This is a popular, traditional tour. It is named for the commandos of the 10th Mountain Division who used the route for informal training during the Camp Hale training days in the 1940s. For the first 8 miles the Commando Run follows a superb timbered ridge with several summits that poke just above timberline, offering great views. This route is higher and longer than most 10th Mountain suggested routes and has more downhill skiing. Thus, you’ll find it a nice alternative if you have the skills to enjoy it.
Note the Commando Run is a section of the Colorado Trail, a “trans-state” route that connects Durango and Denver. The Colorado Trail is marked with small white triangles that say Colorado Trail. While these markers may be buried in the snowpack, you may see a few and should know what they signify. The traditional Commando Run starts at Vail Pass, but this description starts at the Shrine Mountain Inn.
From the Shrine Mountain Inn ski to Shrine Pass. Ski the snow-covered Shrine Pass Road 1 1/4 miles down Turkey Creek (good downhill cruising) to 10,660 feet. Leave the Shrine Pass Road here (time for skins) and take a right (north) turn onto the Lime Creek Road. A sign here says Lime Creek Road No. 728, but the sign may be covered by snow.
Ski up the Lime Creek Road 1/2 mile to a low-angled area (10,990 feet). The road forks here, with a sign indicating Timber Creek to the right and Lime Creek to the left. Take a left (west) and ski several hundred feet up the Lime Creek Road to a lightly timbered area. This is where the real backcountry skiing begins. Watch carefully for an indistinct signpost on the right that says Colorado Trail. Turn right (north) off the Lime Creek Road and follow the Colorado Trail to the upper left (west) of the light timber, then contour around the left (west) side of point 11,611 at about the 11,400- foot level.
From the west side of point 11,611 follow the ridge to the summits of points 11,710 and 11,696. Enjoy terrific views that include famous 14er Mount of the Holy Cross. Strip your climbing skins, then descend north to a heavily timbered saddle. Stay on the ridge from the saddle, climb a bit, then contour around the left (west) side of point 11,618. Take care with your route-finding here, as you can get too far west and end up in Two Elk Creek. Descend the ridge to Two Elk Pass and enjoy the open views. Dig out your map, spot the back bowls of Vail Ski Area (all the south-facing terrain west of Siberia Peak is part of the ski area), and identify your next goal, Siberia Peak, the highest point on the Commando Run. Put on your skins and sweat it out.
At the summit of Siberia Peak head west along a narrow ridge crest until you are following the ski area boundary, which takes you to a catwalk on the ridge. Follow the catwalk to the restaurant/lift terminus, pick up a trail map, then ski north down the ski area to Vail. Take care not to ski down into the Vail bowls, as you need a lift ticket to get back up!
REVERSE ROUTE: The best way to begin is to ride Vail ski lifts 21 and 22, and ski to the summit of Siberia Peak. Drop to Two Elk Pass (if the skiing is good strip your skins, then re-skin at the pass) and stay on the ridge south of Two Elk Pass for 1 3/4 miles to points 11,696 and 11,710. Take care in the timber past Two Elk Pass, it is all too easy to drop into Two Elk Creek.
Still sticking to the ridge, swing east at point 11,710 and ridge run to point 11,611. Drop down the southeast side of point 11,611 to intersect the Lime Creek Road in a sparsely timbered area at 10,840 feet. Ski the Lime Creek Road downhill east to a low-angled area and continue downhill east to the Shrine Pass Road. Climb the Shrine Pass Road to Shrine Pass, then follow routes described on this webpage to the Shrine Mountain Inn or Vail Pass.
The east side of Siberia Peak is steep and often capped by a dangerous cornice. Other slopes on the peak are usually wind scoured into stability, but should be carefully examined for avalanche hazard. Good emergency egress can be made down Two Elk Creek to the bottom of the Vail Bowl ski lifts. Remember that the lifts may be closed, and that Two Elk Creek has some narrow sections with possible bank sluff hazard and danger from avalanche control in the Vail bowls. You can get good weather and avalanche information by dialing 4652 on the red phones within the Vail Ski Area.
Locations of Observed or Reported Avalanche Activity: No avalanche activity has been reported along this suggested route.
The Vail Trailhead for the Commando Run is not signed, but it’s fairly easy to find. Follow I-70 to the main Vail Exit (Exit 176) at Vail Resort. Take the exit, then travel south to a traffic circle. Turn east out of the traffic circle onto the frontage road and drive .4 miles E to an intersection marked with an oversized stop sign. Turn right (S) here and follow Vail Valley Drive .4 miles to parking at the Golden Peak Children’s Skiing Center at the base of lifts 6 and 12. In the winter parking is highly regulated, so check the parking rules when you get there.
At any rate, you can skin up the ski area from here to start the Commando Run in Mill Creek. This is a grueling start for such a nice tour, so consider accessing the Commando Run from the Vail ski lifts. There has been talk for years of a one-ride ticket for just that purpose, so check for this option. To reach the Commando Run from the lifts you can get into Mill Creek from the top of lift 6; or take a more roundabout route, finally using the Orient Express Lift to reach the west ridge of Siberia Peak. In the summer you can ride the Vail Gondola most of the way up the mountain, then hike the ridge to Siberia Peak. Cyclists can take their bike up the Gondola and ride across the ski area to the Mill Creek Road.