Press "Enter" to skip to content

Places: Skiing the Angel

By Ryan Kempfer


Mount Shavano is the southernmost fourteener in the magnificent Sawatch Range of Central Colorado. The Range is home to 15 of the 58 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado. The name Sawatch comes from the native Ute tribe meaning “water of the blue earth.” The story of the Angel of Shavano comes from a Native American princess: During a terrible drought, the princess went to the foot of the mountain to pray for rain. The God of Plenty agreed to end the drought in exchange for her life. She cared so much for her people that she agreed. Each summer the princess appears in the form of the Angel on the mountain; her tears are the melting snow that flows into the valley to water the crops below.

The Ascent

Starting from Blanks Gulch Trailhead, you will hike about a quarter-mile north on the famous Colorado Trail. You will easily stumble upon the trail heading toward the summit of Mount Shavano at a signed intersection. Head west or left on the Shavano Trail for about one mile, and as you pass through a thick forest, you will approach a significant turn to the right at around 11,000 feet. Leave the trail, and fade west/northwest until you come to the big open basin below the Angel, where you will be looking directly up the body of the Angel.

Proceeding forward, you will approach the waist of the Angel (at approximately 12,000 feet), which is the steepest section of this ski ascent. The Angel is a relatively gentle slope at around 30 degrees. For extra safety, the use of an ice axe is recommended. Climb 800 feet to clear the body of the Angel and proceed up the southern arm until you reach the saddle at about 13,400 feet. You can choose to start your ski descent here or proceed to the summit if conditions and energy levels allow. Either way, take a break, hydrate, eat a snack or two (Swedish fish are my favorite), and take in the miraculous views from above. Admire where you are and blow a kiss to Mother Nature for allowing you to be in such a magical place.

Remember, you are only halfway through your day before you descend the bliss of the “classic” Angel of Shavano. From this point, ski down what you climbed up and follow your skin track back to the trail below. This is a must-do for any skier, snowboarder or winter enthusiast. Trust me, you will feel the power of the princess, and the feeling is everything grateful.

Recommended Gear

All-terrain ski gear, climbing skins, beacon, shovel, probe, snowshoes or split boards, ice axes for safety, microspikes and of course, most important, is general mountain sense and knowledge of avalanche conditions. Always approach a ski ascent with the mindset of turning back if conditions aren’t in your favor.

Getting There

Head west on U.S. Hwy. 50 from Salida to Poncha Springs. From Poncha, continue west toward Monarch Pass for approximately two miles and turn north (right) on County Road 250. Follow CR 250 for eight to nine miles to Blanks Gulch Trailhead. This dirt road is rough; passenger vehicles can drive this road, but go slow. From Salida to the trailhead takes about 45 minutes.

Fun Facts

Mount Shavano – 14,229 feet

Skiable vertical – up to 4,430 feet

Round-trip distance – eight miles

Difficulty – Intermediate/Expert

Terrain – moderate slopes, couloirs, tree glades

Ideal season – April and May are safest and offer the best conditions, but it can usually be accessed February (with a very long approach) through June.

Area map – National Geographic “Trails Illustrated” #130; Latitude 40° Maps “Buena Vista, Salida Area.” Available at Salida Mountain Sports.