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Outfitted: A Battle of the Seasons

As last weekend so unapologetically showed us, mountain weather will often refuse to bow to our holiday calendar. As snow, rain and freezing temps literally put a damper on my holiday weekend itinerary, my crew and I found ourselves ditching our camping and paddleboarding plans for a last-minute plan B. Sometimes living the mountain life means choosing your battles, and last weekend, it wasn’t a battle we were willing to fight. Below are some items that I busted out to soothe my wounded ego and bide my time until greener pastures return.

1. Kari Traa Ane Fleece

When it’s gloomy outside, turning to all things cozy is the name of the game. Kari Traa’s Ane midlayer is a cuddly and colorful fleece with a high button-up collar and elastic hem to keep out the cold. With a boxy, old-school cut and a retro two-tone color scheme, the Ane adds flashes of extra color on the trim and arm panels to add a little off-color cheer. Made with recycled material. $60, karitraa.com. Kari Traa products are also carried at the Ute Mountaineer in Aspen.

2. Skida Vista Knit Beanie

As any true mountain dweller knows, a good hat is a year-round treasure. I’ve recently been loving this cashmere and wool blend beanie from Skida. It keeps me warm for a few degrees longer before I break down and turn my heat back on. A simple chevron pattern knit detail is meant to inspire mountain vistas and the extra boost of 25% yak wool makes it super durable. Can be worn straight or cuffed. $68, karitraa.com. Skida products are also carried at the ACES Hallam Lake store in Aspen.

3. Kuhl Stretch Voyagr Rain Jacket

Whether it’s for a beer run or because nature is calling the dog, at some point you’ll need to leave the house. Kuhl’s Voyagr adds in a combination of stretch and softness to its waterproof protection. Lightweight and breathable, its relaxed fit makes it easy to layer a fleece underneath on colder days and makes it comfortable enough to become an every-day staple. Available in women’s and men’s sizes and colors. $159, kuhl.com. Kuhl products are also carried at Bristlecone Mountain Sports in Basalt.

4. Cotopaxi Veza Jogger

When my posse all showed up for our alternative plans last weekend, we were all wearing some form of a jogger pant. They seem to be the new publicly acceptable form of sweatpants. The mid-rise Veza is a more structured pant, but maintains that desired relaxed fit. An elastic waistband, tailored cuffs on the bottom, two hand pockets and a zippered stash pocket make them perfect for indoor or outdoor activity and would also be great for travel. Available in women’s and men’s sizes and colors. $89, cotopaxi.com. Cotopaxi products are also carried at the Ute Mountaineer in Aspen.

5. Landmark Project Smokey Bear 1000 Piece Puzzle

Even though rain and snow can lead to canceled plans, it’s good to remember that we should be thankful for the moisture. Fire season is upon us and we need all we can get. To combat boredom and a great way to pass the time until the sun comes back out, a puzzle is a great plan. This Smokey Bear puzzle reminds us not only of the immense issue of wildfires, but also the hard work of our fire fighters and Forest Service to keep us safe. 10% of Landmark Project’s Smokey Bear product proceeds go toward wildfire prevention education. $22.50, thelandmarkproject.com.

Gear Guide: Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day weekend always seems like the unofficial launch of summer. I myself am heading out and about on my first camping excursion of the season for some nature-inspired peace of mind. But don’t bust out those tank tops and flip flops just yet. Anything can happen as far as weather is concerned, so you need to be prepared. Here’s a list of new items I’ll be taking along as I try and force summer to happen this weekend whether she shows her face or not.

1. Kuhl Freeflex Roll-Up Pant

Equipped with ample stretch, these pants from Kuhl will flex with you but rebound to maintain their form. Side snaps allow you to roll them up when the weather gets warmer and the lightweight, moisture managing fabric is quick drying so they can even be used for chilly-day paddleboarding. A great go-to for a range of activities, the pants also incorporate UPF 50+ protection. $89, kuhl.com. Kuhl products are carried at Independence Run and Hike in Carbondale.

