Guided tours in Vail Pass

Feb 10, 2016
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I'm really interested in sled-skiing (sled-boarding?) in Vail Pass. I'm an experienced boarder but I've actually never been snowmobiling. I want to be safe and learn the right way so I've been looking for places that do guided excursions in the area to start and help show us the good places to go.

However, everything I have found seems to be either snowmobiling only or CAT skiing/boarding. Does anyone know of guided trip for this in the area?
 
Mar 16, 2010
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You've pretty much got it - catop or sled only. I am not aware of any commercial sled-skiing guide operations; mostly because a permit would be required & AFAIK, permits are hard to come by from the USFS.

THAT SAID, sled skiing at VP is about as simple as it gets. They have maps -

http://www.dillonrangerdistrict.com/vail_pass_win_rec_area.pdf

and if you stick with the green shaded areas, it is _fairly_ self-explanatory. There's tons more skiing (skiing/riding/boarding/tele/monoskiing..."skiing") outside the green shaded areas, but it is less obvious. There's plenty to keep you busy in the green shaded areas. The roads are fairly obvious as far as dropoffs and pickups. It'd take some trial and error at first to figure it out (that's how we did it), but the errors are typically not THAT big of a deal - coming out below or above your sled, either parking in the wrong place at the bottom or going too far skier's right/left from the top. Generally speaking, if you DO make that mistake, and you know where you are, it is not a bad walk. There's only a couple of places that I can think of which would result in a long walk, assuming your bearings are pretty correct.

Do you have sleds? Not clear from your post. If you start with the OBVIOUS stuff, you'll have a good time and it'll all start to make sense. The bulk of the obvious stuff is off Ptarmigan Hill; the north facing side (careful, big chunk of avalanche prone stuff) is a long commute, but the pickup is plain as day - ride down and around, all of a sudden there's a huge pullout, and if on a weekend, people/sleds. If you ski around Avalanche Bowl (key word, most days, "around" - someone died there two years ago), you'll pop out right there. Spend an hour riding around to get a feel for where all the roads go; there's a lot of terrain, but it is a relatively small area, in a sense - well contained. We've never skied ourselves into a bad spot sled-wise, and assuming some avalanche savvy, it is pretty easy to avoid truly dangerous stuff.

VP is about as easy as it gets, really, thanks to the map, hoardes of sled skiers & catop.

Catop - Ben and Jenna, plus employees - SUPER nice people, and they make our lives much, much easier. The hybrid use area is much like a ski area without lifts or groomers, thanks to them and the task force. Go to Wolf Creek and try to ski if you don't believe me;). Certainly not impossible to ski @ WC, or anywhere without catroads that have skiing in mind, but when you spend a day or three somewhere that does NOT have catroads in place _for skiing_ (IE, drops not AT THE TOP of good skiing), building your own roads and figuring it out, well, yeah - catops make getting good _skiing_ much, much easier.

Building your own roads and "DIY" sled skiing is more rewarding overall, imho, but the level of complexity skyrockets.

If you encounter the cat, slow down. If you're behind it, stay far enough back that they can see you - if you can see their mirrors, they can see you. They'll pull over, pass, wave, rad. If you're meeting head on, again, slow down. Generally speaking, they like to go to the high side of the road, given the choice. If they're unloading or reloading, don't buzz their group through the middle. Don't leave your sled in the middle of a pickup road, look for a place to shove it off to the side so they can drive around it; in the hybrid use areas, we need to stay on the established route, but if you pull the sled a foot off to the side, that's not a big deal.

The catop likes to ski simple runs - single fall line, generally not too many trees. On a busy day, or if it has not snowed in a while, that's obvious. Ski between their runs - their runs are easy to spot, lots of tracks packed together. Between their runs tends to be deeper.

I'm up there a lot - PM me, if I'm going to be there on a good day, I'll give you a quickie tour. If you feel like skiing with us, that'd be fun, too - my group varies day to day as far as enthusiasm, terrain, etc. It takes a day - at most - to get a very good idea of good things to do at Vail Pass, to get a handle on terrain that'll keep you busy for a couple of seasons, and once you understand THAT stuff, there's a ton more waiting.

Terrainwise, most of vail pass is flat. There's not much in the way of steep there, and what steep is there is often off limits (for me) from an avy perspective. The skiing is good, though, UNLESS you're strictly after "steep." There are better places for that.

blah blah blah. Hopefully this helps - to answer your original question, there's no Official Sled Skiing Guide Services that I'm aware of. Good news? You really don't need one.

.02c!
 
Feb 10, 2016
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Thanks for all the great information!

I don't have sleds. I was planning to rent them at first to make sure it's something we want to get into more.

I'm definitely cool with sticking to the obvious stuff while I learn the area. I'll send you a PM about when we're looking to go. I'd love to meet up if the timing works out.
 

nfinit100

Well-known member
Oct 1, 2015
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Northern CO
I am sure it goes without saying for most people, but for those who are casual viewers of this, even though the area is "much like a resort" it most definitely is not. Appropriate avalanche training/understanding, companion rescue, beacon/probe/shovel, weather conditions, caic research, all can help improve the experience of the group and the getting out safely. VP has a ton of traffic and it can lend itself to false security. It is a great place to sled ski, but for those who don't understand the terrain or conditions it can be a dangerous task.

Not trying to be a downer here, it's a ton of fun (and work if you venture off the cat tracks) but it should also be respected. Have seen several avalanches in the area, don't want anyone to be in one!
 
Feb 10, 2016
5
0
1
I am sure it goes without saying for most people, but for those who are casual viewers of this, even though the area is "much like a resort" it most definitely is not. Appropriate avalanche training/understanding, companion rescue, beacon/probe/shovel, weather conditions, caic research, all can help improve the experience of the group and the getting out safely. VP has a ton of traffic and it can lend itself to false security. It is a great place to sled ski, but for those who don't understand the terrain or conditions it can be a dangerous task.

Not trying to be a downer here, it's a ton of fun (and work if you venture off the cat tracks) but it should also be respected. Have seen several avalanches in the area, don't want anyone to be in one!
Absolutely.
 
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