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Getting outside – to ski, snowboard, hike or just take a walk – is one of the few activities that still feels somewhat normal during the pandemic.
But even hiking and skiing can get monotonous after a while. If your brain is craving some novelty this winter, consider trying something that’s a little outside the box, like a guided ski or snowshoe tour.
These outdoor tours are naturally socially distanced, but many also offer private options you can book for your pandemic pod. And you don’t have to be a hardcore adventurer to enjoy them, either – most are pretty mellow or customizable to your pace and ability level. (As an added bonus, you’ll be supporting the livelihoods of fellow Coloradans working in tourism and hospitality, which have been decimated by the pandemic.)
For inspiration, here are five of the coolest Colorado tours you can take on skis or snowshoes.
Ski with a naturalist
When you’re flying downhill on skis or a snowboard, you’re usually going way too fast to fully appreciate the natural landscape all around you. But, of course, the mountains you’re skiing are chock-full of interesting plants, animals, birds, geology, history and other natural phenomena.
You can unlock the secrets of Snowmass ski area by skiing with a naturalist guide from the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES).
Naturalists lead tours at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. every day that the Elk Camp lift is running, starting at the Wapiti Wildlife Center at the top of the lift. These twice-daily tours are free and are recommended for intermediate skiers. Your guide will cover topics like avalanches and wildlife winter adaptations, but they’re also happy to answer your specific questions.
ACES also runs two-hour, naturalist-led snowshoe tours at Snowmass and Aspen Mountain ($71 for adults, $52 for kids and seniors). You can book private guided tours with a naturalist, too, or take a snowshoe tour of the nearby Ashcroft ghost town.
For more information: Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, 100 Puppy Smith St., Aspen, 970-925-5756, aspennature.org
Ski under the stars
There’s something inherently peaceful and aesthetically pleasing about a bright full moon illuminating a snowy winter landscape. Even more magical? Quietly gliding across the snow in the moonlight on cross-country skis. To that end, Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash is offering monthly guided full-moon cross-country ski tours this winter. The next two dates are Feb 27 for the snow moon and March 27 for the worm moon.
These full-moon tours, which end with a steaming mug of hot cocoa or cider, are available only to the ranch’s lodging guests. But even if you aren’t spending the night, you can still cross-country ski or snowshoe during the day on the ranch’s 74 miles of trails (including many that are dog-friendly!). They offer rentals and lessons, too.
For more information: Devil’s Thumb Ranch, 3530 County Road 83, Tabernash, 970-726-8231, devilsthumbranch.com
Ski the backcountry (safely)
Backcountry skiing is intimidating and can be just plain dangerous, even if you’ve taken a million avalanche safety and emergency preparedness courses. If you’d like to dip your ski boot into the powder, so to speak, without taking on as much risk, consider signing up for an intro to backcountry alpine touring ski course at the YMCA of the Rockies Snow Mountain Ranch in Granby.
Taught by experienced instructors, the new course is geared toward intermediate skiers with average or above-average fitness levels. As part of the class fee ($149), you’ll get a complete alpine touring equipment setup for the day — skis, boots, skins, poles, beacon, shovel and probe (plus a boxed lunch and YMCA trail pass). During the full-day class, you’ll learn how to use this equipment, how to travel on skis in the backcountry, how to manage backcountry terrain and what you need to know about basic avalanche preparedness. (The organizers note that this is not an official avalanche safety course, just an intro.) You’ll cover about 3 to 4 miles. The course is offered many Sundays through the end of March.
If you’re looking for something that’s a bit more relaxed, the Y also offers “Moose on the Loose” guided snowshoe hikes, during which a guide will pepper you with random moose facts. And if you get really lucky, you may even spot a moose off in the distance.
For more information: YMCA of the Rockies Snow Mountain Ranch, 1101 County Road 53. Granby, 970-887-2152 x 4173, snowmountainranch.org
Snowshoe off into the sunset
Colorado’s sunsets are often stunning, with crisp glowing orange hues fading to pastel pinks and purples. You can experience this natural work of art on snowshoes during a guided tour offered by Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch. The hotel’s on-site resort naturalists lead the tours every Friday and Saturday afternoon starting at 3:45 p.m., offering tidbits of information about the local environment along the way. The routes vary, but are typically around 2 miles and usually head up the terrain of Beaver Creek Resort. Sunset snowshoe tours are available to hotel guests and members of the public starting at $50 per person.
For more information: The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, 0130 Daybreak Ridge, Avon, 970-343-1138, ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/colorado/bachelor-gulch
Earn your turns
Though skinning, or uphilling, is not new, the sport has seen a surge of interest during the pandemic. Since you don’t have to wait in any lift lines or get anywhere near other people, uphilling may just feel safer.
If you want to try it out, Copper Mountain this year is offering private uphill tours. The tour fee (starting at $299) includes an uphill gear fitting and rental for the day, instruction on skinning (which involves attaching a special sticky strip to the bottom of your skis or splitboard so you can trudge up the mountain without sliding back down), technique pointers and a parking reservation. As you trek 2½ miles and gain 1,000 vertical feet through the trees, your expert instructor will also share information about the mountain. After the ascent, you’ll ski or ride back down a beginner-friendly groomed trail (this is where the expression “earn your turns” comes from).
These tours are intended for intermediate to advanced skiers with good physical fitness (skiing uphill is a workout!). Tours are limited to parties of two; everyone must wear a face mask and undergo a temperature and health check upon arrival. Note that avalanche education is not included on the tour.
For more information: Copper Mountain, 209 Ten Mile Circle, Copper Mountain, 970-968-2318, coppercolorado.com
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