On the Trail: Ski reconnaissance | AspenTimes.com

On the Trail: Ski reconnaissance

Janet Urquhart
Aspen, CO Colorado

Hints of the coming change of seasons aren’t limited to the landscape. I can feel it in my mindset.

A pair of weekend hikes were as much about scouting out potential backcountry ski destinations as they were about enjoying what’s left of the summer. The sight of the last blooms of August ” golden and purple asters have taken hold where flax, skyrocket and wild roses once commanded attention ” and even the first gold aspen leaves hinted at autumn’s imminence. In a few short weeks, both hikes ” Marion Gulch outside of Carbondale and the Braderich Creek Trail near Redstone ” will be spectacular. They both climb through large stands of aspen and boast open meadows ringed by aspen-covered hillsides.

It’s tough to imagine what they’ll look like blanketed in snow, though that was my purpose in being there.

Marion Gulch, accessed of Thompson Creek Road, not far from the Spring Gulch cross-country ski area, is popular with equestrians during the summer/fall and open to snowmobiles during the winter. Despite a profusion of horse trailers at the trailhead, a friend and I had the trail to ourselves on a Saturday morning. It’s a road, really, climbing gently through the aspens until the route goes steeply uphill on a winding path. The hill gave rise to visions of careening downhill on a pair of touring skis, not to mention some uphill grunting. Once the road crested the hill, it dropped into open meadows that should either make for delightfully scenic skiing or nothing but a vast swath of tracked-up snow, courtesy of the motorized contingent. Beyond the meadows, the road appeared to climb up another aspen-dappled hillside, but thunder booming over that ridge cut our exploration short.

My next visit will be on skis.

The Braderich Creek Trail (it’s also labeled South Thompson Trail on my map), heads pretty much due north from the road into Coal Basin near Redstone. It’s open to mountain biking, equestrians and cattle grazing and there was plenty of evidence of the latter two ” fresh splats and the requisite flies ” all along the route.

Right out of the trailhead, the single track climbs steeply for about 20 minutes (mental note: bring climbing skins) and then rolls gently through wooded sections and meadows in an upper valley that should be ablaze in gold come late September. I quickly noted there were no ski markers along the route ” the diamonds affixed to tree trunks to designate the route after snow covers the trail, but I may give it a try anyway. I was even encouraged by the prospect of biking it, though I’d undoubtedly wind up pushing my bike through some sections, including the initial climb.

On its north end, the trail hooks up with South Thompson Road, creating the possibility of a point-to-point ski (or bike ride) for anyone willing to take the time to position a vehicle on both ends.

The highlight of the hike though, was exploration of a side trail that crested a short, steep ridge and produced the perfect lunch spot ” a grassy knoll, shaded by aspens and a few old-growth scrub oaks, that afforded views of the surrounding mountains. I may be back at this spot as early as next month, to take in the views at the peak of autumn’s glory.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com