SNOWMASS VILLAGE - The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies offers several guided nature tours on the Aspen/Snowmass ski slopes.
One of its more unique offerings, though, takes place when most of the chairlifts won't be running.
When Aspen Skiing Co. started running the Elk Camp Gondola on Friday nights, ACES began offering a nighttime snowshoe tour at the top. The gentle traverse enters the forest surrounding Rayburn's Pond, where participants can encounter tracks from snowshoe hares, mice, weasels and sometimes coyotes and foxes.
"During the day, it's totally chaotic, especially on the ski slopes when there's thousands of people here every day and crossing the ski slopes is kind of a difficult thing to navigate," said ACES naturalist Charlie Oshinsky. "What I like most about being out here at night is it just feels more distant. You just feel like you're in the wilderness a little bit more."
On Jan. 18, the night was clear and the moon bright enough for the group to turn off our headlamps and hike through the forest in the moonlight for a while. It was also definitely a good opportunity for stargazing.
Oshinsky, who is taking a year off to live in the mountains before going to medical school, praised the group, a mix of residents and visitors, for showing interest in the tour. For most people in the group that night, it was their first time snowshoeing.
"I think it's really awesome that you guys are interested in doing an activity like this during your time in Aspen ... instead of the more mainstream activities, such as downhill skiing," he said. "Doing activities like this and just getting to walk around in the woods and just be totally peaceful ... is something that's so special and an experience you can't really have anywhere else except this wilderness. That's why I love it out here, and hopefully you guys got a taste of that, as well."
This article is part of a regular series about Aspen Center for Environmental Studies guided tours in Snowmass Village.