By Lisa Blake
Copper Mountain’s Ski with a Ranger program is worth stopping to smell the pine, spot the fox tracks and earn some chocolate. Here’s what I learned on a recent guided outing.
1. This is our national forest. Friends of the Dillon Ranger District Volunteers Bill and Kari, among others, lead these free tours Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to noon. And this is the first point they make—the land that comprises Copper Mountain is part of our sprawling national forest system.
Today’s theme, Bill hollered out to our group of 12, is “your national forest, past, present and future.” These federally owned reserves are rich with history spanning glaciers to trappers to miners and these rangers on skis are chock-full of knowledge backed by an intense devotion to the environment.
2. Snowshoe hares have enormous feet. Our group cruises down, following Bill to the edge of a powder-loaded green run where we peer into the trees at fresh animal tracks. Can anyone guess who these hopped prints belong to? (Tip: Kari’s pockets are loaded with chocolates that she liberally tosses to anyone offering correct trivia answers.)
We talk about the abundant snowshoe hare population and the difference between a hare and a rabbit—hares are larger than rabbits, with longer hind legs and longer ears. Bill and Kari tell us about the main predator, the Canadian lynx, and how they’ve found coyote and bob cat prints before we ski on to our next stop.
3. Aspen trees are nature’s magic healers. I score a Hershey’s Kiss from Kari for pulling this tidbit from the back of my brain. The white dusty coating from an aspen tree can double as sunscreen if you find yourself hiking in the summer and need a little block. Moose also instinctively chew aspen bark for pain relief. (Mental note: Aspen equals Aspirin.)
4. There are animals living under our skis. This was news. I hadn’t thought about the families of deer mice, marmots and chipmunks tunneling, burrowing and hibernating underground. It’s a constant 32 degrees down there, even when we’re flying down corduroy in -20 temps.
5. It’s fun to learn while you turn. That incredibly informative hour flew by and I leave with an ah-ha takeaway: There’s so much more to the places we ski than we realize. It’s easy to ride up, ski down, repeat and never pause to look around. After seeing the landscape through the rangers’ eyes, I’ll be more likely to notice the immensity of the land, the shadow of a swift animal in the trees and the depth of the flakes that fall around us.
Copper Mountain’s Ski with a Ranger tours are free and take place every Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon. No pre-registration is required. Meet at the top of the Timberline Lift just before 11 a.m. and look for the guides in their green forest ranger jackets. Intermediate ski ability, a lift ticket and proper ski or snowboard equipment are required. Discover more Friends of the Dillon Ranger District learning, tour and volunteer opportunities at fdrd.org.