If you’re not a skier or short on budget, there’s something for everyone in Aspen. Outdoor enthusiasts looking for the burn should give snowshoeing a try- it has zero learning curve and can be as easy as a contemplative walk or as intense as a run or uphill hike. Technically a Nordic sport, snowshoers often get attitude from the cross-country skiing community, but ignore the haters. Says Erik Skarvan, owner/guide at Aspen’s Sun Dog Athletics, “After taking up mountain biking in the early 80s, I soon discovered that snowshoeing was a great way to cross-train and stay fit in winter. I love the low-impact aerobic activity, simplicity, beauty, and connection with nature its slower pace allows. It’s one of my true passions.”
I agree with Skarvan, and happily, Pitkin County has over 60 miles of free cross-country/snowshoe trails to suit all levels (some of dog-friendly, too). The Aspen Nordic Center is a convenient place to rent gear and get details on the three free Nordic trail systems/centers in the Roaring Fork Valley: Snowmass, Aspen, and Spring Gulch. Really, all you need to know are a few basics. Novices should stick to groomed or non-avalanche-zone trails. Experts who are visiting should check out the 10th Mountain Hut System (headquartered in Aspen) for epic multi-day snowshoeing adventures. Sun Dog Athletics offers private and guided tours for all levels, on top-of-the-line gear.
I consulted Skarvan for some of his favorite snowshoeing spots in Aspen, and included some of my own. Happy Trails.
Go for a leisurely tour on some of the 21 miles of groomed trails around the ghost town of Ashcroft, outside of Aspen. Tip: Hit up Pine Creek Cookhouse for lunch or a hot toddy (reservations required). Note that Ashcroft is privately owned and free-based; rentals and guides available.
Says Skarvan of this five-mile route along the back of Aspen Mountain (reach it by taking the Silver Queen Gondola, tickets $33-$55), “It has it all: gorgeous, rolling terrain, 50-mile views of three mountain ranges, and plenty of featherlight powder. It’s one of our favorite snowshoeing spots for beginner to intermediates.”
Maroon Creek Trail
The road is closed in winter, but Nordic aficionados ski or snowshoe (snow depth permitting) up Castle Creek road to the Maroon Creek trailhead, and then make their way to Maroon Lake, which is overlooked by the Maroon Bells – supposedly the most-photographed mountains in the world. Pack a lunch and plenty of water, as there’s no services at the lake in off-season.
Difficult Creek Trail
Located at Difficult Campground five miles southeast of Aspen, this is a popular summer hiking trail that becomes serene and uncrowded in the winter months. The four-mile trail will take you uphill on a series of gentle switchbacks, and provide views of the Collegiate Wilderness.
Tom Blake Trail
This popular Snowmass trail, at just under four miles, provides easy, even beginner snowshoeing through deep aspen groves.
Limelight guests should take advantage of complementary snowshoe tours in the Aspen area, in partnership with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES). Sign up early- they max out at eight people and include round-trip transportation.