Marble Area Backcountry Skiing - Section 1 - Yule Creek

 

Introduction

A note from author Lou Dawson about Marble skiing: sharing information, crowding, and parking...

Information about Marble, Colorado and associated mining operations has become readily acessible. We manage a public service website at MarbleSki.org that's dedicated to safety and a positive attitude -- along with details of driving Quarry Road, parking, and such. So check that out along with this online guidebook, as well as CAIC avalanche reporting.

Yes, Marble has become a somewhat popular spot for backcountry -- some old timers (and newcomers who think they are old timers) feel possessive of the place and tend to resent newcomers.

Personally, I'm glad to see everyone enjoying themselves and have no problem with the increased use.

Nonetheless, only so much powder exists on a given slope. In my view, sharing guidebook information such as this serves the purpose spreading out the use, thus helping with issues of crowding.

Years ago, perhaps my guidebooks increased use a bit. Those times are over. Information flows so freely now, secret stashes only exist in isolated instances. Marble is not a secret stash.

Plenty of terrain exists with access from Quarry Road, be creative about finding new lines, but be safe. Key to getting untracked skiing is to skip Marble Peak and explore the vast terrains of Mud, Ally, and No Name. Or head over into Anthracite, or Raspberry Creek if you have the avalanche safety skills to handle complex and sometimes excessivly dangerous terrain (a skier died in an avalanche in Rasberry Creek during 2012/2013 season, the first and thusfar only skier to be killed by an avalanche while skiing from Quarry Road). Mount Justice is another option, as is the nearly infinite terrain of upper Yule Creek and Treasure Mountain. Beware of avalanche terrain and conditions of course.

Perhaps the biggest issue with increased recreational use out of Marble is parking. Carpool carpool carpool. See below for other parking suggestions.

USGS Maps: Marble, Marcellina Mtn., Chair Mountain USFS Map: Gunnison National Forest

 

Avalanche Danger Warning
As the old saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. In the case of skiing in places such as Marble, well used trails and climbing skin tracks may give you the sense you can simply tromp around and ski lines as if you were at am avalanche controlled resort. Actually, any ski slope in the Marble area should be suspect at all times as a possible avalanche -- an avalanche that could kill or maim you. On all ski slopes, whether traveling up or down, only expose one person at a time to hazard, carry and know how to use accepted avalanche self-rescue gear (beacon-shovel-probe & possibly an airbag backpack) and know enough avalanche hazard evaluation technique to make informed decisions about how much risk you and your companions are willing to take.

BackcountrySkiingCO.com reminds you: Don't be a sheep and simply follow skin tracks, assuming others can make decisions for you on what's safe to ski and what is not.

 

Roads and Trailheads

Yule Quarry Road

Drive Highway 133 from Paonia or Carbondale, and turn off at the well-signed Marble turnoff on the north side of McClure Pass. Drive this secondary road 6 miles to the small town of Marble.

When you enter the town of Marble, you'll come to a stop-sign intersection with a firehouse on your right. Turn right here, and you're on the famous Quarry Road, a classic Colorado "shelf road" cutting across numerous (at least 14) avalanche paths-and accessing terrific skiing.

To locate features on the Quarry Road, it's best to clock mileage from the firehouse in Marble (where you turn onto Quarry Road. A few hundred yards past the firehouse you'll cross a bridge over Yule Creek. An unlocked gate (of questionable legality on this public right-of-way) may simply be unlatched if closed and driven through unless posted with current closed road signs from the Gunnison Country Sheriff (the road does get closed on occasion in the event of extreme avalanche danger, an accident, or maintenance that makes it temporarily impassable.)

Copious warning signs at the bridge inform about avalanche danger on the road. Basically, if the road is plowed and the quarry miners are using it, it's likely safe to drive so long as you don't stop and picnic beneath a slide path (though there is the possibility of dying in an avalanche here during any day with snow on the ground). But advised that the road does cross through or below at least 14 avalanche paths, any of which could kill you even if you're in a vehicle. Thus, turn your avalanche beacons on at the Firehouse.

