backcountry

If heading out to the backcountry, be aware of weather conditions, Telski officials cautioned. (Planet file photo)

Telski will open to uphill access to the backcountry Saturday, according to resort officials, after completing post-closure operations.

The access is to non-motorized traffic only, which means no snowmobiles, per a news release.

Scott Pittenger, Telski’s director of mountain operations, urged enthusiasts who might be heading out to practice caution, especially since ski patrol will not be available to respond to any mishaps, and to call 911 if there is an emergency.

“I think it’s really important that people treat the ski resort as backcountry. Even though we’re close to town, if you get injured up on the ski resort, you have to be ready for self-rescue. Help might be a long way away. It takes time,” he said. “We’re not going to have any of the resources we normally have on the mountain during the offseason. Our ability to respond, even though it wouldn’t be our responsibility, would be severely diminished.”

People should also use one of the five backcountry gates to access that terrain, Pittenger added, which the U.S. Forest Service strategically placed in an effort to avoid certain areas. There are two gates on the Gold Hill ridge, as well as ones at the top of Chair 9, Palmyra Peak and the Bald Mountain saddle, which accesses Alta Lakes.

“We would prefer people use the backcountry gates, if they are going to be going into the backcountry. Those access gates are there because they keep people in the backcountry and away from private property,” he added. “The gates are the way that the Forest Service would like people to access the backcountry. It doesn’t just turn into a ropeless free for all because we closed down. Those boundaries are in place and have been decided by the National Forest where they’re supposed to be. It’s not a drop-in-wherever-you-feel-like scenario now.”

The resort has ceased avalanche mitigation operations as well, and officials cautioned to remember to “know before you go” and check the local avalanche forecast at avalanche.state.co.us.

As of press time Thursday afternoon, the above treeline forecast was considered “low,” which means “generally safe avalanche conditions. Watch for unstable snow on isolated terrain features,” according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. The near and below treeline outlook is “moderate,” meaning there are “heightened avalanche conditions on specific terrain features. Evaluate snow and terrain carefully.”

Still, anything can happen in the backcountry, Pittenger added, and people should always go out with a partner.

“I think, in general, snowpack-wise, it’s still a really funky snowpack out there. We are getting into the spring, which generally speaking, we often think as a safer time to go recreate, but there are still persistent slab issues,” he said. “Currently, we hadn’t been getting a very deep freeze, so the potential for bigger and deeper wet slides is more prevalent, even on the resort just as it is in the backcountry.”

Other than finicky weather conditions, users should also be on the lookout for ongoing mountain operations, including snow machines traveling around the mountain, plowing of the summer road network and unmarked hazards.

“I think people need to know if they’re using the ski resort that there are going to be ongoing operations during the offseason,” Pittenger said. “Most notably for skiers is snowmobile and snowcat traffic, including the plowing of our summer road system. Just be on the lookout for obstacles that are unmarked and not there in the wintertime.”

The uphill access is certainly popular, he added, as people take the opportunity to extend their season after the resort closes.

“I’d say it’s a pretty healthy amount. It seems as though the ski resort draws users in the offseason who don’t normally go out and recreate in the backcountry during their regular winter season,” he said. “We just want to make sure that we clearly communicate to our locals that, yes, it is the ski resort, but please treat it as backcountry and do your best to educate yourself on current backcountry conditions and to go with a partner. Just want people to be on their toes and to understand where they’re dropping in before they go into it.”

The annual elk-calving closure will begin May 20, closing the Prospect Basin until June 30.