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Geneva Basin, Colorado- a Midwinter Classic

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Posted by skistache on 2/13/24 10:39am

In my continued exploration of the Front Range of the Rockies, I often feel like I've stepped back to the start of my touring career which began in Snoqualmie pass. Routefinding, estimating the quality of a snowpack, mitigating avvy danger, layering properly and finding access take a bit more thinking and research than I'm used to. The holy grail of any backcountry skier is not the big spring objectives or line-of-the-winter untracked steep-and-deep, but the "any weekend, any conditions go-to" spot that guarantees a good day out, regardless of your parties' experience, the snowpack or the avalanche forecast, with terrain to choose from and trouble-free access. 

As far as I can tell, Geneva Basin just south of Guanella pass is about as close as you'll find within easy driving distance of Denver. Geneva Basin is one of many abandoned ski resorts that dot the Colorado Rockies, a victim of the early 1990s recession and the skiing bust that followed the 1960s-80s ski resort boom. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geneva_Basin_Ski_Area. As such, it sits below the treeline, with remnants old trails, a patrol hut maintained by volunteers for lunch breaks out of the wind, and can be skiied entirely out of avalanche terrain, with access northwards to bigger open slopes for springtime objectives. 

I did 2 trips to Geneva basin last week of January and first weekend of February. Access is from the gate on Guanella Pass road, which is unplowed during the winter. There's 2 routes to access the resort, both of which just long and sloggy enough to keep out the crowds that cluster on the switchbacks of Berthoud and Loveland Pass. Plus, unlike Berthoud and Loveland, there's ample room to spread out in the resort, whereas the aforementioned road-accessed tours have surprisingly tricky terrain outside the narrow bands of low-angle that can lure in skiers looking to carve some turns outside of the chopped-up main faces. 

The road to Geneva basin is usually a poor choice for approach and departure, as it's southern exposure and high winds scrape the highway bare. The better option is to approach via Mill Creek, west of the road, which has a defined skin track, and only a few steep and tight sections of switchbacking through the final gully.

Once in the old resort, you are greeted by several options. The east faces on the northern side of the resort offer gentle blue terrain and a few steeper sections, however, wind and sun tend to scour the more open slopes, leaving a firm surface that can be more difficult to ski. Small trees have grown up in the old runs, but are not impassibly dense. The best skiing is on the southern end of the resort, where protection from wind and sun allow soft snow to accumulate. I did 5 runs over the course of my 2 trips, and can highly recommend the glades on the Southern half- great, cold powder is here aplenty, and returning via the skintrack is 100% the move- the road looks tantalizing, but is frustratingly shallow, with poor coverage (as I found out, with a nice 9-inch scrape that took an entire stick of ptex to fill). 

Overall, Geneva basin has a lot to offer for backcountry skiers of all skill levels. It has steep enough terrain to be satisfying, it's safe midwinter when the danger of persistent slabs dominates, has variety enough to be interesting, and takes just enough effort to get to that you don't get a sense of crowding, and still have enough gas in the tank to ski 2-4000 feet of vert after making the approach. 

I'll definitely be back- possibly in the spring for an overnight when the days are long and the corn is ripe. 


Interesting history, thanks for the details on somewhere outside of the norm!

Is that fairly normal early/midwinter snowpack in the photos?

As far as I can tell- yeah, we're at about 100% of snowpack in the front range, we've had a few solid storms delivering around a foot/week. The part that I keep struggling with is looking on maps at what should be great, easy traverses over ridges, getting up to the top, and forgetting I'm in Colorado, where the snow falls light and gets completely blown off the top! The elevation on those high ridgelines is 11-13k in my photos, and really aren't that steep, but conditions out here aren't conducive to deep snowpacks. Many of the more exposed slopes essentially don't have coverage on aspects where wind can transport the snow away, so it's more critical to find protected areas where the snow can settle and provide good coverage. 

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2024-02-13 18:39:38