Backcountry Skiing in Colorado

Skiing and Hiking in the Colorado Backcountry

Red Peak – What Big Eyes You Have Couloir


As April came and went without getting a tour in, I was itching to get into the mountains and ski something big.  I reached out to Eric to see if he’d be down.  At first he told me he was busy on Sunday, then I sent him this picture:

What Big Eyes You Have Couloir.  Photo courtesy of Stan Wagon,

What Big Eyes You Have Couloir. Photo courtesy of Stan Wagon,

Needless to say, Eric was in.

As one drives South on Highway 9 towards Silverthorne, “What Big Eyes You Have” Couloir can be seen clearly.  However, this mega line is hidden from view from the hordes driving I-70 to the ski resorts.  But still, it lurks behind East East Red Peak, waiting for someone to ski its steep, 1800′ vertical feet.

Eric and I met at the T-Rex lot west of Denver bright and early and were on the Willowcreek trail by 6am.  Our spirits were high, the weather was great and we were hoping for a successful day.  As we hit the trail we meandered south into the woods west of SIlverthorne.  We traveled south for a little over a mile when the trail we were on suddenly came to a “T” with the Mesa-Cortina Trail that runs north and south along the eastern flank of Buffalo Mountain.  We realized that were were going the wrong way.  Spirits still high, we decided to take the trail north towards Red Peak’s Southern face.  Before long, we realized the Mesa-Cortina trail was not going to get us to our objective.  Eric and I talked for a bit and decided to cut through the trees and make a direct approach to the South Facing Bowl of Red Peak.  We knew if we could gain this bowl, our couloir would be on the other side.

As we cut into the trees we were forced to travel up and over several ridge-lines.  We quickly realized that the southern aspects were completely melted out, while the north-facing slopes were covered in snow.  This would lead to some issues on our hike out but for now allowed us to descend easily into the valley between Buffalo and Red, and gain the long shoulder that extends east off of East East Red’s Flank.  We picked up this shoulder and we knew this was our escalator to the Catcher’s Mitt of Red Peak.

Soon we picked up a skin track, and followed it all the way up this steady ramp.  The snow on the ramp was heavy and sticky.  After some time I was getting some serious clumping on my skins.  In an attempt to knock the snow off of my skins I hit my ski with my pole, only to have my pole completely snap in half!  We tried to duct tape it together to no avail.  Alas, I decided to press on with one usable pole.  After over and hour of hard skinning, we finally crested tree-line, and the Catcher’s Mitt came into view.

Catcher's Mitt comes into view

Catcher’s Mitt comes into view

From here our route was quite clear:  Ascend the bowl, and drop into Big Eyes on the backside.  The weather was absolutely perfect, bright sun but not too warm.  A gentle breeze was keeping the snow firm.  Knowing our couloir was north-facing, Eric and I knew we were in no rush to get there and took our time.

After some more skinning and switch-backing up the face we eventually gained the ridge.  From here it was a short hike up to the summit where we were treated to some spectacular views of the surrounding Gore Range.

Eric Ascending the ridge on the final summit push.  Silverthorne lies peacefully in the background

Eric Ascending the ridge on the final summit push. Silverthorne and Lake Dillon lie peacefully in the background

East Thorn to our North, entrance to Big Eyes is below.

East Thorn to our North, entrance to Big Eyes is below.

As Eric and I began the downclimb into the Couloir, we were buffeted by some strong winds being funneled through the saddle above the couloir.  These winds made the downclimb somewhat tricky, but we were staring into the couloir in no time, ready to make some turns.

Staring into the mouth of the beast

Staring into the mouth of the beast

What Big Eyes You Have it steep.  About 45 degrees sustained through most of the couloir.  It is also deeply inset and narrow, making it one of the more incredible descents I’ve ever made.  Eric and I took turns making our way down the massive line.  There were some cool terrain features in this line, including some cliffy drops, ramps, and two cruxes which were negotiated easily due to the high snowpack we’ve seen this year.

It was over almost too quickly, and before long were were 2000 feet from the top, where the temps were much warmer, and high-fives abounded.

Eric opens it up on the apron

Eric opens it up on the apron

Eric and I were both elated, despite getting lost and equipment issues, we had made it, and it was all worth it.

Still, the hike out was definitely a challenge.  We had no trail to follow after losing some ski tracks and were forced to navigate up, over, through and around the various branches that make up Willow Creek.  After following the north branch for some time, we eventually ascended and descended into the middle branch valley, and then into the south branch.  After much clicking in, out, climbing, skinning and even some marsh hopping we finally picked up our original trail.  From there it was a short jaunt back to the car where we enjoyed a beer and celebrated another awesome day in the mountains.

After having completed several burly trips with Eric, including Notch Top, La Plata and Dragon Tail, Eric has become an awesome partner!  He also had an app along which tracked our route.

Route Outline

Route Outline

Overall, this was a great day, and a line I’ve been after for some time.  “What Big Eyes You Have” did not disappoint.


Until next time, keep rippin’!



Author: Collin Tilbe

I'm a Husband and a father. I love food, travel and fitness. My mission in life is "To be free to live life on my terms, while providing value and to kindness to others."

3 thoughts on “Red Peak – What Big Eyes You Have Couloir

  1. Really sick trip report. That couloir is definitely gnarly looking and has some pucker factor. Props on that line!

  2. Man, if you ever wanna do it again count me in!

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