If the road is unplowed after a storm it is wise to wait a day or two for avalanche conditions to settle, then return. If nothing else, doing so gives the plows room to work. One rule of thumb that works well for skiing the Yule Creek drainage (and for that matter, any avalanche terrain) is to wait 48 hours after any "loading event," i.e. a storm with much snow or wind, or a windstorm that moves existing snow around. Use such caution, and you will be amply rewarded.

Note that large "hill trucks" may use the road to descend with huge blocks of marble. Sometimes these trucks can't easily stop or maneuver and in a passing situation MUST take the inside next-to-the-mountain line so as not to drop a soft shoulder. So in an encounter where you can't pass beside the truck, be prepared to back up to the nearest turnout (memorize them on your way up).

Unless the Quarry Road is dry, 4-wheel-drive is recommended, if for no other reason than making parking easier (and driving backward more foolproof). Snow tires are mandatory, some users chain up as a matter of course to make passing and maneuvering on the road safer and easier.

Park in widened areas that are not threatened by avalanches. While many skiers will try to snag parking at the skin track start for Marble Peak, the most room can be found a short distance farther up the road at at Windy Corner. If parking is full, drive back down the hill to the firehouse and marble loadout and arrange a car shuttle.

While much of the skiing accessible from the Quarry Road is on public land, the road is partly lined with private property parcels. A common access to the skiing (especially that on Mount Justice) is via the Anthracite Pass trail, which leaves the road at the curve below Windy Corner (see maps etc. below). The other common access points are parking just past Much Gulch, as well as parking a few hundred yards downvalley from that location. Access details follow:

Starting from Quarry Bridge, Quarry Road passes through a patchwork of private land. At 1.6 miles from Quarry Bridge you'll pass below No Name Peak and avalanche path. The road breaks into public land at approximately 2.2 miles past Quarry Bridge. Identify narrow Ally Gulch, which you pass below at 2.4 miles from Quarry Bridge, then identify Mud Gulch at 2.6 miles. You re-enter private land owned by Lou and Lisa Dawson (of WildSnow.com and this website) about 150 feet past Mud Gulch, and the road crosses their property for a few hundred feet. Parking is legal and accepted in wider areas on the public road right-of-way, whether it crosses private land or not. That said, take care to not block any driveways that are in use, respect property owner's privacy, and be courteous to everyone you encounter.

It is extremely important to park in such as way as to leave enough road width for the big mine trucks. If in doubt, pace off the distance from your parked car to the opposite side of the road. This should be at least 9 feet, with some extra at the shoulder since the truck driver has to take care not to do a shoulder drop. If users park inappropriately, the County Sheriff could issue tickets or even close the road to all but mine operations and property owners.

Route 3.1.1 Anthracite Pass from Windy Corner

Climb rating: Harder skins
Ski rating: Advanced
Recommended seasons: Mid to late winter and spring
Starting elevation: 9,060 feet Summit elevation: 10,280 feet
Elevation gain: 1,220 feet
Round trip distance: 2 ΒΌ miles

This is one of the few tours off the Yule Quarry Road that has little or no avalanche danger; indeed, the driving is more dangerous than the skiing! If you explore this area, you can find quite a bit of tree skiing in forest that's dense enough and angled low enough to provide safe powder skiing during times when avalanche risk is too high for skiing the open slopes and bowls. Beware, however: Just driving up the Quarry Road can expose you to unacceptable danger during times of high avalanche hazard.

The route is simple, but usually involves finding a reasonably angled line up through steep timber. Map and compass are essential, and a GPS could be useful your first time up this route. Start at Windy Corner (see section introduction), walk down the road a short distance, then take the left side of Marble Peak Avalanche Path several hundred yards, where the Anthracite Pass pack trail enters dense timber. Attempt to stay on the trailcut as it makes its way through dark timber. It's likely you'll lose the trailcut. In that case, use your map and compass to continue toward Anthracite Pass via a series of climbing traverses. Anthracite Pass (10,280 feet) is a broad flat saddle in somewhat dense timber, and thus an easy place to get disoriented. For downhill fun, look for safer glade skiing down short slopes on the east side of the pass. It's also possible to find good tree skiing on the west side of the pass, but this may be steeper, with open timber that's more avalanche prone. You can reach Marble Peak from Anthracite Pass by doing a simple traverse. Do not attempt this unless avalanche danger is deemed to be low, since such a route crosses an avalanche gully then enters Marble Peak Bowl in an exposed area. Return to parking via your ascent route, or with stable snow traverse N from the pass, then descend the east gullies and glades of Marble Peak (see route 3.1.4).

