This entire area of the state is highly recommended. If you make the trek to Southwest Colorado, the San Juan Mountains will not disappoint you. They offer the best ski mountaineering terrain in the state, no crowds, and scenic views in every direction. The cute towns and famous ski areas around this area can be added on to this adventure to make this an even better trip.
The Boxcar Couloir is the highlight of this line with tight turns and rocks walls that tower above you. At some points, a jump turn is mandatory because it gets so narrow. Skiing between rock walls that stretch up hundreds of feet is a very unique and exciting experience! Add on the fact that the route includes a second couloir from the summit of a 14er and there aren’t many lines in the state that can beat this.
The trailhead starts just off the paved road of Colorado 145 making access easy for any type of vehicle. The route begins by crossing a bridge and meandering up an established trail through the forest. In order to avoid wasted elevation gain and loss before you get to Slate Creek, leave the established trail after a few miles and traverse the hillside trying to maintain your elevation around 11,000 feet. Route finding can be difficult as there might not be a skin trail but the GPS file follows the best route coming down the mountain so it should minimize excessive elevation gain and loss. Some creek crossings are required but they should be covered in snow and are fairly small and easy to cross. Once you get to treeline the route becomes obvious and climbing will speed up as open slopes allow you to choose whichever route is best suited for your group. The climbing gets steeper here but you can still skin for a few miles. There are several route options above tree line so you can choose what you are most comfortable with. Some people prefer to climb up both couloirs so they can assess conditions but the GPS route for this adventure follows the easiest way up and most exciting ski route down. The upper couloir can be gained with a boot pack but crampons and an ice axe are recommended as you should be climbing up this couloir before the snow starts getting too soft. At the top of the couloir, the snow should stop as you continue a short distance onto the Western slope to find the easiest way to the summit. Find the gully and climb to the summit carefully as there is a large amount of exposure and some class 3 moves. The fun has just begun as now you have two couloirs and a couple thousand feet of vertical to ski! The upper couloir is not too tight or steep but the first couple of turns should get your heart pumping. The second couloir, Boxcar Couloir, should really get you excited as the top section is barely wide enough for your skis and is steep. Some careful jump turns will get you through the crux and into a wider and more open section. The finale is the bottom of the couloir where rock walls hundreds of feet tall tower above both sides of the small strip of snow only wide enough for short and quick turns.
The snowpack in the San Juan Mountains is dangerous during the winter and it is not recommended to attempt this route until the spring when the snowpack has consolidated and becomes more predictable. The main ski lines above tree line are East facing and hold snow well during the spring. Start early (3 am) so that you can reach the summit before the snow gets too warm and wet avalanches become an issue. The route is fairly long and requires a pretty high degree of fitness to accomplish. Depending on the time of year you attempt this line you might be hiking for several miles before you hit continuous snow. If you want to turn this route into an overnight trip there are some nice areas to set up a tent around tree line.