One doesn’t usually think of highways as places where skiers congregate. But across North America, a few well-established thoroughfares and famous mountain passes have become stomping grounds for backcountry skiers and riders. This is especially true come spring, when roads closed for the winter finally open for the season, enabling epic turns right from the asphalt.
North Cascades Highway, Washington
Washington’s North Cascades look more like Switzerland than the northwestern United States. The peaks are jagged, spiky, and usually drenched in snow. State Route 20, better known as North Cascades Highway, typically closes by early December and reopens in late April or early May. When it’s closed, you’ll need a snowmobile or (in spring) a bicycle. Just be mindful of road crews. When it opens, you can drive up and skin to choice lines. North Cascades Mountain Guides offers daylong snowmobile-accessed backcountry tours to help you learn the terrain. Book a modern, upscale cabin on wheels at Rolling Huts in nearby Winthrop.
Tioga Pass, California
The weekend when Tioga Pass opens each spring, a pilgrimage of skiers from Tahoe, Mammoth, and elsewhere travel en masse to the east side of the Sierra Nevada. You can drive to nearly 10,000 feet, throw on your skins, and tour to 3,500-vertical-foot descents and perfect north-facing couloirs. Check out High Sierra Snowcat for guided excursions and overnight yurt trips, or pick up a copy of the guidebook Backcountry Skiing California’s Eastern Sierra. On your way out, hit the Whoa Nellie Deli inside the Mobil gas station in Lee Vining for surprisingly delicious fish tacos.
Independence Pass, Colorado
This pass on Highway 82, which closes under heavy snowfall from November to May, connects Aspen to towns like Leadville and Buena Vista and offers a wide variety of steep and low-angle lines off 13,000-foot peaks along the Continental Divide. For beta on the area, check out Colorado mountaineer and blogger Lou Dawson’s new printed guidebook, or let Aspen Alpine Guides show you the way. Before you head up the pass, stop by Spring Cafe in Aspen for the healthiest breakfast burrito in town and coffee with homemade nut milk.
Rogers Pass, British Columbia
Backcountry skiers and riders from around the world love Rogers Pass for its 3,000-vertical-foot high-alpine descents. Located just an hour east of Revelstoke on the Trans-Canada Highway, the pass rarely closes, so you can access its terrain all season long. If you’re planning to ski tour within Glacier National Park, you’ll need an annual or daily winter permit. For overnight trips, book a spot in the Alpine Club of Canada’s ten-person Asulkan Cabin. It’ll take you a few hours to skin in, but once you’re there, incredible terrain lies just outside the door. Pick up a great map of the area online or in a local shop. Yamnuska Mountain Adventures leads guided weekend trips throughout the region from the well-stocked Wheeler Hut.
Thompson Pass, Alaska
Richardson Highway over Thompson Pass, outside Valdez, Alaska, is the birthplace of U.S. heli-skiing. But terrain can be accessed relatively easily right from the road, too. Go in spring, when the days are longer and you stand a better chance of scoring blue skies. Book a hotel room in Valdez, or rent an RV in Anchorage so you can take hot showers atop the pass at Alaska Rendezvous Heli-Guides’ RV parking area, which also has one of the only restaurants around. Pick up a guidebook, or book a weeklong guided trip in April with Pro Guiding Service.
Beartooth Pass, Montana
Montana’s Beartooth Highway—a 68-mile National Scenic Byway on U.S. Route 212 between Red Lodge and Cooke City—draws big crowds when it opens, typically Memorial Day weekend, and offers lines literally straight from the car. Beartooth Mountain Guides leads backcountry trips throughout the range, or you can ride the two Poma lifts at Beartooth Basin, a summer ski area that usually operates from May to July. Campgrounds are scattered up and down the highway, and beer can be had at Snow Creek Saloon after your day on the hill.