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

 

Route 3.1.2 Mount Justice - North Side

Climb rating: Harder skins and possibly easy boots
Ski rating: Advanced
Recommended season: Spring for avalanche path, all seasons for ridge lines
Starting elevation: 9,060 feet Summit elevation: 11,740 feet
Elevation gain: 2,264 feet
Round trip distance: 4 miles

You can't beat Mount Justice for spring skiing, and the North Face has a beautiful line down the stupendous avalanche path visible from Marble Peak.This has been done in winter during periods of exceptionally avalanche stable snow, but catching that type of descent is not recommended. Park at Windy Corner (see introduction and map above), and climb route 3.1.1 to Anthracite Pass. Next, stay on the timbered ridge south to the Mount Justice summit.

From the Justice summit, descend the northwest face to about 10,000 feet, then take a climbing traverse N back to Anthracite Pass. Return to parking via your ascent route, or for better skiing traverse from Anthracite Pass to the Marble Peak bowl and descend to the road. Take care with the latter option, since east-facing snow may be dangerously thawed by the time you're there. Get an early start. The timbered ridge used for the ascent can be a rewarding winter climb.

For winter descents with more manageable avalanche terrain, use gladed terrain accessed of the ascent route. When skiing this, take care with steeper areas that could produce violent avalanches that carry you into dense timber where you're sure to hit a tree even if the slide doesn't bury you.

Route 3.1.3 Mount Justice - East Face

Climb rating: Harder skins, moderate boots
Ski rating: Advanced
Recommended seasons: Spring
Starting elevation: 9,060 feet Summit elevation: 11,730 feet
Elevation gain: 2,300 feet
Round trip distance: 5 miles

For spring skiers this is the Mount Justice corn feast. Be there early on a spring morning. Follow route 3.1.2 to the north end of the ridgy Mount Justice summit. Two major avalanche paths lead from the summit down to the Yule Creek drainage. They are both excellent runs. The first path (farthest north) is perhaps the most efficient descent since it intersects the Yule Creek pack trail at about 8,900 feet, which is your route back to Windy Corner. No matter your choice in routes, be sure to carefully follow the pack trail back, rather than taking the actual Yule Creek drain, which forces you into rough terrain. Carry a 7.5 minute USGS map if you're unfamiliar with this terrain. Remember that these east faces get an early sun hit, so time your ascent to reach the summit just after sunrise.

Route 3.1.4 Marble Peak-East Bowl

Climb rating: Harder skins
Ski rating: Intermediate to Advanced
Recommended seasons: Mid to late winter or early spring
Starting elevation: 9,060 feet Summit elevation: 11,314 feet
Elevation gain: 2,254 feet
Round trip distance: 3 miles

For classic skiing and riding you can't beat the eastern slopes of Marble Peak above the Quarry Road. Start from Windy Corner Trailhead or roadside parking just past Mud Gulch (see section introduction and map above). From Windy Corner, if you choose to use the avalanche path route (during stable periods) walk back down the road a short distance, then head up the left side of the major avalanche path. Dip into timber on the left side of the path and climb the obscure route of the Anthracite Pass Trail (route 3.1.1) for several hundred vertical feet, then stick with the left side of the slide path until you're blocked by a gulch at about 9,600 feet. The trick here is to head out into the slide path, with confidence that your assessment of the avalanche hazard means a large slide won't come down the path and wipe you out.

