As a resident of the town of Vail, there is something intrinsically exciting about the idea of a long day in the mountains ending right at your doorstep. I wanted to take advantage of my beautiful backyard mountains and get a full-value ski tour among some of the most beautiful mountains in Colorado. The Commando Run is that ski traverse.
The Commando route can be done in the summer or winter, with a bike, skis, or the shoes on your feet. At 18 Miles, 3500 feet of gain, and 5800 feet of loss one way, you’ll have a sustained ski traverse on long ridgelines with breathtaking views.
Once a training run for the 10th Mountain Division, this route has its place in history as an iconic traverse in Colorado. The 10th Mountain division would complete this tour as an overnight outing, carrying 100 lbs of gear on their backs not to mention their heavy cotton and wool uniforms.With 21st century lightweight touring gear, we aimed to complete The Commando Run in a morning (It’s amazing the doors that tech bindings will open for you).
Not bad for a 'backyard' traverse
The route comes in three parts. Beginning at the summit of Vail pass, you first climb up the mellow Shrine Pass Road. The second deviates from the road and begins to climb to the top of an unnamed 11710 ft peak and traverses along a ridgeline to the 11800 ft Red Benchmark peak. The Commando Runs ends with a long downhill upon entering the boundary of Vail ski resort.
An early start got us at the top of Vail Pass at 7 am on a brisk January day with a car at both ends of the traverse. With skis on our feet, and doughnuts secretly packed away in honor of Tom’s birthday, we were off trying to take advantage of the manicured snow on the Shrine Pass road to try to put some miles behind us. Making it to the top of Shrine Pass in good time, we stopped for our first transition. From here we descended from the top of shrine pass for a leisurely 1.5-mile glide before stopping again to transition for the uphill. GPS proved useful in ensuring that we were gaining the ridgeline along the path of least resistance.
Getting outside on a bluebird day in the mountains is always worth it!
From this point, all of the fun really begins. The traverse on skis is absolutely delightful and breathtakingly beautiful. You’re skiing on a ridgeline and can see for miles into the Gore on one side, and the Sawatch to the other. Staying on the highest part of the ridge, we found some good turns before descending into Two Elk Pass.
From Two Elk Pass begins the last climb of The Commando Run, a good 1000 feet to the last end of the ridge traverse. At this point, you will see a gate to cross into the Vail Ski Resort boundary. From this high point, pick your route down to the base to complete The Commando Run. I chose to make my way towards the base of Lionshead, exiting the gate to the west and skiing the trees to my home in West Vail. 5 Hours after our start from the top of Vail Pass, I kicked off my boots, and enjoyed a hot drink on my porch.