by Mikaela Ruland

Follow Mikaela's adventures at @themillennialoutside and

I like to think that I’m someone who is pretty in tune with her environment. I notice the way the freshly fallen snow sparkles in the sunlight, the birds singing and the smell of wet pine trees.

This weekend, however, I realized just how many secrets the forest had been keeping from me when we skied with the volunteer snow rangers from Friends of Dillion Ranger District.

Underneath the turning chairlifts, the spitting snow machines and the speakers playing rock music is, indeed, a forest. When we ski or board Copper Mountain, we’re really skiing and boarding in a forest that belongs to you and me. White River National Forest is home to Copper’s back bowls and bunny slopes and while we enjoy a day of skiing or riding, the Forest Service is working hard in tandem with Copper Mountain to ensure that the terrain we love to play on is being protected.

We met our guides for the day, Snow Ranger Bear and Snow Ranger Daryl, at the top of the Timberline Express. Eight of us, including a tiny shredder-in-training, followed the snow rangers down Soliloquy, stopping to learn more about the forest around us as we skied.


A Friends of the Dillon Ranger District Ranger giving a tour of Copper Mountain in Colorado

Ranger talking about the environment during the winter at Copper Mountain in Colorado


Bear and Daryl taught us about the environment of the forest at different elevations, helped us learn to identify different types of trees, taught us the science of snow and about the different types of wildlife that call Copper home. They shared with us how the Forest Service and Copper work in tandem to help maintain a healthy forest, so future generations can enjoy all that the beautiful area has to offer.

At every stop, the Snow Rangers were uncovering the forest’s secrets for us. Ever wonder why the forest on the other side of I70 looks so different from Copper’s slopes? The south side of the highway gets more sun and can be up to fifteen degrees warmer than Copper’s slopes. Different trees, like aspens, call the warmer slopes home and the sun melts the snow faster!

How about why in the middle of a big, cleared run, you’ll find stands of trees here and there? When clearing new runs, trees are purposefully left in the middle of the slope so that small critters have a place of refuge when crossing out in the open. This leaves them less vulnerable to raptors who like to hunt on Copper’s wide-open slopes in the summer.

It’s easy to remember to appreciate public lands when you’re alone hiking in the forest, but it’s just as easy to forget that our public lands house all our favorite activities - winter and summer!

The mountains belong to all of us and skiing with the Friends of Dillon Ranger District was a great reminder that knowledge is power. I was guilty of blindly flying down the slopes without realizing how much work goes in to keeping the mountain a beautiful and wild place, not just for our enjoyment as skiiers and boarders, but for the plants and animals that call the White River National Forest home and for future generations to be able to shred in a beautiful place.


A scenic view of the woods during the winter at Copper Mountain


From carefully analyzing each new proposed run for environmental impact to de-barking fallen trees to prevent beetle-kill from spreading, the Forest Service is working hard to keep Copper wild.

Public lands are a privilege, not a guarantee. When we reflect on an awesome day of skiing or boarding, we should remember not only the epic powder and the great company, but also the beautiful terrain we’re privileged to shred. The Forest Service and Copper Mountain do a great job at keeping our public lands beautiful and wild, but let’s not forget that they belong to you and that they belong to me. As users of the land, we need to do our part to keep it wild and beautiful as well, so that the powder days can live on!

Interested in learning more? You can ski with a ranger for free on Fridays and Saturdays at the top of Timberline Express!

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Learn from a FDRD Ski Ranger at Copper Mountain.
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