| Handies Ski Descent:: American Basin
American Basin Trailhead at 11,400'
American Basin to Southwest Slopes to Southwest Ridge
Ski descent of Southwest Ridge and American Basin
-Elevation Climbed: 2,650'
-Vert skied: 2,650'
-Mileage RT: 5.1 miles
- Round Trip Time: 5 hours
Route: climb blue, ski red
Ascent of American Basin:
After Sunshine and Redcloud, we drove up Cinnamon Pass to its summit to check out the views and get in some fun four-wheeling. The signs at the bottom of the pass say its still closed, but it was plowed clear to the top and as far as we could see down the Ouray side. The terrain in this area is amazing, I wish it was closer to home I would be lapping this stuff every day possible.
Near the summit of the freshly plowed Cinnamon Pass
We got a great view of Handies all along the pass.
Handies west face from Cinnamon Pass
We slept back down at the Silver Creek Trailhead at our established camp. A much later start was afforded by our route which receives late sun hit. The trailhead to American basin is clear, although it's a stretch to call it a 2WD road. A high clearance vehicle might be required. You can reach 4WD parking just pass the stream crossing at 11,200' which is were we started our day at 7:45 am. Two other skiers began the route just before us. This was a special day for me and even more so for Debbie. She has skied less than a dozen times but this route provided the perfect intro to backcountry touring for her. She is making good use of her AT setup before most people start skiing blue runs at the resort.
Note: if you head into the backcountry with this much experience without a guide you're asking for trouble. I was on the fence on whether or not this was a good idea. If at any time I felt she couldn't handle the terrain ahead, we were going to drop the skis and switch her to snowshoes.
Debbie clicks in to start her first BC tour
Looking ahead toward American Basin, two skinners just entering the sun
We remained in the shadows until reaching the middle of American Basin, which is a spectacular alpine setting. Ski routes down the west face towered above us. Looking for a line with western exposure? This comes directly off the northern false summit of Handies.
Western facing ski route off the false summit of Handies
Debbie and I chose to skirt the far climbers left side of the basin to reduce the route mileage. This involved some steeper terrain but worked well. Debbie impressed me over and over again with her immediate skinning skills. I know several experienced backcountry skiers who would have taken their skis off for some of this terrain but she powered through it. Wow.
Debbie skins up steep terrain and across a hairy traverse
As we rounded a rugged ridgeline we found a south facing slope devoid of snow and covered in miserable scree. Luckily the scree quickly turned into easily bootable dirt and grass which led up to the summit ridge.
Booting up to the southwest summit ridge on Handies
Just as we hit the ridgeline, the two skiers made nice turns past us into American Basin. This made for a crowded 14er compared to the last 20 I have climbed (other than Pikes). At first look, it appeared for a summit descent I would have to drop onto the west face and boot back up to the southwest slopes so Debbie could get her turns.
Skiing up to the summit ridge
Wetterhorn looked fierce:
Debbie dropped her skis here while I looked for continuous snow. Fortunately I found it, a continuous line on the south ridge into American Basin was in… barely:
Strip of snow to the summit
We topped out, Debbies 45th. The weather was interesting. Grapple fell and the clouds appeared to move northwest while the wind on the summit blew southeast. Dark clouds built over Sunshine and Redcloud. Our high degree of uncertainty in the weather's next move made for a quick summit stay, time to ski. I took a quick pic of the direct east face line for beta… it looks yummy and is quite steep. Sustained mid 40s:
Looking down the east face, direct from the summit
Skiing off the summit of Handies:
Once again, the dice rolled in our favor and the sun came out just as we left the summit. The corn softened up to perfection.
Skiing the southwest ridge of Handies
Back at Debbie's skis, she felt anxious, but quickly nailed her first BC turn.
Debbie prepares to ski American Basin
One of her first BC turns
The terrain was similar to a blue at a resort with prime corn. The conditions were perfect for her. To get through a cliff band, I took her skis and she got out her axe to plunge step steep terrain.
Skiing the steepest part of the route
After glissading the steeps, Debbie put the skis back on and we finished the ski out to the truck. The area has amazing terrain for skiing.
Some more beta, the direct line west off the summit of Handies is in:
West face direct route off the summit
Now THIS trail register I had to sign…
The register emerges from hibernation
Finishing the day as the weather moves in and obscures the rugged peaks of American Basin.