Hogan trail a real challenge

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The experience of skiing the Hogan Park Trail has changed from the old days when skinny skiers on touring shoes pinned to wooden skis ventured out on the long ski from Rabbit Ears Pass to the base of the Steamboat Ski Area. The challenge in the late 1970s wasn't reaching the top of Storm Peak so much as it was linking a series of survival turns down the face of the mountain.

However, Hogan Park remains a rite of passage for would-be Steamboat Springs residents, even in the era of plastic Telemark boots and shaped skis that are equally facile at tracking through flat meadows and carving turns on the piste.

The Hogan Park Trail (the derivation of the name seems to be lost to history) begins near the Walton Peak parking lot on Rabbit Ears Pass, 18 miles from Steamboat, and unravels along its seven-mile length in a remarkably direct line toward the backside of the ski area.

The trail is for experienced, prepared skiers only. It starts at 9,200 feet and finishes at 10,565 feet. From there, skiers are faced with a 3,000 foot vertical descent down the ski area, beginning most often on the intermediate trail Buddy's Run.

Although the route is straightforward and marked with the traditional blue diamonds nailed to evergreen trees, setting out across the backcountry on Rabbit Ears in winter should never be taken lightly, and packs should include survival gear.

Hogan Park is not shown on official USGS maps, but no ski party should leave the trailhead without a copy of the Mount Werner quadrangle map.

The start of the Hogan Park Trail is marked on a guide to cross country ski routes, which is passed out at the Hahn's Peak Ranger District office on Steamboat's south side, but it is incomplete and is no substitute for the topo map.

Although the trail isn't reflected on the map, skiers will be able to recognize their approximate location from the topo lines.

Hogan Park becomes a beast in a snowstorm, when it can become difficult, if not impossible, to spot the next blue diamond along the trail. And windblown snow on Rabbit Ears can conspire to bury tracks, making it difficult to turn around and backtrack to U.S. Highway 40.

The best plan is to wait for a big high-pressure system to dominate the weather and set out early. Reasonably fit skiers can expect the trip to take at least three hours to reach the top of Mount Werner. But it can take hours longer.

The first thing to be arranged before setting out on Hogan Park is transportation--either snag a ride with a friend to the top of the pass or leave vehicles in the ski area parking lot so you can shuttle back to the pass to pick up the cars.

Another consideration is to decide how you will negotiate the last pitch up the backside of the ski mountain. For skiers who have season passes, the Morningside Chairlift eliminates the last several hundred feet of vertical. Other skiers can ski switchbacks up to the back of Buddy's Run and ski down.

Plan to park at Walton Creek Road, on the south side of the road, but cross carefully back over the highway before putting on skis. You'll walk up the highway to the east about 100 feet before arriving at the trail.

The trip begins with a quick 200-foot climb before crossing a pair of flat meadows.

The most critical piece of route finding comes immediately after a short descent through the trees. Here, the trail makes a hard right turn just before crossing Fishhook Creek. Skiers who veer left instead of climbing to the right will find themselves channeled downstream into an ever-deepening drainage that ultimately winds up in Walton Creek Canyon. You don't want to go there.

Right after crossing the creek, skiers encounter the longest climb of the tour. However, most skiers will negotiate without skins, relying on a good layer of blue kick wax. Other skiers pop on a pair of half skins that afford reasonable glide on the flats and make the hills a nonissue.

At the top of the hill, the trail enters a stand of aspens and a short time later, there's a nice little pitch on the left-hand side of the trail for people who would like to crank a few turns.

The trail will be at 9,600 feet and quickly joins Hogan Creek, which bisects another long, flat meadow. At this point, the Morningside chairlift will be within view, though it's still more than a mile away. Along the final traverse to Mount Werner, keep your eyes peeled for another good chance to climb up and make turns, this time on the right side of the trail.

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