Ski touring, snowshoeing and mountain lions in northwestern Colorado

Saturday, February 27, 2016 at 08:12 PM

Skinning up the Stone Creek Trail in the White River National Forest, Colorado.
Making turns near the West Lake Creek trail.
Skiing on the frozen Sylvan Lake in Colorado.
Shuffling across a narrow bridge on the trail.
We saw quite a few aspen trees with bear claw marks on them.
Earned turns on Meadow Mountain in Minturn, Colorado.
Meadow Mountain is popular with locals.
Making turns on Meadow Mountain, a former ski area.
Sun, scenery and snow on the Stone Creek Trail.
Enjoying the downhill after climbing the Stone Creek Trail.

In November, by pure coincidence, the Skimeister and I booked a flight to Colorado — well before we knew how rough the eastern ski season was going to be. Last week we were grateful to arrive in a snowy, sunny place where we enjoyed a variety of high-altitude, on-snow fun.

While we downhill skied a few days at big and small ski resorts and experienced a little powder, much of our nine-day trip featured snow-free, bluebird weather. The snow conditions were like early spring conditions for northwestern Colorado.

We made the most of the sun and snow by including ski touring and snowshoeing in the mountains around Eagle County as part of our Colorado adventure. There are many trails in the White River National Forest that offer mellow and low-avalanche-risk areas to slide on snow or take a tromp through the woods. (See the local National Forest office website, here.)

We even skinned up a popular trail from the town of Eagle-Vail and emerged on a ski trail on the edge of Beaver Creek ski area. After enjoying our turns down the hill, we sipped well-deserved beers in the bright sunshine at the base area. Not too shabby!

This ski tour had a startling beginning, however. We had just embarked on the popular Stone Creek Trail when a woman let us know that she saw a very freshly killed deer or elk around the corner. It was, no doubt, killed by mountain lions. We had read that mountain lions were venturing into civilization and even taking pets in this region. I was not thrilled to realize that we were clearly in mountain lion territory.

But, we had also educated ourselves on what to do to avoid a mountain lion and what to do if we encountered one. After a brief debate we agreed to move forward. I pulled some bells off my backpack and attached them to my ski pole. We talked and jingled our way up the trail without incident.

The lovely aspen trees, bright white snow and stunning blue sky helped keep my mind off the large creatures that were probably napping during this midday. This trail followed the snowy Stone Creek. It was 2.3 miles of climbing from an elevation of 8015' to 9168'. We were quite a distance from roads and it was truly peaceful. The warm sun didn't hurt either!

Another short ski and snowshoe tour in Eagle County took us around a pretty, remote lake called Sylvan Lake, where people also go ice fishing. Another day found us on the West Lake Creek trail in Edwards. Yet another morning, we climbed the mostly treeless Meadow Mountain, which offered lovely mountain views. This former ski area in Minturn, Colorado, is a popular place for locals to get in a morning or late-afternoon skin and ski.

While we didn't have an epic Colorado powder day, we enjoyed a few inches of new snow and a nice, deep base of snow on which to play. Interspersing our downhill ski days with ski and snowshoe tours made for an economical Colorado trip that was full of variety.

P.S. We describe some of our lift-served Colorado skiing in the next post!

Filed in: Backcountry skiing, Colorado skiing, Western skiing

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