Not often thought of as the picture of Colorado Backcountry skiing, this year a strange wind blew across the Mosquito Range of Central Colorado, filling in an often wind scoured ridgeline.
The Mosquitos are a high range that runs from Freemont Pass at the head of the mighty Arkansas River to Buena Vista, splitting the Arkansas from the South Platt drainage. Originally part of the ancient Sawatch Range, the Mosquitos were pulled east as a rift valley gave birth to the upper Arkansas 35 million years ago.
Why is it called the ‘Mosquito Range?’ I don’t know, its high, dry, windy, and I’ve yet to see any mosquitos bother the backcountry traveler.
Often clumped together with the more rugged 10-mile range to the north (as in ‘the 10-Mile-Mosquito Range’), the Mosquitos have a character all their own.
The western slope of the Mosquitos rarely holds snow during the winter in the high peaks. The eastern winds sweep the ridges dry. The heavy spring snow, however, plasters in to many of those western slopes offering a short window for endless skiing and touring in the range. This year the Mosquitos had an especially wet and windless mid-April, transforming the mountains with snow after some had already hung up their skis.
While big lines and steep chutes beckon in the springtime, the simple joy found from a good tour should not be overlooked. I find the draw of ski mountaineering hard to resist, but spring skiing needn’t all be alpine scare, and good spring snow offers just as many new opportunities for glisse exploration up high as is does for avy terrain espousment. So, as well as a chance to ski the chutes and faces that give the range a proud face, this years snow has offered the chance to roam the high ridges of the Mosquito.
Looming over the Safeway parking lot in Leadville, Mount Evans is a diminutive 13ner sitting atop of Mosquito Ridge.
We left my house at 8 and drove to the end of 7th street. Skiing up past Colorado’s mining history to the top of Mosquito Ridge, then on to the top of Evans.
Further south, the low peaks on the western edge of the Mosquito’s are home to an alpine world hidden in seemingly unassuming topography.
East Ball Mountain sits at just 12,855 ft. It is one of the littlest big mountains I know of. From town this peak looks like the high point on a mellow rolling ridge in front of the ‘real’ mountains of the range.
The western slope is usually wind swept scree offering little to the backcountry skier.
The views looking towards the Massive-Elbert Massif across the wide rift on the upper Arkansas allow an unobstructed view of nearly the entire Sawatch.
The south east side of East Ball drops steeply into upper Iowa Gulch, a small though impressive cirque of ski lines.
The skiing in the Mosquitos is not always epic, the snow often leaves something to be desired, but one can usually ski all the way back to the car, the views are unexpectedly awesome, and the accessibility (both in terms of approach and line length) make these mountains a hidden gem. On all of the outings pictured here we had the mountains to ourselves, I doubt this norm will change anytime soon.
(WildSnow.com Guest Blogger, Alex Lee, lives in Leadville, Colorado in the winter and Denali, Alaska in the summer. He is currently working towards a Ph.D. in the ethics of conservation at the University of Colorado. He works part-time as a naturalist in Alaska and as a ski guide and photographer in the Colorado Rockies. Like his pictures? Check out more at his website, MountainDinosaur.com.)
Dr. Alex Lee lives in Anchorage, Alaska. Alex is a professor at Alaska Pacific University, teaching philosophy and environmental studies. He also works as a sometimes guide, naturalist, writer, and photographer.