Asher on Aspen: Powder Hounds
Finding another reason to love winter in Aspen
Asher on Aspen
The difference between Coloradans and Midwesterners is the attitude they have toward an immense amount of snow.
Where I come from, snow is seen as an annoyance. It’s mostly known for its inconvenience and the immediate need for it to be gone. It has to be shoveled out of driveways and sidewalks, and more often than not, it creates hazardous driving conditions.
In Colorado, however, we pray for snow. We live for it, and our economy thrives on it. We shut down our businesses any time we receive at least 10 inches of snow so that employees can ski, instead of work. This past week, we received 14 inches on Aspen Mountain and 20 on Snowmass, and circumstances were no different. The entire town was bustling with grown adults who expressed more joy and enthusiasm than small children on Christmas morning. After a couple of the most epic powder days I’ve ever experienced in my four years of living here, a few friends and I decided we would continue to chase the powder.
Per my daily winter routine, I stepped off the gondola on Aspen Mountain at 11,212 feet. However, this time, I was empty handed. I had no clunky ski boots strapped to my feet and I was not carrying my skis in one hand and my poles in the other. This was my first time walking off the gondola with no plans to ski down the mountain. Today, I was attempting something new.
Today, I was snowshoeing.
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
Having never done it before, I convinced my friends Kenzie and Sophia to tag along and attempt this foreign venture with me. We opted to join a guided group tour led by a naturalist who works for the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. With two daily tours at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., we decided to ski Buttermilk in the morning and snowshoe Ajax in the afternoon. It was a full day brimming with wintertide activities.
As soon as we set off on the Richmond Ridge trail, we were immediately immersed in serene Colorado wilderness. Like ants, we followed behind each other blindly. One-by-one in a line formation, our guide Kathleen led the way, and we mimicked her every move. Initially, the snowshoes felt awkward and ungraceful, and I couldn’t refrain from looking down at my every step to ensure that I wouldn’t trip. Once I began to lift my knees higher with each step, I was able to look up and walk with confidence. And I quickly realized, it was so important to look up. We had found the holy grail of deep, unscathed powder, and I couldn’t stop ogling with delight.
Everything was painted white. A smooth layer of glistening snow blanketed the freshly fallen flakes from the day before. The snow was deep and luscious, and it was tempting to just roll around in it and make snow angels all day. I felt as though someone should have alerted the Hallmark channel and advised them to film their next Christmas movie in this very location. It was a dazzling, real-life winter wonderland.
At this point, we were deep in quiet spruce and fir forests. Kathleen stopped the group intermittently to share her knowledge on mountain ecology and avalanches in the backcountry. Her voice echoed through the frosty air as she outlined the winter habitats of various animals that surrounded us. Did you know that during the winter, snowshoe hares are white, which helps them blend in with the snow, but when the seasons change to spring and summer, they turn a reddish-brown color? This color helps them camouflage with dirt and rocks.
Kathleen continued to intrigue us with her vast knowledge of winter wildlife. As we neared the end of our 2.5 mile out-and-back hike, I began to develop a newfound love for the sport of snowshoeing. Candidly, I had no idea that people actually went on snowshoeing quests, let alone that snowshoe technology had evolved from the wooden, tennis-racket like objects that I had only seen displayed as rustic cabin decor.
For the first time, I was able to experience the landscape from a different perspective. There was ample time to soak in the views. When I’m zooming down the mountain on skis, there is simply no time to stop and smell the roses. My adrenaline is rushing, and my focus is on technique and the other skiers around me. Tramping through the frozen backcountry with no one around, however, is an entirely different ordeal.
As a complete novice to the pastime, I still thoroughly enjoyed my first snowshoeing hike. It was challenging, but tranquil and meditative at the same time. Noticing our post-hike bliss, we decided to commence our Nordic day of activities with much-deserved margaritas. All in all, this snowshoe tour not only made me appreciate where I live, but it also made me appreciate winter, and all of the glorious snow that comes along with it.
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Mark Oldman returns to the 2021 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen with plans for over-the-top seminar presentations this year. “The return of the Classic is so incredibly joyous, it deserves something great, something really special,” Oldman said.