Celebrating Skiing in our National Parks

Celebrating Skiing in our National Parks

101 years after the founding of the National Park Service, our National Parks continue to be some the premier destinations for alpinism and outdoor recreation anywhere in the world. Skiing has played an important role and contributed immensely to the rich history of the park system and, while we're just scratching the surface, we're sharing a few anecdotes of our favorite people, places and memories of National Park skiing in honor of National Parks Week.


Grand Teton National Park

Alpinists have been summiting Grand Teton since 1872, but in June of 1971, Maine native Bill Briggs brought something to the summit no one had before him: his skis. 

It was an unlikely journey for Briggs, who had to endure multiple hip surgeries as a child to even be able to walk. His successful descent (which required a free rappel with skis on) would immortalize him as one of the icons of big mountain skiing and reinvent what was possible to accomplish in the park. 

Today there are four additional routes down the iconic mountain other than the Briggs route.

 
Bill's line down the Grand Teton

Bill's line down the Grand Teton

 

Rocky Mountain National Park

While visitors and residents of Colorado tend to flock to places like Aspen and Vail, residents of places like Fort Collins and Loveland kept a hidden gem up their sleeves: Hidden Valley Ski Area in Estes Park.

While the origin and development of many US resorts were the vision of passionate skiers, the growth of Hidden Valley was a direct result of efforts of the National Park Service. Thanks to Route 34, known as Trail Ridge Road, motorists and skiers had easy access to 12,183 feet in elevation, fantastic vistas, and some incredible skiing. Realizing this, the National Park Service created trails and made sure Trail Ridge Road was plowed for skiers. A base lodge and chairlift soon followed, and Hidden Valley was a small but thriving ski area by the 1970s.

Skiers were fiercely loyal to their little hill, which made Hidden Valley's closing in 1990 a difficult pill to swallow for many locals. As time has gone on, the National Park Service has evolved as well, focusing less on developing opportunities for recreation as preserving the natural landscape and encouraging more sustainable ways to enjoy the parks. Thus, Hidden Valley joined the list of disbanded ski areas in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Today, the spirit of Hidden Valley lives on in the backcountry skiers who still take to Trail Ridge Road to hunt for fresh snow and find their line in RMNP.

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Denali National Park

When I put my ski boots on at the top, they felt like they were two sizes too small for me. The clips were white from the cold – I was lucky they didn’t break.
— Sylvain Saudan

Not long after Briggs conquered Grand Teton, a mysterious Swiss skier sought to do the same down North America's tallest peak, Denali. 

By the time Saudan found himself freezing at the top of one of the coldest peaks in the world, he had already developed quite a reputation - dubbed "Le Skieur de l’Impossible" after navigating a 55-degree couloir in Chamonix that was previously thought to be certain death should it be attempted.

Claiming Denali in 1972 set Sylvain on a worldwide quest to claim many notable descents - Mt. Blanc, Kilimanjaro, Nun in the Himalayas, and Mt. Fuji (without snow!) would all come to be on his list - but it all culminated in 1982 on Gasherbrum I, the 8th tallest in the world splitting the Pakistan-China border. That descent likely still stands to this day as the longest continuous ski descent on a 50-degree pitch. 

Sylvain Saudan, "Le Skieur de l’Impossible"

Sylvain Saudan, "Le Skieur de l’Impossible"


Olympic National Park

Mount Olympus is the central feature of Olympic National Park, and a truly unique setting for skiing in our National Parks. Despite an elevation of less than 8,000 feet, Olympus experiences deep snowfall, turning it into year-round ski mountaineering destination thanks to a massive amount of glaciated terrain. 

Accessing that terrain, however, is a different story. Getting to Mount Olympus requires a 20-mile hike with skis strapped to your pack before you'll even find the first traces of snow. The opportunity to explore one of the most diverse regions of the country make this a ski touring trip unlike any other, as a majority of that hike takes alpinists through the Hoh Rainforest - one of the largest rainforests in the country.  

A ski tour through Olympic National Park will take you from this...

A ski tour through Olympic National Park will take you from this...

...to this.

...to this.


Feeling inspired? Find out more about National Park week here, and get out there and create your own alpine memories in our National Parks - admission to all parks is free through the weekend.