Access Granted: Before backcountry, there was just skiing

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Sidecountry skiing is such a new term that many old-timers feel compelled to put air quotes around it. Backcountry skiing isn’t exactly an old term, either, because it wasn’t long ago that what’s now referred to as “backcountry skiing” was simply “skiing.”

“We didn’t even consider them boundaries back in those days,” said Jim “Moose” Barrows, who has been skiing the powder-pitched slopes in and around Steamboat Springs since he moved to town as a child 63 years ago.

“Back then, they didn’t have boundaries,” he said.

Barrows, one of Steamboat’s treasured Winter Olympians, said many of the skiing hot spots were the same in his youth as they are today. He skied on Buffalo Pass and at Hahn’s Peak and Sand Mountain in North Routt.

Storm Mountain, now Mount Werner, also offered some of the best skiing, even after Steamboat Ski Area opened and began shuttling skiers up lifts on the mountain’s lower slopes.

“The big deal was to climb up because we didn’t have any other way to get to the top for the chutes,” Barrows said. “That was the best part. There was no lift, so you had to hike.”

Because boundaries weren’t as strictly set as they are today, there was no sidecountry, and a primary goal of any adventurous ski area descent was making sure to catch the chance to traverse back to the lift rather than get stuck hiking out.

Still, Barrows said there often wasn’t any need to venture far.

“The skiing was so good, you didn’t need to go far,” he said. “Now, the lifts are so efficient they get so many people up the mountain you can’t get powder after about the first two runs.”

He said that he’s not big into skiing today’s sidecountry and that there’s more than enough in-bounds terrain to keep him happy. Still, he understands the urge that drives skiers and snowboarders ever deeper into the backcountry looking for a great drop.

“No matter what ski area, people will always start pressing the limits, getting out there trying to find new horizons to conquer,” he said. “That’s the nature of the sport, and it’s why skiing is so great.”

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