FATMAP difficulty grade
Deep in the Sawatch Range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, it can be challenging to find a nordic ski route that has plentiful snow but doesn't gain a serious amount of elevation.
The unplowed South Fork Lake Creek Road, starting at 10,000 feet, actually does exactly that and does so in a gorgeous mountain valley. Sitting at 10,000 feet, 14.5 miles up the plowed and paved Independence Pass road (Hwy 82), this route provides the rare combination of easy access and mountain solitude.
Though the La Plata trailhead is a fairly popular destination for winter sports, it is never “crowded” in any sense of the word.
Occasionally one will encounter another skier or snowshoer, sometimes a snowmobiler (which actually makes the skiing easier than breaking fresh trail!) and once in a while, a walker. Except for the first mile, where there are a couple short, steep-ish hills, and a couple of climbs toward the end, this route is pretty mellow.
The early short ascents will certainly get your attention, particularly if there is fresh, deep snow and you're breaking trail.
However, the work is amply rewarded with jaw-dropping mountain vistas as you ski into the valley alongside South Fork Lake Creek, between Star Mountain and 14,336' La Plata Peak. Though there are various options to be had, a good choice is skiing out 3.5 miles to the intersection with McNasser Gulch Road (FS394).
That point is a perfect spot to enjoy a picnic lunch in a scenic view before heading back to complete a 7-mile out-and-back nordic ski adventure.
Other options require an increasing risk of skiing under avalanche terrain, so only pursue those if you have avalanche training and carry a transceiver, probe, and shovel. Typically, the 3.5 miles to the turnaround is considered relatively safe from avalanche danger, but there have definitely been significant runs across the route in extreme conditions.
Checking the avalanche conditions on the [CAIC page](https://avalanche.state.co.us/forecasts/regional-avalanche/central-mountains/) before heading out is always a good practice.
After relaxing at the turnaround for a bit, enjoy the fun little descents back into the valley and the serene ski back down to the trailhead.
The rusty red bushes that decorate the edges of the creek are especially lovely on the return trip. As with any backcountry ski, carry the 10 essentials in your pack and be sure to slather with sunscreen.
It is not at all unusual on a typical sunny Colorado day to end up skiing in short sleeves; at 10,000 feet, the sun is incredibly intense!