From 9,600 feet, head toward the peak across a somewhat flat area of the slide path. After that, take the obvious avalanche safe line up the far right side of the path, mostly in timber yo the "Lunch Spot" at at 9,800 feet. From the Lunch Spot, climb a short steep headwall to the conifer forest forming the right side of the avalanche path. Stay to the right of the path by weaving through conifers and, and gradually work right until you're climbing the actual ridge crest for the last few hundred vertical feet. Ski your ascent route, or if avalanche conditions allow, carve the tempting bowl you eyed on the way up. With good powder or corn conditions, explore the gladed area to skier's right of the main avalanche path. You can also find a series of nice glades on the ascent ridge, to climber's right in the conifer forest. Avalanches have been observed on all steeper slopes in this area, so be warned.

Route from parking just past Mud Gulch

This option has a weaving start through aspen forest that's hard to find for first-timers if you can't find a local's skin track, but it avoids climbing up the middle of the apocalyptic Marble Peak avalanche path and is thus recommended. Start by locating Mud Gulch and the culvert under the road, and park where appropriate.

To avoid confusion, this description begins at the Mud Gulch culvert. Head up the road and around a corner, about 150 feet from the Mud Gulch culvert, then climb south westerly up the road bank (sometimes steep and even scary on the plow bank), then up a small gulch for about 200 yards to 9,120 feet. Breathe easy now, you're in the Raggeds Wilderness, where it's illegal to chase skiers with black helicopters. To avoid private property and take the best route, simply continue climbing S (and perhaps slightly W) to a shelf on Marble's shoulder (9,700 feet). The crux is a steep and convoluted area on the north side of the shoulder. Persevere, and don't deviate left or you'll hear the whop whop of chopper blades. Once you're on the shoulder, follow the regular route described above.

This route route may also expose you to avalanche danger, so only attempt it during times of lower avalanche hazard, preferably with a solid late winter or spring snowpack.

 

Looking southerly from the summit of Marble Peak. Click for full panorama view FROM summit of Marble. Click for massive enlargement.


Route 3.1.5 Alley Peak and "The Alleys"

Climb rating: Easy skins Ski rating: Intermediate to Advanced
Recommended seasons: Early spring
Starting elevation: 8,840 feet Summit elevation: 11,340 feet Elevation gain: 2,500 feet
Round trip distance: 3 miles

This is one of the best areas for glisse on the east face of Marble Ridge, but lacks an ascent route that's as safe from avalanches as that of Marble Peak. Drive Yule Quarry Road per instructions in intro above. The route starts in a deep cut drainage (Alley Gulch) on the roadside (do not mistake Ally Gulch for Mud Gulch; it's the next gulch down the road back towards Marble from Mud Gulch).

During spring, if you're planning a short morning jaunt, it is possible to park at the base of Ally Gulch if the road is dry and plowed wide. A safer and more courteous way to park is to drop your party off at Alley, then have a driver take your vehicle up to Windy Corner or other obvious parking and walk back down the road.

Once you climb several hundred feet above the road, take slopes to the right of the drainage and continue to either of several summits on the ridge crest. If the top is your goal, continue southerly up the ridge to the true summit. If you work to the south once on the ridge, and choose to descend into Mud Gulch, traverse back to The Alley at about 9,800 feet rather than dropping into the deadly lower section of Mud Gulch. Riders should note that Ally drainage forms a natural halfpipe from the road up to about 10,200 feet. Ride it!

(Trivia nuts might note that the word "alley" is related to marble. Check your dictionary.)

Route 3.1.6 Noname Peak & Marble Ridge

Climb rating: Easy skins, easy boots near summit
Ski rating: Intermediate to Advanced
Recommended season: Spring
Starting elevation: 8,640 feet Summit elevation: 10,842 feet Elevation gain: 2,202 feet
Round trip distance: 3 miles

Forming the northern endpoint of Marble Ridge, Noname Peak is a worthy goal that yields notable views and excellent early spring skiing. Because of slope aspects, geology and vegetation, the slopes in this area are more prone to wet spring avalanches than many other parts of Marble Ridge. While such avalanches are easy to avoid (be there early and leave early, before they happen) they do mess up the skiing surface. Before your run, drive up to Windy Corner and eyeball the route (binoculars are useful), then pick something cleaner if piles of slide debris block the good lines.