2. Mountain Hardwear Kor AirShell Hoody

Even though some sun is in the forecast, nights will be chilly this weekend as we’re not out of the winter woods yet. This breathable softshell will stand in as an ultralight, ultra packable midlayer that will keep the wind at bay and will add extra insulation in a pinch. I love it’s light, slim fit making it easy to layer while maintaining a bit of cozyness with strategically placed fleece in the pockets and back panels. Available in women’s and men’s colors and sizes. $130, mountainhardwear.com. Mountain Hardwear products are carried at Summit Canyon Mountaineering in Glenwood Springs.

3. Kelty Essential Camping Chair

All winter long I look forward to once again sitting around the campfire once the snow melts, and a sturdy, comfy chair is essential to that picture. This camp chair from Kelty is named just that, Essential. Built with adjustable arm rests and an insulated beverage holder, the chair’s padding design is really comfortable and it all conveniently rolls up into a padded tote storage bag with a hefty shoulder strap. $75, kelty.com. Kelty products are carried at Bristlecone Mountain Sports in Basalt.

4. Landmark Project Smokey the Bear Tee and Enamel Mug

With the beginning of summer unfortunately comes the threat of wildfire. As you start to once again enjoy campfires, spread the message of prevention. The Landmark Project has a variety of US Forest Service licensed Smokey Bear products to help keep fire safety at the forefront of everyone’s mind. This shirt and mug are two of my recent favs that bring about a sense of American nostalgia with fire prevention’s historic mascot. Landmark Project also donates a portion of all Smokey Bear product purchases to wildfire prevention education. Tee is $35, mug is $20. TheLandmarkProject.com.

5. Costa May Sunglasses

Inspired by the New Jersey beaches of Cape May, these sunnies from Costa are rich in history of East Coast American flair. A regular fit with a refined large square polarized lens shapes an acetate frame meant to convey intelligent and sophisticated styling reminiscent of coastal Victorian houses as well as the colors and patterns of the sea. Hopefully the holiday weekend will be full of sunshine making these stylish shades a necessity. $237, costadelmar.com. Costa products are carried at Bristlecone Mountain Sports in Basalt.

Outfitted: Gnarly Nutrition

The concept of hydration being key to higher performance isn’t a new one. However, people, myself included, often can’t seem to keep up with the hydration game. Add the increased stress on our bodies from high altitude activity and we mountain dwellers can fall behind the hydration eight ball before we even get started.

Just living our day-to-day life doing things like breathing and going to the bathroom constitutes a loss of 1-2 liters of water per day. When we start moving, our hearts, blood streams and kidneys start to go into overdrive and the water loss increases at an alarming rate. When we have less water in our blood stream (due to a drop in plasma levels), our blood becomes thicker and our hearts have to work harder to pump all that blood around. Just like an engine overheating, our internal temperature rises from the extra work and we either continue on to heat stroke or we just plain bonk. Obviously there is a lot more to the science of what happens in the body during exercise than that (don’t even get me started on carbohydrate utilization), but you get the general idea.

So, just drink a ton of water, right? That’s what I always thought until I learned that plain water actually has a poor absorption rate due to a lack of drivers such as glucose, sodium and potassium. That means it takes longer to replace water lost with plain H2O as opposed to drinking something with those absorption drivers included. Enter sport drinks.

I’ve always been a general hater of performance drinks. I have found them to generally be too sweet, syrupy, hard on my stomach and generally disgusting. But since I came upon some extended research about the benefits of absorption drivers, I decided to give them another go. When it comes to hauling my caboose up mountains, I’ll take all the help I can get.

Gnarly Sports Nutrition products came across my path recently and I’ve been super impressed with their offerings. Specifically designed for mountain athletes, Gnarly products contain strictly all-natural ingredients and are non-GMO, gluten-free, soy-free and NSF Content Certified (meaning they’ve gone through independent testing for label claims and contaminants).

For long hikes, I’ve been drinking their Fuel2O product that mixes directly into water. It comes in limeade, tropical and cherry cola flavors the latter of which has a little boost of caffeine added. Each serving delivers 100 calories of carbohydrates and 250 mg of sodium, and is geared as a catch-all for fueling, replenishment and recovery. Personally, I found the mixes a little on the sweet side, so I just dilute them a bit more than the directions recommend.

