Wildflowers in Colorado Ski Country - Scott Rappold
It keeps snowing.
It's mid-April, a month since ski season came to a sudden halt. Okay, more like a crashing yard sale, like when you miss a turn or lose an edge or hit a rock while skiing and your goggles go one direction, your poles go another and you wind up with a faceful of snow. It's a jarring shock, maybe even a little painful, but you'll laugh about it later at the bar.
But the Covid-19 pandemic that has brought the world to a standstill is no laughing matter. Ski tourism was identified as a factor in the spread of the virus, and nearly every ski area in the U.S. has either closed voluntarily or been ordered shut.
Still, the snow must go on. As I write this, it's snowing over the northern half of Colorado and the slopes, still blessed with a healthy snowpack, are an untouched wonderland of fresh spring powder, just waiting to be carved up ... Oh, what I wouldn't give for just one lift ride, one bliss-filled descent, one adrenaline rush to tide me over... I still have all my gear loaded in my car...
But I digress. I skied my 100th day of last season on May 15. The universe had other plans this winter. While it's anyone's guess if any resorts will be allowed to resume operations before all the snow has turned to water (Arapahoe Basin has been known to have skiing through July 4), for all intents and purposes, we can stick a fork in ski season. It's done.
It's been tough for us ski bums who base our lives around being able to ski as often as possible six months of the year, and it's been even tougher for the tens of thousands of Colorado ski area employees without jobs. This cloud has no silver lining, though given recent weather, it undoubtedly has snow.
So those of us who live for winter can either sink into despair or we can look to the future, to a time when we can once again be out in the mountains we love, breathing the crisp air and enjoying some of the most stunning views this planet has to offer.
In that spirit, as I write this farewell to skiing, this requiem for what could have been, this epitaph to my favorite time of year, I want to offer hope. This pandemic will end. It will be safe again for us to be out of our homes.
Here are ten things Colorado outdoor lovers can look forward to. Keep in mind that afternoon thunderstorms are common in July and August so it's a good idea to get an early start.
1. Mountain biking off the lifts.
At many ski areas, after the snow melts and the mud dries, the lifts reopen for downhill mountain biking. You can ride thousands of vertical feet downhill without all the work of biking uphill. Mountain bike purists may tell you they enjoy the uphill as much as the downhill, but I have never arrived at such a conclusion myself. Click here for my guide to lift-served mountain-biking: https://www.coloradoski.com/blog/brown-powder-joys-biking-colorado-ski-resort
2. Alpine coasters
Who needs to fight the crowds at Elitch Gardens for a roller coaster ride? Many resorts have alpine coasters that operate in summer, offering adrenaline-starved skiers a chance to cruise down the slopes without the distraction of having to remain in control. Aspen/Snowmass, Steamboat, Purgatory, Copper Mountain and Winter Park all offer such thrill rides.
After spending half the year buried under 10 feet of snow, the alpine meadows and rolling tundra of the Rockies turn into a colorful symphony as flowers spring from the moist dirt. In June and July, it's one of the most impressive wildflower displays on Earth. Many ski areas run the lifts for sight-seers as well as cyclists, so even those whose health wouldn't permit a hike into the mountains can enjoy the show. Arapahoe Basin even offers guided wildflower hikes.
And speaking of hiking, there's no better way to leave the crowds behind and explore the wilderness areas that are inaccessible in winter. At ski areas with summer lift service you can ride up and hike down - or, to keep your legs in shape for ski season, hike up and ride down.
5. On-mountain dining
See your favorite ski area restaurant in the warmth of summer (as opposed to huddling inside for survival because it's cold and snowy out.) Most ski areas that have summer lift service reopen the on-mountain restaurants. Try dining under the jagged East Wall at Black Mountain Lodge at Arapahoe Basin or taking in the splendor of the Elk Mountains at Aspen's Sundeck.
6. Disc golf
Disc golf is like regular golf, but with a Frisbee and chain-link baskets as holes. And most mountains that have summer activities have courses at the top of the chairlifts. Try not to get distracted by the amazing views and look where you're throwing.
7. Scenic chairlift rides
So often in winter on the chairlift we're talking about our last run, plotting our next run or just huddling from the cold. In summer you can relax and just enjoy the view without the need to rush off to that last powder stash. Enjoy the ride up, spend some time enjoying the scenery, maybe have lunch or some cocktails if the on-mountain lodge is open, and let someone else take care of getting you down. Dress warm because even in summer it can get cold high in the Rockies.
8. Adventure parks
Choose your own adventure at the many on-mountain play parks that open once the snow has melted. You can ride dizzying ziplines, test your rock-climbing skills, negotiate obstacle courses or bungee jump at these parks, which offer fun for whole family.
9. The changing of the leaves
For a few short weeks in late September and early October, the aspen forests of Colorado put on one of the finest fall color displays known to mankind. Long after the last snow has melted and the wildflowers have wilted, the changing leaves frame the mountain landscapes in a whole new light. It can make anyone feel like a good photographer, especially if we're lucky enough to have the first snow of the year coating the high peaks.
10. The next ski season is only six months away.
Let the countdown to snowmaking begin.
R. Scott Rappold is a journalist with more than 20 years of experience, including 10 at The Colorado Springs Gazette, where he wrote about skiing, hiking, camping and all the things that make Colorado great. He is now a full-time ski bum who writes when he needs money for beer or lift tickets. He lives in Colorado's beautiful San Luis Valley. Read more of Scott's stories here.