Published with permission from the guide book:
Skinny Skis and Snowshoes – Guide to Winter Trails in Colorado’s Upper Arkansas Valley by Nate Porter and Nathan Ward.
This guidebook gives detailed information on 25 of the best backcountry ski and snowshoe routes in the Upper Arkansas Valley, with trails for every ability level. If you count all the options presented for each trail, the actual number of routes is closer to 60 without even counting the individual trails at the Nordic centers – that is a lot of skiing. If you’re insatiable and need more, look at the sections titled: Other Areas to Explore. Be insatiable.
Hancock Pass follows the old Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad grade from the ghost town of Saint Elmo to the turnoff for the Mary Murphy Mine/Pomeroy Gulch. The old railroad grade provides a gradual incline good for all ability levels and will probably be groomed or packed by snowmobiles. On the way up, enjoy huge alpine views of this beautiful mountain valley, which used to be a thriving mining center. Today there are no miners, just tourists and historic buildings. Follow the railroad grade higher into the mountains for longer and harder tours.
Trailhead Access: Drive 16 miles north of Salida and turn left (west) on CR 162. Drive 14.5 miles. Look for the parking area with an outhouse on the left (south) side of the road. Park here and start having fun. To see Saint Elmo’s historic buildings, drive another half mile up CR 162.
Location: Ghost Town of Saint Elmo
Distance: 5.9 Miles – Out & Back
Travel Time: 2 – 2.5 Hours
Type of Trail: Road
Aerobic Level: Moderate
Technical Difficulty: Ski-Novice; Shoe – Novice
Avalanche Danger: Minimal
Elevation in Feet: Low Point 9,966; High Point 10,540; Climbs/Descends 584
Land Status: USFS
Maps: Trails Illustrated #130; USFS Saint Elmo, Cumberland Pass
Notes: Saint Elmo is a major trailhead for snowmobilers, especially on weekends. If this bothers you, visit during the week when it’s less busy.
0.0 Walk west up CR 162 toward Saint Elmo. Watch for cars and sleds.
0.1 Turn sharply left on the signed uphill road to Hancock, FSR 295. This is the railroad grade (38° 42.36N, 106° 20.41W).
1.9 The road splits. Ski the left hand road. The right road is gated.
2.8 The road splits. Take the left hand road through a gap in the rocks and cross the old wooden bridge.
3.2 This spot is the turnaround. Look for a sign pointing to the Mary Murphy Mine (38° 40.39N, 106° 21.99W). If you want more, keep skiing up the railroad grade and don’t take any of the side roads. When ready, turn around and rip downhill – wee wee wee all the way home.
Backcountry travel is a physically strenuous activity with many risks and dangers. Hazards, natural or manmade, whether noted in this book or not, can be encountered at any time, under any situation. As a backcountry traveler we assume you know your personal abilities, limitations and have a comprehensive background in avalanche safety.
This book represents nothing more than a guide to routes and is not meant to replace your common sense, your ability to navigate in the wilderness or your ability to travel in the backcountry safely.
The mileages, routes and waypoints listed in this text are only suggestions. There may be variances and changes, you may get lost. We recommend that everyone use a global positioning system and topographical map to navigate.
Most routes in this text are located on public land, but some trails pass through or adjacent to private land. Respect the landowner’s rights and obey all signs regarding trail use.
Neither the authors, nor the publisher, nor anyone else mentioned in this book are responsible or liable in any way for any accident, injury or any action brought against anyone traveling any route listed in this book. All backcountry travelers and their companions assume responsibility for themselves. Explore at your own risk, and always tell somewhere where you are going and when you’ll be back.
We want you to have a safe and enjoyable trip into Colorado’s backcountry. Be prepared it could be a long walk out. Be sure to read this list of equipment you should bring on your ride along with tips to make your biking trip more enjoyable.
The winter backcountry is becoming more popular in the Upper Arkansas Valley, which means you need to think of your neighbors while out on the trail. There are no hard and fast rules, but please consider the following:
If you require search and rescue services, it can be costly. Buy a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) card to protect yourself. Funds from the CORSAR program go into the Colorado Search and Rescue (SAR) Fund. If a CORSAR card holder becomes lost or injured in the backcountry, the Colorado SAR Fund pays eligible search and rescue expenses.
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