The Cirque at [R201R, Kirkwood Mountain Resort] has been closed for 25 years. But expert skiers and snowboarders this year can dive into its web of steep chutes with new guided tours.

The Cirque flanks the top easterly-facing portion of Thimble Peak. Only world-class experts have been allowed to compete in its couloirs for the North Face Masters and North American Freeskiing Championships; otherwise, the terrain has been strictly off limits.

Expedition Kirkwood is about to change all that by offering guided tours. "The word out there is that the Cirque is open, but that's not true," Jon Copeland, director of Expedition Kirkwood told OnTheSnow. "This is the first in a couple steps to evaluate opening the area. The tours are really to see what options are perhaps there for future with maybe gates or pass access."

The three-hour guided tours will begin with beacon and avalanche skill practice and followed by a run to work on self-arrest skills, caution, and backcountry turning skills. The run also gives the guides a chance to assess the skills of participants before doing two runs through The Cirque. Fast, highly-skilled groups may get three runs.

Routes demand dropping down complex, exposed chutes and couloirs. "It's not traditional top-to-bottom skiing like a resort skiing approach," explained Copeland. "We'll be skiing each run two or three sections. There's a lot of terrain and areas we don't want to find ourselves in."

The guided tours will be limited based on weather and snow due to The Cirque's reputation for changing quickly. "You can ski one day, and then the winds could blow that night and strip everything off, or you could ski two days in a row and not get in there for a month," said Copeland. "It's very condition dependent."

The Cirque is only open this year for guided tours. It is not open to the general public. "It's very easy to get lost in there, and if you do, you'll be in real trouble," added Copeland.

Each tour is limited to three people with two guides. The tour rate is still being decided as is the date of when tours may be able to start.

More information. Or call 209-258-7360.