Skiing the Colorado 14ers: Cristo Couloir – Quandary Peak

Skiing the Colorado 14ers: Cristo Couloir – Quandary Peak

At this point, I’ve done pretty close to every main route up Quandary peak, one of Colorado’s 14ers and most popular mountain, so when the opportunity came up to ski the Cristo Couloir, I decided to take it. 

Cristo Couloir is known as an iconic Colorado snow climb, and it is a good one for those starting out in their snow adventures since there are a few routes you can take up or down the mountain along with great accessibility in the winter, something a lot of Colorado 14ers don’t have. 

What’s Up?: This classic Colorado climb/descent does stay in an avalanche path the entire way. Check the reports before you go, bring your avy gear and the knowledge of how to use it, and know how to read the terrain. 

The accessibility of the route makes it a great one for those just wanting a snow climb or those just wanting a ski. Many people take the easier route up or down depending on how they want to climb the mountain. 

Know Before You Go

Location: White River National Forest, near Breckenridge, Colorado

Trail: Blue Lakes Trailhead

Distance: 2 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: 2,575′

Summit Elevation: 14,265′

Permit/Fees: None, at the moment. Quandary is a popular mountain, and this side may see permit or parking fees in the future. 

Difficulty: Class 2 snow climb, D9R3 ski descent

Season: Spring

Weather: Sunny and warm. Colorado spring days can really keep you on your toes, especially in the high country. This route skis 

Doggos: No. Leave the pupper at home for this one. If you want to take your pup on a ski trip of Quandary, I’d recommend doing the East Ridge, where avalanche conditions can be managed more. 

Trip Date: 5/13/222

Partner: Jay 

Time: Start 7:35am, Summit 11:08am, Finish 12:52pm

Beta: 14ers.com will have the best beta when looking at standard routes on the 14ers. 

Gear

  • Avy Gear (Beacon, Shovel, Probe, Pack) 
  • Snow Gear (Ice Axe, Crampons)
  • Ski Gear (Skins, Boots, Skis, Poles) 
  • 10 Essentials

My Cristo Couloir Trip Report

I was excited to do this route, since it’s seemed to never make it on my list, with other routes taking precedence. My friend, Jay, and I decided on Cristo as a nice warmup to the season, and I expected a mellow, couple hour romp up the mountain.  Oooof. Was I unprepared this year. After spending most days last year in ski boots and touring, this year was a little different, having worked more behind a computer, and I definitely felt that on my way up. That, coupled with what I thought was just very severe allergies and ended up being a fairly bad cold, did not make this my most fun outing. This may have been the trip I took the least amount of pictures on, as I was just focused on trying to breathe. Still, despite my breath heaving and hatred for life I felt most the way, I was determined to make it to the top. 

We pulled up at the trail head a little later than we planned and quickly got ready. The Blue Lakes Trailhead wasn’t open at the gate yet, so we walked up the road a bit of the way. Since the snow melt has been weird this year, we weren’t sure if it would go all the way, but we were hoping it wouldn’t be too bad and that we didn’t make our way out for nothing. It didn’t take too long before we got to the start of the couloir. We came across some baby mountain goats and their mamas guarding the entrance to the Cristo Couloir. Us and the goats both eyed each other warily, the goats keeping a close eye on us as we passed them. 

We scrambled up some rocks for a bit before making our way to the snow and putting on our crampons and pulling out the ice axe. Both of us were happy for the late start as we began to make our way up. The snow was hard, crusty, and sun cupped as was, and it didn’t seem like it would change much throughout the day since the temps weren’t warming up much. While neither of us were stoked for the ski conditions down, we were pretty happy about the snow climbing conditions. 

The Cristo Couloir is pretty straight forward once on it, and we continued our way up with me really wishing I had done more backcountry/ski mountaineering that winter and that I had stayed home. Towards the final section of the mountain it gets a bit steep before mellowing out again. 

One of four awful pictures I took as proof that I indeed climb this route, and was miserable while doing it. Don't let the smiling summit picture fool you into thinking otherwise.

We were lucky to get snow in to basically the top. We reached the summit, took a minute or two, snapped a picture and started the transition to ski.

The skiing was definitely a rougher go than the climbing, something I have never said, but I started feeling pretty awful at the top. While we knew the ski descent was going to be shitty if we didn’t wait, we both wanted to get down and not hang out on the summit, so we started making the descent. The first turn I made showed me just how awful the conditions were going to be, and I realized it was going to be a bit slow going. I anticipated maybe 15 to 20 minutes on the skiing, and it took quite a bit longer. We ended up having to remove our skis once to pass through a boulder field that was exposed a little ways down. 

At this point, I was over it. My legs felt like shit, my lungs felt like shit, and my energy felt like shit. Definitely not the best turns I have made on the mountain, but we finally got down, scrambled over some rocks, and headed back to the car. I was happy to be back. We finished pretty early on, and I made it back to Denver in time to pick up my van and venture onwards to Moab, where I continued canyoneering and realized I was not just having a bad allergy/asthma attack. Whoops. But that’s just how it happens in the spring. 

Would I do this route again? Eh, probably not. It was a good one to do since it is a Colorado classic, but I did not have the time of my life on this route, and there are other routes I’d rather do first. Part of that definitely is attributed to how sick I was on this. Don’t get me wrong though. For an advanced skier who wants to get into couloir skiing, is used to some variable conditions, and has some backcountry knowledge, Cristo Couloir is a great starting point. 

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