Ski for Free

High-Speed Quads: Earning your turns in the backcountry     Photo: Corbis

Most resorts never develop the cachet of Aspen, and many go bust. According to the National Ski Areas Association, more than 400 hills have shut down across the country in the past 30 years. But though the lifts may be gone, the cleared runs remain—untracked and there for the taking by anybody willing to hike or skin to the top. There's even a Web site (www.nelsap.org) to track them. Trespassing isn't an issue on Forest Service land, but heed the posted signs of private property. Avalanche training is a must, since these areas are no longer patrolled or controlled, but the payoff is untracked powder stashes from coast to coast.

Berthoud Pass, Winter Park, Colorado
Splitting Denver and Winter Park along Highway 40, Berthoud Pass, which closed its lifts in 2001, is ready for your roadside powder binge. An hourlong climb puts you on Mount Russell, at just over 12,000 feet, with access to the above-tree-line bowls of Current Creek's drainage and, to the southwest, 1,400-vertical-foot shots down the Eighties, Nineties, and Hundreds avalanche chutes to your waiting car shuttle. Only the bold should attempt the north-facing, slide-prone Mine Chutes, which claimed a life earlier this winter.
Stay: Gasthaus Eichler Hotel, Winter Park; $69-$250;
800-543-3899
Beta : Icebox Mountain Sports, Fraser; 970-726-8256

Cameron Pass, Fort Collins, Colorado
Served by a 950-vertical-foot rope tow until 1951, Cameron Pass, along Highway 14 north of Fort Collins, is no bunny hill. From the parking lot, at 10,276 feet, skin past tree line and take your pick from nearly a dozen 35-degree lines on the broad northeast-facing ridge of 11,852-foot Diamond Peak. For an extended touring trip in the Medicine Bowl Range, check out nearby Walden's Never Summer hut system (970-723-4070).
Stay: The Sheldon House, Fort Collins; $90-$125; 877-221-1918
Beta: The Mountain Shop, Fort Collins; 970-493-5720

Echo Summit, Lake Tahoe, California
When the snow piles up off Highway 50 west of South Lake Tahoe, locals head to Echo Summit. Two lifts operated here until the mid-seventies, and backcountry tree skiing remains. From the lot at Echo Summit Sno-Park ($5), a quick climb to the top of 8,400-foot Nebelhorn gains access to a perfect yo-yo line off the northwest face. When it's time to end the day, bail into the 2,500-foot east-facing glades of Christmas Valley and Highway 89 beyond.
Stay: Inn by the Lake, South Lake Tahoe; $100-$180;
800-877-1466
Beta: Sierra Ski and Cycle Works, South Lake Tahoe;
530-541-7505

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