An added element of the Fuel2O line is the addition of HMB, or Hydroxymethylbutyrate, a natural metabolite produced when the body breaks down leucine. Leucine is a branched-chain amino acid that is one of the critical building blocks of protein. This just means that HMB helps to minimize the breakdown of muscles during activity and kickstarts muscle repair.

Gnarly also has an assortment of other nutrition supplements like whey and vegan proteins, electrolyte powder, performance greens and collagen. These are all great options for additions to your pre-workout smoothie. If you’re just starting out, I recommend getting the sample box as an affordable way to try out the entire line. There’s also a Fuel2O sampler pack available.

Gnarly products are available online at gonarly.com. The Fuel2O sampler pack is $9.50 and the protein sample box is $15.

Stuck in the Rockies: Making sense of the dust on snow phenomenon

Skinning up above Clear Lake in the San Juan Mountains on a recent weekend. (Ted Mahon)

The transformation of the Roaring Fork Valley each spring from its dormant winter state to an awakened living environment is a beautiful thing to witness. Birds arrive, the creeks start flowing, the trees bud— everything comes to life. This year, as the valley slowly morphs into its green, verdant state, the little snow that remains on the nearby mountains is brown.

Most would agree the 2021-22 ski season was a good one. But, unfortunately, it ended with multiple dust events. On several occasions at the end of the ski season, the new snow we received from spring storms was accompanied by a considerable amount of airborne dust and dirt.

This type of weather phenomenon occurs every year to varying degrees. Sometimes it’s an isolated, barely noticeable event. If it’s early in the season, it can be buried deep in the snowpack and is less of an issue.

This year, Colorado experienced repeated dust events late in the season that were more severe than usual. By mid-April, the snow on the mountains around Aspen was visibly brown.

From a skier’s perspective, the dirty snow is impossible to ignore. Not only is it unsightly, but it changes the snow surface. It adds resistance — on steeper slopes, you can feel a drag, and on mellower angles, it can stop you in your tracks.

The water percolates through the snowpack or is lost to evaporation as the surface snow melts. However, the dust remains, consolidating into a more distinct layer on the surface.

Subsequent storms can bury this surface dust layer, which can be problematic for stability. Buried dust layers have been blamed for fatal spring avalanches here in Colorado.

As the spring progresses, the surface dust layer becomes more concentrated. The darker surface absorbs even more solar radiation, accelerating the rate of snowmelt. That can effectively end the backcountry season much earlier than usual.

Other outdoor recreation groups feel its effect too. River flows peak early and fade quickly, shortening the high-water kayak season. Commercial raft organizations encounter lower water earlier in the summer, limiting their business. Anglers confront the same issue. Low flows and warmer waters affect the fishing season and the fish themselves.

But the consequences of dust on snow go way beyond simply drawing the ire of the outdoor community. The mountain snowpack is a water storage reservoir in itself, and its accelerated depletion has broad-ranging ramifications across cities and states throughout the western U.S..

My friend Jeff Deems is well-versed on the topic. In addition to living in the valley and being a backcountry skier, he’s a PhD and research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, studying mountain snowpack dynamics.

He’s also the co-founder of Airborne Snow Observatories (ASO), which provides accurate snowmelt runoff forecasts for various cities, river districts, states, and federal agencies. They measure snow depth and snow water equivalent and snow albedo across entire watersheds.

Albedo is a scientific term to measure and describe the proportion of light or radiation that is reflected by a surface. Highly reflective surfaces have a high albedo. Darker surfaces have a lower albedo — they reflect less and absorb more incoming solar radiation.

Fresh white winter snow has a high albedo. According to Deems, who has been measuring albedo since 2006: “With winter snow you’re getting 98% of the visible wavelengths reflected by the snowpack. And a dusty snowpack like we’re seeing right now in the San Juans, 33% albedo was just measured. So that means that 66% of the incoming sun is getting absorbed by the snowpack.”

