elevation gain: 1,319 feet

Round trip distance: 2 ½ miles

Day trip? Yes

Map: Fourmile West

 

 

Williams Peak is a small hill in the timbered terrain west of the Sunlight Ski Area. It's a good place to learn backcountry skiing, and it’s a nice jaunt for experienced skiers who want a short workout. The northerly slopes of Williams hold the most reliable snow, though much of the terrain is too densely forested for good turning. (Hint: during heavy snow years a huge amount of excellent glade skiing may open up.) Williams is within the permitted ski area expansion area but thus far has remained backcountry. Park as indicated in the description for Fourmile Park trailhead (see Introduction). From your parking spot, head S through timber. You'll soon enter a series of open areas you can follow to the summit ridge about 1/8 mile from the summit. Continue to the apex and descend glades you eyed during your ascent.

 

Route 1.1.4 Williams Peak southwest side

 

Climb rating: Easier skins

Ski rating: Intermediate, S2-

Recommended seasons: Late winter and early spring

Starting elevation: 8,760 feet

Summit elevation: 10,079

Elevation gain: 1,319 feet

Round trip distance: 2 ¾ miles

Day trip? Yes

Map: Fourmile West

 

 

Use the previous description to reach the summit of Williams Peak (1.1.3 ). An open area and series of glades drops from the summit west and south. The snow on this exposure is often crusty; for the best glisse wait until a quiet powder storm or early spring corn snow. The fall line will lead you down to Babbish Gulch where you can pick up the Sunlight Mountain Resort nordic trails. If that option sounds a bit flat, ski the better glades; climb back to the summit of Williams, then ski down your north-side ascent route back to parking. Avalanches are unlikely in this area but could occur in the case of worst possible conditions.

 

Route 1.1.5 Carbondale Nordic Council Spring Gulch nordic trails

 

Climb rating: Novice to Intermediate, skate or nordic wax

Ski rating: Novice to Intermediate, S0 to S1+

Recommended season: Winter

Starting elevation: 7,800 feet

Summit elevation: NA

Elevation gain: Varies

Round trip distance: Varies

Day trip? Yes

Map: Fourmile East

 

 

This system of maintained trails is one of the best in central Colorado. The views are magnificent, the tracks vary in difficulty from easy skates to ripping downhills, and the use fee is a voluntary donation. To reach the Spring Gulch trails, use the trailhead description for Marion Gulch (see Introduction). A detailed trail map is available at the parking area. Call local nordic ski shops to find out if the tracks are open.

 

 

Route 1.1.6 Marion Gulch to Sunlight Mountain Resort

 

Climb rating: Easier skins

Ski rating: Intermediate, S2

Recommended seasons: Mid to late winter or early spring

Starting elevation: 7,940 feet

Summit elevation: 9,895 feet

Elevation gain: 2,000 feet

Round trip distance: 7 miles

Day trip? Yes

Map: Fourmile East

 

Midwinter avalanche danger too high for your favorite haunts? To stay in shape, enjoy this fine walk through the aspen forests of the Fourmile area, ending at the summit of the Sunlight Ski Area.

 

Start at the Marion Gulch Trailhead (see section introduction). Take the well-traveled snowmobile trail up Marion Gulch 1 ¼ miles to a small open area at 8,600 feet where the road swings right (N). Continue up the road a few hundred yards, then leave the road by continuing N through brush and aspen forest ½ mile to a saddle (9,130 feet). Now Freeman Creek will be below you to the north with the back (undeveloped) side of the ski mountain rising above. Rather than simply dropping all the way to Freeman Creek, start a slightly dropping traverse W from the saddle; cross Freeman Creek at 9,100 feet, then climb NW out of Freeman Creek through a subsidiary drainage and more aspen forest. Continue to about 9,300 feet, then swing right (N) and climb about ¼ mile to the ski area summit. If you contour N, instead of climbing to the ski area summit, you'll hit the Babbish Gulch nordic trails or the westernmost run of the ski area (called Ute). Return via your ascent route or ski the area down to a car you previously stashed at the resort parking area. Note that because of occasionally heavy brush, reasonable snowcover is necessary for this route. Evaluate coverage by using the Sunlight snow report. With good snow, it's possible to find short low-angled descents in upper Freeman Creek.

 

 

Map below (Fourmile East) is a Flash file and may not display on some devices. If not, perhaps you can use our PDF version.

Map below (Fourmile West) is a Flash file and may not display on some devices. If not, perhaps you can use our PDF version.