The Sky Chutes in Colorado’s Summit County have long been a favorite for backcountry skiers. With Breckenridge’s recent expansion into terrain on Peak 6, and the new sidecountry access gate, getting to them just got a lot easier. That said, remember that anyone can still climb up to this terrain from the bottom; and for those who do, keep in mind the likelihood of parties dropping in above you.
The Breckenridge sidecountry access gate for the Sky Chutes
Photo by John Peterson
From the top of the Honsho Express lift on Peak 6, hike up to the ridge. The gate is located north of the ridge hike toward Peak 5. It’s important to use the gate. Crossing ropes in Colorado is illegal. At the gate take a moment to do a beacon check and read the signs. The signs basically let you know that you’re leaving the ski area and you’re now on your own. Ski patrol will not be the responding party in the event of an emergency and no avalanche control work has been done. On that note, be sure to check the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website before heading out; and I wish this would go without saying, but make sure you have the right avy gear, and just as important, the training and knowledge to use it.
The Sky Chutes terrain
The Sky Chutes are named for the four avy chutes that extend from the flanks of Peak 5 thru Peak 6 ½. From Copper Mountain Ski Area and along I-70 on Vail Pass, the shape of the chutes spells the letters S, K and Y. The letters are a bit uncanny from some angles. S Chute begins from the summit plateau of Peak 5 and is the most serious line, though they all slide and see a lot of wind loading. Coming right off the summit plateau, S offers steep, cross-loaded, corniced slopes. This is the line that’s right in plain view from the gate.
Dropping in at a northwesterly heading will put you into K Chutes; look for the treed ridge that divides the two chutes. These are a more moderate angle and have less threat from above. They also offer the option of avoiding the steeper open slopes at the top and entering via the scrub at treeline. That said, these chutes can and do slide; they’re not where you want to be on higher danger days.
Heading off of Peak 6 due west will put you into the Left Branch of the Y Chute. To skier’s left you’ll find the treed zone between the left and right branches. Heading southwest from the gate will put you at the Right Branch, but this is usually wind stripped at the top. Watch these entrances for stability. At the confluence of the branches be aware that there are more start zones above you. Also, just below the confluence is another branch to be aware of. Make note of the tree flagging at the bottom of the lines. These routes see regular activity through the winter.
Generally I like to ski the Sky Chutes later in the season after the sun has gone to work on the snow pack a bit. Their westerly aspect allows for later- in-the-day skiing. Top off the stable spring pack with a little fresh and these 2,800’ lines deliver the goods. But, don’t forget about those winds, usually coming from the west; they can cause substantial slab development any time of year. For more on the Sky Chutes, check out Fritz Sperry’s guidebook Makingturns in the Tenmile/Mosquito Range. Fritz is a veteran ski mountaineer who also authored Making Turns in Colorado's Front Range, and blogs at MakingTurns.com.