His research has demonstrated that dust is a significant contributor to melting — considerably more potent than the air temperature. He estimated that the snowpack will be gone a month or more earlier than usual this year just because of the dust.

While that is disappointing for the outdoor community, it’s a serious concern for water managers in cities and states across the west. While this year has been particularly bad, Deems noted that this phenomenon has been taking place for some time.

”Some colleagues have been using lake sediment cores from the San Juans to look at annual dust deposition. And there’s a marked uptick in the amount of dust coming into Colorado from the late 1800’s. So commensurate with the expansion of European settlement in the Western U.S. and the introduction of large numbers of grazing animals really disrupting the soil crust out in the Colorado Plateau, leading to greater dust emission.”

Skiing dust-covered snow on South Lookout Peak. (Christy Mahon)

“And we’re seeing that continue. And now it’s not just cows and sheep, but oil and gas exploration and other development and recreation and all kinds of things. And lately, climate change is really having an impact with the persistent and worsening aridification of the landscape.”

Aridification is the process of a region becoming increasingly dry over many years, leaving the ground more prone to erosion. When you combine that condition with various types of surface disturbances, all that’s needed is some wind and weather to stir it all up and you get airborne sediment in the atmosphere.

So why not just trace the source and mitigate the dust? If it originated from a single location, that might be an option, but the fact is it can come from all over.

I still recall the first time I saw dust on the snow on Aspen Mountain in the late ’90s. Then, rumors swirled in gondola conversations that the sediment that turned the moguls brown originated from a Mongolian dust storm.

Jeff said it couldn’t be ruled out. “We do get dust out of Mongolia, by the time it makes its way over here, it’s pretty much just a super fine stuff. It can impact the snow. But when you look out and see brown snow, that’s local, or that’s regional dust from the Southwest.”

He went on to say, “Typically, the southwesterly is the main dust producer. But we can get the dust out of the Great Basin in Central Utah as well— on a more westerly trajectory. Those tend to produce more of the grays and yellows. When it’s the rust to deep red, that’s typically Colorado Plateau via a Southwesterly.”

As spring progresses the dust becomes more concentrated on the surface. (Ted Mahon)

Even though we know where it’s originating, mitigating the dust across such a vast area isn’t practical. The only thing water managers and the outdoor community can do is hold onto hope that the drought conditions gripping the west improve and the aridification process slows or even reverses. Increased moisture leads to increased vegetation, which can help the soil recover and keep the dust and sediment on the ground and out of the air.

When you understand the seriousness of the larger issue, it can feel petty to complain about its effect on the ski conditions. Deems admits that it’s pretty shallow to view this increasingly dire issue solely through the narrow prism of how it affects the snow. And yet, he insists that the visceral experience of skiing on dust serves as a good entry point for conversations within the community about this much bigger problem.

That makes a lot of sense. The outdoor community is often a first-hand witness to changes in our environment. So if lackluster snow conditions lead to conversations about the more severe issues occurring before our eyes, that’s a good thing.

In the meantime Deems still hopes to ski Sopris this season, if he can get up there before all the snow melts away.


For more info and data, check out these resources online.

Colorado Dust on Snow Program


Airborne Snow Observatories


Ted Mahon moved out to Aspen to ski for a season 25 years ago and has been stuck in the Rockies ever since. Contact him at ted@tedmahon.com or on Instagram @tedmahon

Stuck in the Rockies: Spring Thaw

Car camping at a BLM campsite in the Castle Valley. (Ted Mahon)

We had just wrapped up a memorable ski day at Snowmass and were at Il Poggio when the server came up to say hello. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, the conversation turned to what we were up to on that beautiful day.

We offered a brief run-down of the skiing and good snow we found. The server seemed interest-ed, though only mildly. He then proceeded to say,”I just got back from Moab, and it was incredible.”

I don’t believe he intended to one-up us, but it felt like he did. Of course, we’re always happy to be skiing. But after a long winter and busy ski season, the prospect of some time away from the snow was immensely appealing. His mention of the desert suddenly brought forth thoughts of activities that I had sidelined since the start of winter: mountain biking, basking in warm sun, gathering around campfires.

