FATMAP difficulty grade
In summer, the Independence Pass road (Hwy 82) is a scenic paved road well-known to road bikers.
In the winter, the upper portion becomes a snow-sports nirvana! This amazing winter playground begins at the seasonal closure gate about 16 miles up the pass.
This is the point past which the road is no longer plowed and winter travel methods take over.
Snowmobiles, backcountry nordic and AT skiers, splitboarders, and snowshoers share in this high-elevation, ungroomed winter wonderland. Nordic skiing is one of the best ways to travel across the snowy terrain.
The route begins by following the road for about 2 miles.
This section is quite mellow with a very gentle grade, which allows for ample gawking at the stunning mountain views along the way. It is very important to locate the old 153 trail on the right, about 2 miles in, and immediately after a 45 mph highway sign.
This old road grade enters the woods, travels above a wetland and the North Fork Lake Creek trailhead, and is a beautiful place to ski.
Even more importantly, it keeps skiers well removed from the active avalanche chutes that run from above the first Hwy 82 switchback! It may be tempting to just keep following the road, but even if other tracks head that way, be smart and divert into the woods to remain safely out of the run-out paths of avalanches breaking from above the Hwy 82 switchbacks. The serenity factor is high on the route following the old 153 trail and rewards skiers with eye-candy galore! Unless another skier has previously broken trail, this wooded segment also requires exertion galore; the snow can be extremely deep.
Skiing with a friend or two makes this endeavor much easier since the trail-breaking effort can be shared.
This part of the route is rolling terrain, with enough little downhills to make the short, stiff climbs pay off.
In such massive territory, there is really no actual end to the route, but a worthy destination is the green forest service gate at 3 miles in.
A 6-mile out-and-back backcountry nordic ski is long enough to be satisfying without being exhausting. At the gate, relax and enjoy lunch or a snack while soaking in the scenery in warm Colorado sunshine before heading back.
The return trip on a route like this is where skiers reap the return on the energy investment of breaking trail on the way in.
Just put those skis in the freshly broken track and sail on back to the parking area.
There is not much in life more satisfying than skiing back in the very tracks you and your friends worked to create!