To reach the route, follow mileage directions in the section introduction, and park at a wide area near the base of Noname Gulch. If the edges of the road are not well-plowed, consider other parking options. Start up the gulch gut, trend climber's right, then take any of several distinct routes up to Marble Ridge and the summit.

Route 3.1.7 Marble Ridge High Traverse

Climb rating: Harder skins, Ski rating: Advanced
Recommended seasons: Late winter or spring
Starting elevation: 9,060 Summit elevation: 11,314 Elevation gain: 2,500 feet
Trip distance: 3 miles

Up for a few hours of sterling views? Enjoy a high level flight on Marble Ridge. Start atop Marble Peak (route 3.1.4). Head W for a short distance on the ridge behind the peak, then swing N and traverse the ridge for a mile over Mud Peak, Alley Peak and Noname Peak. Descend Noname Peak (route 3.1.6) to the Yule Quarry Road, and walk the road back to your car.

Route 3.1.8 Marble Ridge Bench Traverse

Climb rating: Easier skins, Ski rating: Advanced
Recommended seasons: Late winter or spring.
Starting elevation: 9,060 feet Summit elevation: 10,100 feet Elevation gain: 1,040
Round trip distance: 3 miles

Enjoy this as a quick way to see all the avalanche paths of Marble Ridge. Start by climbing to about 10,100 feet on the Marble Peak route (3.1.4). Head climber's right (N), and leave the Marble Peak route by dropping through conifers into the upper reaches of Mud Gulch. Ski down Mud Gulch a short distance, then climb N out of Mud Gulch to a bench starting at 9,800 feet. Scoot along this bench as it leads you N to a saddle at Point 9,723. Continue N and contour through the Noname drain at about 9,600 feet. After pondering the apocalyptic avalanches that fall through this area, continue N through another saddle, then drop down a brushy drainage N to the Yule Quarry Road (see section introduction), just a short distance above the Quarry Bridge. You can scope much of this route from Windy Corner. Use your map and altimeter, and only tackle this route during times of ultra-low avalanche danger.

Route 3.1.9 Whitehouse Mountain-North Face

Climb rating: Harder skins, moderate boots Ski rating: Advanced
Recommended season: Spring
Starting elevation: 8,700 feet Summit elevation: 11,975 feet Elevation gain: 3,275 feet
Round trip distance: 3 miles

The most in-your-face run you can see from the town of Marble is the magnificent North Face of Whitehouse Mountain, the endpoint of a gigantic ridge which climbs south to Treasure Mountain (route 3.3.11) . Looming almost 4,000 vertical feet about the valley, Whitehouse is a must-do.

As is often the case in the Marble area, private property concerns dictate your route. One unposted route with a long history of public use leaves from the Quarry Road (see section introduction) near Mud Gulch. Simply drop down the avalanche path to Yule Creek, climb an obvious jeep road to 10,800 feet, then take a direct line to intersect the west summit ridge near the summit. Swing a bit N here then scramble to the summit. Descend NW down the big chute, staying left around a cliff band at about 11,400 feet. End your descent at a pond (8,200 feet) near the base of the face. Avoid private land by heading N then wade crossing the Crystal River. Stash a car at the base of Daniels Hill on the Schofield Pass Road (see Section 2 Introduction).

A better way to do this route might be to climb it before you ski it. To do so, scout the access the day before your trip. It's tricky to get to the base of the chute in the dark while avoiding private property. Permission from landowners may be required.

Route 3.1.10 Whitehouse Mountain-West Face

Climb rating: Harder skins, moderate boots
Ski rating: Advanced,
Recommended season: Spring
Starting elevation: 8,700 feet Summit elevation: 11,975 feet
Elevation gain: 3,275 feet
Round trip distance: 3 miles Day trip? Yes

While not usually a worthy goal in and itself due to sun damaged snow (though with a good corn surface, enjoy), this is where you'll run if the North Face of Whitehouse is deemed unskiable because of poor snow or avalanche danger. Use route 3.1.9 for your ascent, then return via your climb route, with variations you eyed on the way up. Again, pay attention to private property in this area.