Having distinct seasons is part of the broad appeal of living in Colorado. After five months of skiing in the winter— as much as we all love it— the prospect of the approaching summer gets us fired up.

You can feel the same energy in the late fall as the summer winds down, the temperatures dip, and the first snow arrives. The cycle deserves some credit for keeping a lot of us around— just as one season starts to feel routine, a new one begins.

The interaction at the restaurant was the first time this year that I thought about non-winter activities. It left me feeling energized to get out to the warmth of the desert. It was time to come up with a plan.

For the inaugural trip of the spring, I usually like to keep it pretty basic. I don’t need to go too far or be too deep in the hard-to-reach spots. I’m OK being around other people and campers. I want to get on some good trails and feel some of the summer vibes. And for that, Moab is the perfect spot.

The snow capped La Sal Mountains and Fischer Towers on the scenic highway into Moab. (Ted Mahon)

The most accessible place for me to start is biking the Klondike Bluffs area. Located north of Moab and to the east of Highway 191, this area boasts twenty-five named trails totaling 77 miles. Most of them fall in the beginner to intermediate range, with a few expert-level trails to challenge yourself. If there are non-bikers in the group, the options are suitable for hiking or trail running, and the crowds are often relatively light.

It’s far enough from town that you don’t quite feel the level of crowds you might if you were closer to Moab. However, be sure to pack all your food, water, and other items before you get there. It’s a bit of a haul to get to the supermarket if you’re short on anything.

Another draw to the Klondike Bluffs is that it still offers a lot of dispersed camping, which is be-coming increasingly limited in the Moab area as the area’s popularity surges.

Camping at the Klondike Bluffs area. (Ted Mahon)

It’s been reported that the land managers may be clamping down on that open camping style in the years ahead. But for now, it’s still allowed. So pick a nice spot suitable for your group, ideally in a previously established location. It’s essential to abide by “leave no trace” practices whenever you’re camping, especially in the desert where impacts can take a long time to recover.

A second option for early season forays to Moab is the region near the entrance to Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point State Park.

Turn on Highway 313 towards Island in the Sky and enjoy the scenic road towards Canyonlands National Park. After several miles, you’ll reach the Navajo Rocks trail system. According to Mountain Bike Project, it offers 101 miles of trails, all at an intermediate level (though some stretches may feel more challenging).

The view from Dead Horse Point State Park. (Ted Mahon)

The trails form a large loop that crosses Highway 313 in several spots. That allows you to do shorter sections of the system if the entire 17-mile loop is too long. Then, you can conveniently return to trailheads and your vehicle to refill on water and food or use the BLM outhouses.

The backdrop is also a bit more scenic than the Klondike Bluffs area.

Further up the road, you’ll come to trailheads for the Gemini Bridges Road area, adjacent to the Navajo Rocks loops. It’s one of the older trail networks in the Moab region. The blue/black level trails here can fill an entire day, including a couple of one-way directional routes for those who want to open it up on faster descents.

Further up the road from there is Dead Horse Point State Park. It’s a beautiful location near Canyonlands with outstanding views of the Colorado River and canyon country.

Stopping at an overlook on the Dead Horse Point Trail. (Ted Mahon)

There’s a Visitor’s Center for the tourists and a network of intermediate trails to keep you busy for the morning. And the singletrack along the canyon rim of Dead Horse Point might have the best views. A 14-mile loop called the Dead Horse Point Tour is a great way to see all this state park offers.

You can set up for the night at the nearby Horsethief Campground at the end of the day. Consider the Lone Mesa group site closer to Navajo Rocks if you have a large group. You’ll need to make a reservation in advance there – it’s a popular spot.

You can find more information on these campgrounds and others in the area on the recreation.gov website. These days, if you’re planning a trip to Moab during the busy times of the spring season, you’ll need to make a campsite reservation in advance.

For additional information on some of the trail networks and others in the Moab area, visit the Mountain Bike Project website at mtbproject.com. Or download the app which is a handy tool to help you stay on the trail and keep your outing on track.

