Close your eyes and picture your favorite national park. The iconic peaks and valleys, the steeps and the lows, and the feeling you get when you are exploring it. Now, picture it covered in a soft blanket of white snow. It’s not a deterrent to continue your exploration, though. Far from it.
Now picture fresh turns down a quiet slope, looking up from the skin track to see a landscape that is nothing short of iconic, and seeing a familiar landscape totally changed from how it looks in the summertime.
From now until springtime, America’s national parks, specifically the mountainous ones, will be a backcountry touring dream come true.
National parks are the zenith of public lands for many of us. They stand out as the most epic, most beautiful, and most challenging landscapes in the U.S., and it make sense that backcountry skiers and riders who love this trifecta would get a kick out of them. Visiting a national park in the winter time is like discovering a delightful secret about an old friend.
Another bonus to winter touring in a national park: Most of the crowds you see during warmer months will opt for more indoor adventures during this time of year. But for backcountry skiers and splitboarders, the fun is just getting started.
Because national parks are usually remote, partially closed down for the winter, and often feature pretty rugged and challenging terrain, they aren’t always the best place for a beginning backcountry skier or splitboarder to test their mettle. If you are new to the sport, take an AIARE avalanche course, purchase the necessary gear (beacon, shovel, probe), and learn backcountry etiquette and safety from a more experienced friend or guide. Before heading straight to one of these remote lines, consider a more mellow and easily accessible tour close to the roads or other infrastructure until you become more confident. Another tip: read the avalanche forecast for a given area before you go.
Research the permitting process while planning your trip, as well. It’s almost 100% guaranteed to be different than when you visit a national park in the summer, but this varies from park to park. Even if you have a parks pass you might need a winter permit, which is often free, but alerts rangers that you are out in the backcountry.
All caveats aside, winter touring in one of these legendary destinations offers up an endless amount of awesome and is completely worth the time and energy it takes to get there.
For some of the most epic winter skiing in national parks, check out the following list.