Nearly 40 years later, Daniels makes loops regularly on the scenic Spring Gulch Nordic trails, just a stone’s throw from her Carbondale home. She hits the local track a couple times a week, often with fellow moms. “I get a great workout and catch up with busy friends at the same time,” says Daniels, who competes in local cross-country races.
In fact, the entire Roaring Fork Valley — from Aspen to Glenwood Springs — is honeycombed with a number of remarkable groomed cross-country trails.
With rustic cabin lodging in Carbondale as base camp, a gaggle of gal pals can explore Nordic offerings by day, and dine on gourmet cuisine by night.
A dip in healing hot springs or a stint in natural steam caves round out a long weekend of refreshing outdoor exercise, beautiful mountain vistas and a little R&R.
Where to Stay
The accommodation at the Flying Dog Ranch Retreat, a four-mile drive from Main Street, Carbondale, is a 1880s homestead cabin, but the amenities are anything but old-fashioned. The two-bedroom, two-bath cabin sleeps six comfortably, and a wood stove keeps it plenty toasty when temperatures plummet after sundown. A fully equipped kitchen is stocked with breakfast items and allows guests to easily refrigerate picnic foods for trailside lunches. The outdoor Jacuzzi is fired up all winter long — ideal for soothing tired muscles after an active day on the trails.
Day One: Carbondale
Groomed for both classic and skate skiing, Spring Gulch’s intricate network of trails covers about 12 miles. “The beauty of Spring Gulch,” says Daniels, “is that the parking lots can be totally full, but once you get out there you may not bump into a soul.”
Easy-to-expert terrain blankets the meadows where cattle graze in warm-weather months; the wide-open space and rolling hills seem to stretch on forever. For the most scenic views, make your way up to Paul’s Point. Your reward: 360-degree vistas of looming Mount Sopris, the Crystal River Valley with its distant, jagged peaks, and brick-red mesas along the Roaring Fork River.
A day of calorie-burning skiing merits a decadent dinner. Consider a splurge at downtown Carbondale’s SIX89 Kitchen & Wine Bar (at 689 Main St.). Here, owner/chef Mark Fischer turns out inspiring “food with a global backbeat,” using market-fresh produce and Colorado-raised game, poultry and meats. The offbeat menu — see its lexicon for translation help — changes seasonally. Can’t decide what to order? Throw caution to the wind and try Fischer’s “Random Acts of Cooking,” where he creates four, family-style courses of his choosing just for your table.
Day Two: Aspen/Snowmass
Upvalley about 30 miles from Carbondale are Ashcroft Ski Touring and the Aspen/Snowmass Nordic Trail System. The latter network is vast and varied, with more than 37 miles of trails flanking both sides of Colorado 82 and linking the two towns. In fact, it’s the largest cross-country trail system in the country.
“It’s surprising how far the trails keep going,” says Daniels, who spent two seasons working at the full-service Aspen Cross-Country Center (which doubles as the Aspen Golf Course in the summer). “Even not far from the highway, you have phenomenal views of Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells.”
While skiing the Aspen/Snowmass trails is fabulous (and free), if you have only the energy to take one set of runs on your second day in the Roaring Fork Valley, you may want to save it for Ashcroft Ski Touring, just a few minutes’ drive up the Castle Creek Valley. Here, you’ll pay for a trail pass, but you’ll gain access to nearly 22 miles of groomed trails that wind through aspen groves and pine forest at 9,500 feet and counting.
A meal at the Pine Creek Cookhouse is a main draw of skiing in Ashcroft (although its historic ghost town, where hundreds of 19th-century miners once lived, is pretty cool, too). For lunch, the majestic, log restaurant serves up a “Skiers’ Banquet” of hearty grains, soups, breads and salads. The more adventurous wait to take the guided tour to the Cookhouse for dinner. Then, the dark night envelopes skiers, and the trail is lit only by headlamps, the moon and millions of twinkling stars.
Day Three: Glenwood Springs
Sunlight Mountain Resort outside Glenwood Springs is known for its small, family-friendly alpine ski hill. But it’s also home to 18 miles of cross-country trails that flank the south side of the downhill mountain. Park in Sunlight’s main lot for access to two easy trails, one that’s regularly groomed by snowcat and another that crosses a babbling brook and typically ungroomed. As you make your way farther from civilization, trails can get quite hilly with a significant elevation gain, especially through the high valley of Babbish Gulch. .
Alternatively, you can drive along Four Mile Road past the ski resort to a second parking lot and the upper entrance to the backcountry trails. “This way you kill some of the elevation gain,” says Lindsay Brown, a Glenwood Springs resident who regularly spends a few hours a weekend “messing around” on the network of trails. From the upper entrance, start skiing on the intermediate Williams trail for an instant uphill workout.
End your day with a soak in the Glenwood Springs Hot Springs Pool, the world’s largest. Or visit the next-door Yampah Spa for a steam in the natural vapor caves—the same ones the Ute Indians considered sacred hundreds of years ago for their healing powers. The spa’s setting is rustic (it’s no Canyon Ranch), but its menu of treatments is extensive. Choose from full-body massages, mineral baths, herbal facials — even an indulgent Chocolate Bliss Wrap. Three days of cross-country skiing at high altitude? Heck, you’ve earned it!
If You Go
Flying Dog Ranch Retreat
1625 County Road 111
Carbondale, Colorado 81623
Spring Gulch: No services, except for a porta-potty. The staff at Ajax Bike & Sport (571 Colorado Hwy 133, (970) 963-0128) rents equipment and can answer questions about the trails. Skiing is free, but visitors can join the local Nordic Council ($35) or leave a donation at the trailhead.
SIX89: Reservations highly recommended.
689 Main Street
Aspen/Snowmass Nordic Trail System: Free; donations are welcomed. Full-service Nordic center in Aspen, (970) 544-9246, and Snowmass, (970) 923-5700. For trail reports, call the hotline: (970) 429-2039.
Ashcroft Ski Touring/Pine Creek Cookhouse: Full-service Nordic center with rentals; pay a fee for skiing anywhere besides the trail to the restaurant; (970) 925-1971 (Ski Touring). Reservations suggested for lunch, required for dinner; (970) 925-1044 (Cookhouse).
Sunlight Mountain Resort
10901 County Road 117
Glenwood Springs, Colorado 81601
Free X-C trails; rentals available shop at the base of the downhill ski mountain; trail maps at Guest Services. (970) 945-7491
Hot Springs Pool, (970) 947-2955, www.hotspringspool.com.
Yampah Spa & Salon
709 E. Sixth St.
Glenwood Springs, Colorado 81601
Kara Williams is the editor of Mountain Parent (www.mountainparent.com), a free bi-monthly publication for families who reside in and visit Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley.
From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.