On the trail: Spring Gulch solitude
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
CARBONDALE – It was with some trepidation that I tossed my cross-country ski gear in the car Sunday and headed to Spring Gulch outside Carbondale.
Though Aspen finally has put on its winter coat, the midvalley isn’t exactly a snowy wonderland, and I wasn’t at all sure I’d find the expansive system of groomed cross-country skiing that I’ve come to know and love. I hadn’t been up there since early winter, when there was nothing but grass and sagebrush where the nordic system was supposed to be.
I found maybe 15 cars in the parking lot, which is to say hardly anyone was there, even though it was nearly 11 a.m. on a sunny weekend day. But what the area lacked in skiers it made up for in skiing. I was surprised by the quality of the conditions. There was plenty of snow cover, even in the open meadows on the valley floor. The trails hadn’t been groomed Sunday morning, but it appeared they’d been groomed Saturday. The classic track was still holding up well, and some of the corduroy higher up hadn’t been hit at all hard.
Spring Gulch is sort of a terraced affair with trails climbing back and forth up the hillside until one reaches the uppermost trail, Finlandia, a long run that boasts great views of Mount Sopris and an irresistible downhill glide that finishes at a dead end. Then one must turn around and climb back out.
Given the paucity of skiers and a vast trail system, it felt like I was alone out there, climbing quietly through the sage and scrub oak, intent on reaching Finlandia. It’s not easy skiing, exactly. The trails offer some deceptively flat areas, though, considering I was really climbing switchbacks for most of the route.
The elevation gain is a lot more obvious on the descent. It’s best to have some snowplowing skills for the downhill run. If you don’t, you probably will by the time you finish.
I got back to the parking lot to find it packed, with more cars lining the road. The word is out after all.
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