SNOWMASS MOUNTAIN (Friday, Feb. 20) — How many animal tracks can we spot?
We’re at Snowmass Ski Resort, one of Aspen’s four mountains (www.aspensnowmass.com), but instead of skiing today I’m on snowshoes in the woods with Nick Carter, who works for ACES — the nonprofit Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (www.aspennature.org), where you’ll find discount coupons for the Snowshoe Tour.
Carter notes that there’s been a definite uptick in snowshoe tours this year — likely because they are half the price of a lift ticket, though they only last a couple of hours. ACES runs tours here, at Aspen Mountain and also in the historic ghost town of Ashcroft. There are other naturalist programs for kid s as well — on the mountains in summer as well as winter. Complete with puppets representing the different animals that live here in the winter — the Snowshoe Hare, the Pine Squirrel.
“The whole idea is to educate the public about the environment so they get out and love it and want to protect it,” he says. Kids as young as seven can join one of these gentle tours. “If you can walk you can do this tour,” Carter says, but he adds if you have younger kids you can call and arrange a special tour.
We tromp through the woods listening to a gurgling creek (it isn’t frozen), spotting different animal tracks, even sighting a Pine Marten, a member of the weasel family — a rare occurrence, I’m told.
It’s interesting to see all of the different kinds of tracks and how the animals make their way through the deep snow. In the town of Aspen, about 10 miles away, ACEWS has a free nature center where you can meet the resident Golden Eagle and Great Horned Owl. Take a walk on the trail right along the Rio Grand Trail afterward, Carter suggests, adding that in summer it’ a great spot for hiking and biking.
It’s amazing how quiet it is until we cross a downhill ski trail, people looking at us a little curiously. It’s nice to find different ways to enjoy the snow and the mountains, I think.
All day, I’ve been running into families who rave about this Mountain — the varied terrain; the ski school; Junk, the new restaurant that has an entire Smores Menu; and The Sweet Life with literally hundreds of flavors of ice cream and some 80 different kinds of candy (cherry or blue raspberry gummies anyone?)
Melissa Berman, here with her husband and three kids from Brookville, NY is grateful. The family is staying with friends in Aspen and doesn’t have to pay for lodging but she still feels like lift tickets, which can run several hundred dollars a day for a family of five, is money well spent. Colleen Olson, who is from suburban Chicago, said they’ve cut back to one trip a year and made that a ski trip here because they had a place to stay and wanted their three year-old daughter Neeve to learn to ski. “Everyone is super helpful,” he said. Another plus — there is plenty of terrain here to satisfy her and her husband. who is a less advanced skier.
Mary Dehnert said her family flew to Denver this year to save money — a three-hour-plus drive. But she has hit the jackpot vacation budget wise. Her mom picks up most of the tab for the extended family and her step dad, who doesn’t ski, does all the shopping and cooking. With a family that includes nine kids and ten adults, they’ve been eating in most every night. They haven’t even felt the urge to try the other mountains this year. “This I such a big mountain it’s fine for everybody,” she says.
After skiing, families are sitting around the strategically placed fire pits in the new Base Village, the kids eating French fries, parents nursing a beer or a glass of wine. “This really is good family time,” said Melissa Berman. “At home we’re all going in different directions. This is one thing we can all do together.” There’ just one problem. “Now we want to move here!”