We began our spring 2014 Centennial Skiers season with Red Mountain.

We’re lucky that the mountains in Colorado are so accessible. For the most part, the high summits in the state offer year-round climbing and skiing to anyone who wishes to do so.

But that’s not without exception, and when it comes to the 100 Centennial Peaks, there are actually two summits in the southern Sangre de Cristos that reside entirely on private land. Access is restricted, and for much of the year Culebra Peak (14,047 ft.) and neighboring Red Mountain (13,908 ft.) are entirely off limits.

cielo vista

Heading up the jeep road from the ranch headquarters.

ski red mountain

Chris on the approach to Fourway. Christy and I skied Culebra back in 2008, and Chris in 2006, and back then we brought snowmobiles to cover this part of the day. It took us over two hours to get to the summer trailhead.

The recent policy under the ranch’s current owners is to grant permission to peak baggers on select weekends in summer. Advanced reservations are required, as are liability waivers and a fee, which seems to vary but I’m told is now $100 per person. It’s arranged online at Cielo Vista Ranch, here. You can’t stay on the ranch overnight. Get in, tag the summit, take a photo, and go.

But if you’re a skier, and you want to go when there is snow cover during winter or spring, it’s not as easy. You have reach out to the ranch owners and managers requesting special permission. Start asking early in the winter because they may be a bit slow to reply. The owners and others associated with these decisions aren’t at the ranch much in the winter months, and it’s understandable that they are then somewhat reluctant to open the gate.

Ski culebra peak

The familiar cairn marks the route. A false summit of Culebra can be seen. What’s also worth noting is the deteriorating weather and a general lack of snow.

Chris davenport - red mountain

Getting to Red Mountain requires you go over the top of Culebra first. Here Chris skis down and across the long saddle towards Red after having descended from Culebra.

If you’re lucky, and you keep on them like Christy, they may decide to grant permission for your group. If so, they’ll set a firm date in advance that isn’t usually flexible in the event of bad weather or thin snow cover. You can take it or leave it, and by leave it, it could be a year or more before you get permission again.

So back in March we were told we could go ski Red Mountain on April 5th. It would be $200 each. It was the only weekend made available for skiing this year or last, so the three of us headed down to San Luis, Colorado, to get this one done. As the day approached the weather wasn’t looking great, and the we knew the coverage was going to be thin, but this was the hand we were dealt so we played it. For better or for worse, that’s how it’s done on Red.

Red mountain

On Red’s summit. It took us about six hours to get here.

red mountain culebra

On the ascent we only caught a fleeting glimpse of Red and the ski options that existed. There was really only one workable route– a snow filled gully heading down to the north from the summit.

Finally, we were skiing Red.

Finally, we were skiing Red.

ted mahon, red mountain

That’s me. Though not technically challenging, Red Mountain is a crux of sorts. We all agreed we had to just make the best of it, because the circumstances didn’t allow for much flexibilty.

chris davenport, culebra peak

We were told we had to be off the ranch by 6pm, so we didn’t have much time to waste. After skiing down the north side of Red a short ways, we traversed back towards Culebra to begin heading home. Of course we had to climb Culebra again en route. Here, Dav skins up the southeast ridge.

Once we reached Culebra's summit, we did our best to ski down the long west ridge, thrashing our skis in the process. One down-and-up section required us to take off our skis and hike. Oh, and the weather was full-on. We got a thunder clap overhead and my habd was tingling from electricity in the air.

Once we reached Culebra’s summit, we did our best to ski down the long west ridge, thrashing our skis in the process. One down-and-up section (seen here) required us to take off our skis and hike. The weather was full-on. We got a rare bit of snowstorm thunder overhead and my hand was tingling from electricity in the air.

Marc and Chris, near the big cairn after the down and up climb.

Meet Marc, here with Dav. He came to snowboard Culebra with a group of friends, and with this summit he has now snowboarded all of the 14ers. This was his final peak. He told me he had been trying to get access to the peak for two years now. If he didn’t come here today, it may be another year or two (or more?) before the next opportunity. Huge congrats to Marc on finishing the 14ers, the second snowboarder and 11th (?) person to ski/ride them all!

Christy and Dav ski down the lower slopes.

Christy and Dav ski down the lower slopes.

And down from Fourway to the Ranch Headquarters. A mile of nasty mud awaited us below.

And down from Fourway to the ranch headquarters and our truck. A mile of mud awaited us on the road below.

Well, it wasn't the best day we had, but it was good for a couple of checkmarks on the list!

Well, it wasn’t the best day we’ve ever had, but it was good for a couple of check marks on the list!

Thank you to staff at the Cielo Vista Ranch for accommodating us. It was a memorable day. And it helped set the bar for better days to come this spring!

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