If you’re looking for dispersed camping in the area, head out on the Mineral Basin Road. The long dirt road leads to the Green River, and there are ample pull-outs for the van life crowd and other car campers to find a happy place for the night under the stars.

The spring skiing will continue for many through the end of May. But that doesn’t mean you can’t work some summer activities into the routine. It’s time to begin the transition to summer. I know exactly where I’m going to go to start.

Outfitted: On the Road Again

(Dino Reichmuth/Unsplash)

Road trips can be trickier than you think.

They can have the wonderful nature of being spontaneous and free spirited, but a little planning goes a long way for comfort and peace of mind. The open road has enough uncertainty as it is. For instance, just last week a woman fell head first into a national park outhouse and was stuck for about 30 minutes in the toilet vault. Since she fell in trying to retrieve her cell phone, thankfully she was able to call for help after failing to get herself out on her own. Although none of these items will save you from such bad decisions, they are a few great additions to your cache for any adventure past the roundabout.

1. Thermarest Juno Blanket and Compressible Pillow

(Courtesy photo)
(Courtesy photo)

Just like when you were a kid, you should never leave home without your pillow and blankie. These packable ones from Thermarest are new favs. Lightweight, warm and silky-soft to the touch, the Juno blanket can easily transition from the car to the campfire or picnic and it has snaps if you want to turn it into a cozy cape. I especially appreciate its portability since it fits into its own pocket making it easy to throw into a backpack no matter where you’re headed. The pillow packs relatively small with a cinch cord design and comes in matching patterns and colors to the blanket. The cord also acts as a way to adjust your desired firmness of the upcycled foam filler. Blanket: $70, Pillow in small/medium/large: $30, 35, 45 thermarest.com

2. Otterbox Venture 45 Cooler with Side Table

(Courtesy photo)

Otterbox tested their Venture coolers by letting some grizzlies have their way with them, so you know they’re tough (although you need to purchase the locking kit to officially certify it against bears). What makes the Venture coolers stand out are the accessories. Available are all terrain wheels, separators, a side table with a cutting board and clips to attach your Otterbox dryboxes. I personally like the side table for road trips. It has three deep cup holders and a removable cutting board for additional surface area. It’s great to be able to just pull out your cooler from the back of the car and create a hangout space with a couple of chairs. Venture 45: $300, Side Table: $70, otterbox.com

3. Klean Kanteen Insulated Bottle with Chug Cap

(Courtesy photo)

Even though you don’t want to have to keep stopping to use the bathroom (apparently they are more dangerous than we think!), I’m still a believer that hydration is key on any roadtrip. It’ll make you sleep better, feel refreshed and clearheaded. This 32 oz. stainless steel vacuum insulated bottle from Klean Kanteen is a new favorite. The chug cap design is perfect for quick sips while driving, and the wide cap easily comes off for filling and cleaning. A well-thought-out feature is that the chug cap clicks into the side handle so it doesn’t slap you in the face while you’re taking a drink. Perhaps the most impressive is its insulation. I used this bottle on an cross-country road trip last winter and ice stayed intact for around 3 days even when it was inside a heated environment. $45, kleankanteen.com

Where are moose in Aspen coming from?

Moose aren’t native to Colorado and the Roaring Fork Valley, but you’d never know it.

They’re the largest member of the deer family and found throughout the northern regions of North America, but historical records dating back to the 1850s indicate only the occasional, transient moose wandered into northern Colorado from Wyoming, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). They did not establish a breeding population.

State wildlife officials first began considering bringing moose (Alces alces) to Colorado in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until 1978 that 24 male and female moose from Wyoming and Utah were brought to the North Park area of Colorado to create a breeding population and hunting opportunities, according to CPW. Additional reintroduction efforts followed around the state, including the release of 91 moose in the Grand Mesa National Forest, to the west of the Roaring Fork and Crystal River valleys, in 2005-2007.

It was only a matter of time until the animals began to wander in Aspen’s direction.

