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Back-country skiing is back at Berthoud Pass, near Denver.

Back-country skiing is back at Berthoud Pass, near Denver Colorado's oldest ski area was looking pretty long in the tooth before new owners gave it a facelift a couple of years ago, and introduced an innovative back-country ski program. But the new lease on life for Berthoud Pass Ski Area, about an hour west of Denver, turned out to be unexpectedly short: its only chair lift (built in 1947) suffered an injury-causing failure in January 1988, and the resort abruptly shut down.

After a season-and-a-half hiatus, Berthoud Pass is now back in business. Another new owner has proceeded with the area's rejuvenation, replacing the antiquated chair lift--as well as a T-bar and rope tow--with three new chairs (double, triple, and quad). One lift that runs at a reassuringly slow speed now carries novices to the top of a new groomed beginners' slope. The day lodge has also been renovated.

The reopening is good news, since Berthoud Pass tends to get more snow than almost any other Colorado ski area; lifts are usually open mid-October through May. And the resort's proximity to Denver makes it easier to get to than most other areas.

Over a thousand acres of back-country

skiing, guided or on your own

One thing the new owner hasn't changed is the service introduced by the previous proprietors, who opened up 1,200 acres of back-country terrain. Though lifts only carry you up 500 feet from the lodge's 11,315-foot elevation, you can ski down twice that distance through ungroomed, back-country bowls and forest glades. At the bottom, heated shuttle vans stop at four designated spots every 20 minutes, making the 5- to 10-minute drive back up to the lodge and lifts.

If you're accustomed only to schussing down groomed slopes, you'll quickly discover new muscles called into duty by the untracked powder. Avalanches, one of the greatest threats to back-country skiers, are carefully monitored within the ski area and set off under controlled conditions when necessary.

Berthoud Pass's mountain guides can lead you to the best snow, as well as help you improve your back-country technique. Rates are $35 for 1-1/2 hours, $60 for a half-day, and $100 for a full day (half and full-day rates include lift tickets).

Long lift lines are a rarity at this resort. In fact, you can avoid lifts entirely by skiing directly from the lodge down to the shuttle-bus stops.

Lift tickets are relatively inexpensive. A full-day adult pass costs $20, a half-day pass $15. Rentals of standard alpine, powder, and telemark equipment, as well as of snowboards and monoskis, range from $10 to $20.

Weather, roads, and a historic hotel

Before you head for Berthoud Pass, call (303) 569-2895 (in Denver, 670-1666) for weather and snow conditions. If there's any chance of storms in the mountains, icy blasts at the pass can prevent lifts from operating.

From Denver, take I-70 west 41 miles to U.S. 40; Berthoud Pass is another 15 miles northwest. The ski area has no overnight accommodations, but the Peck House in Empire, the nearest town (back at the I-70 junction), has comfortable rooms ($35 to $65) with Victorian furnishings, excellent dinners, and the distinction of being the oldest Colorado hotel still in operation. Call 569-9870 for reservations.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Nov 1, 1989
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