3 Pass Loop
Snowmass Creek – Buckskin Pass – Willow Pass – East Snowmass Pass – East Snowmass Creek.
Any self respecting runner living in the Roaring Fork Valley has at least heard of the famed Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop. Anyone who has done it, knows that it’s quite a kick in the pants. The kind that can lay you out for a day or two. Luckily, there’s a similar, yet less aggressive, local alternative when one doesn’t have the time or energy necessary to complete the classic loop. The little known and under appreciated Three Pass Loop was brought to my attention last year in an online post by long time Aspenite, Ted Mahon. Ted’s adventures always inspire my own recreation and his recent race at Hardrock motivated me to link up these trails which I’d run individually many times.
You can give his post a read for a more detailed account of the route but suffice it to say, it is a great run. Like the Four Pass, the Three Pass can be done in either direction and can be extended into a multi day backpacking trip if that’s more your cup of tea. One thing worth mentioning is that, unlike the Four Pass, all the climbing is pretty much packed into the middle third of the run. Its pretty much a long, very gradual climb to Snowmass Lake, followed by 3 consecutive ascents and descents of beautiful 12,500′ mountain passes, before a long, very gradual downhill back to the car. Great day in the big backyard.