Route 3.1.11 Treasure Mountain-Summit Descent to Yule Creek

Climb rating: Harder skins, easy boots. Ski rating: Advanced
Recommended seasons: Spring
Starting elevation: 8,700 feet Summit elevation: 13,528 feet
Elevation gain: 4,828 feet
Round trip distance: 8 miles

Treasure Mountain is a huge monolith rising southeast of Marble. It forms the divide between Yule Creek and the upper Crystal River. A summit ski descent of Treasure is a worthy goal, with vast skiing as a reward. Follow the Whitehouse Mountain route (3.1.9) to a main saddle (Skyline Saddle, 11,400 feet) south of Whitehouse Mountain. From here traverse into a bowl on the east side of the ridge, then gain the ridge at the head of the bowl, at Point 12,287. Continue along the ridge for a long and high 2 miles to the summit. For your descent, either return via your ascent route or drop W into huge cirques that take you down steep terrain (may be S4+) to upper Yule Creek.

If you take the latter descent option and end up in upper Yule Creek, keep in mind that simply following the creek down the valley is a rough option on skis. A better route takes the pack trail from Thompson Flat, which climbs about 400 vertical feet W, then descends a lateral rift which parallels Yule Creek, eventually dropping you to the Anthracite Pass Trail (3.1.1) and base of Marble Peak, which you take down to Yule Quarry Road and Windy Corner Trailhead. (You can also descend extreme terrain on the easterly faces of Treasure Mountain, see route 3.2.4.)

Because of private property concerns, unless you gain access permission a better alternative to the above might be to climb the descent route from the upper Yule Creek valley. If you pick that option, BackcountrySkiingCO.com recommends you reach Yule Creek via the Anthracite Pass pack trail and Yule Creek pack trail (see route 3.1.1).

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

 

Route 3.1.12 Ragged Mountain Traverse

Climb rating: Harder skins, moderate boots
Ski rating: Advanced
Recommended seasons: Late winter or spring
Starting elevation: 9,060 feet Summit elevation: 12,094 feet
Elevation gain: Approximately 5,000 feet
Round trip distance: 9 miles

While driving up the Crystal River Valley via Highway 133, you'll be tantalized by views of gigantic Chair Mountain, the monarch of the Ragged Mountains. The area holding your gaze is about 75 square miles of the most rugged and arguably least-visited part of the Colorado Rockies. Private property makes access a challenge, while vertical walls of rotten stone, combined with dense brush, frustrate all but the most determined mountaineers. Because of access problems, the best way to enjoy the Raggeds is to approach from either the Raspberry Creek Trailhead or Windy Corner on the Yule Quarry Road (see section introduction). Skiers have done everything from short probes to multi-day traverses in this area. Chair Mountain was skied from the summit in 1997 by Jim Cardamone and Michael Benge via the northeast ridge (S5 with dangerous exposure). The obvious and tempting North Face was first descended by Chris Davenport and Penn Newhard in 2009.

Here is one suggested tour of the "ragged edge" of the Raggeds. Leave from the summit of Marble Peak (route 3.1.4), and follow the obvious ridge W to Peak 11,930. Continue W then SW to tantalizing Ragged Mountain, 12,094 feet (not to be confused with Ragged Peak). Stake your flagpole and ski Ragged Mountain via the best exposure for existing snow conditions. Climb back to Peak 11,930, then ski the northeast bowls into Raspberry Creek. At about 10,000 feet in Raspberry Creek, climb E up to Marble Ridge (see routes 3.1.7 and 3.1.8), then descend E to the Yule Quarry Road. In springtime, doing this route over two long mornings, with an intervening bivouac, is probably your safest option. In late winter on stable snow, doing the route in one huge push would be fun for the human lungs among us. For longer expeditions, spend four or five nights getting over to Buck Basin and back, with climbs of Chair Mountain and Ragged Peak. Be creative (and careful). Don't worry about crowds.