At first, local moose sightings were sporadic – a bull moose startled a couple of anglers on the Fryingpan River in 2007. Another one was spotted in Missouri Heights at about the same time. In 2008, a young bull moose attracted a crowd when it strolled into the parking lot at the Orchard Plaza shopping complex in the midvalley, having wandered more than 50 miles from the Grand Mesa. CPW tranquilized the animal and returned it to the Mesa. These and other sightings were generally celebrated as exhilarating interactions with a species that many Coloradans had never seen before.

By 2010, sightings were increasingly frequent, thanks in part to a pair of female moose that took up residence in the vicinity of Maroon Lake. Trackable by their ear tags, the cows were identified as siblings that were transplanted from Utah to an area southeast of Gunnison after their mother was injured and had to be euthanized. The young cows made their way north to Aspen, some 40 miles distant. Nature being what it is, a bull found his way to the Maroon Creek drainage in 2012 and by the following spring, there were moose calves at Maroon Lake. The animals have made a place for themselves at the scenic, tourist hotspot ever since.

A bull moose and cow rest in a bed of snow near Maroon Creek Road in the Maroon Bells Wilderness area outside of Aspen on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times


With an estimated 3,000 moose now inhabiting Colorado, including an unknown, but growing number in Pitkin County, interactions with moose are becoming commonplace and, occasionally, scary. Moose are the state’s largest wildlife species and the most dangerous. Adults weigh 800 to 1,200 pounds and bulls stand up to 6 feet tall at the shoulder. They may live up to 20 years in the wild.

Though their countenance and behavior sometimes make moose appear pleasantly docile, they are unpredictable animals that behave aggressively when they perceive a threat. Because dogs remind moose of wolves, one of their only natural predators, moose attacks on humans often involve dogs, according to CPW. Keeping dogs leashed while hiking is important for the protection of all involved in a moose encounter.

The best approach in dealing with a moose is to not approach. CPW suggests the “rule of thumb” measure – if you see a moose, stick your thumb out at arm’s length. If the thumb covers the moose, you are theoretically a safe distance away. If you surprise a moose, back away slowly. If the moose licks its snout, pins its ears back or raises the hackles on its neck and back, it may be ready to charge. You cannot outrun a moose (unless you can run 35 miles per hour).

Instead, put something large between you and the moose – a stout tree trunk, a boulder, a car, etc. If a moose attacks, it attempts to stomp its intended target, be it a dog or a human.


A moose calf eyes a paddler at North Star Nature Preserve. (Pitkin County Open Space & Trails)

Pitkin County’s North Star Nature Preserve is perfect moose habitat, and the animals are seen regularly there. While a float down the Roaring Fork River through North Star has become a popular pastime during the summer months, the preserve is managed first and foremost for wildlife.

Signs are posted on open spaces where moose are active. (Pitkin County Open Space & Trails)

Signs warn river users about the potential for moose encounters at North Star and the risks such interactions pose. Open Space and Trails rangers may close access to the Preserve in the event of aggressive moose behavior.

Keep in mind, dogs are not allowed to float the river through the preserve and are not permitted anywhere on the land at North Star. Paddlers are required to stay on their watercraft for the North Star float and should be prepared to stop a safe distance from a moose – 100 yards, or the length of a football field, is advisable – and wait until the animal moves on. It could be a long wait.

Moose are an exciting addition to the watchable wildlife at North Star and elsewhere, but they demand a new level of caution in the pursuit of outdoor recreation. Be prepared to encounter them just about anywhere, whether it’s downtown Aspen, Smuggler Mountain, Hunter Creek or the Rio Grande Trail. Moose cover impressive distances as they pursue their favored habitat – marshy or riparian areas with willows for forage.


Within the Roaring Fork Valley, opportunities to harvest a moose have grown along with the moose population. Moose hunting takes place in September and October.

A moose peers out from alongside the East of Aspen Trail. (Pitkin County Open Space & Trails)

In 2019, the only local Game Management Unit (GMU) with an available moose license was GMU 43. which covers an area south of the Roaring Fork River from roughly Glenwood Springs to Castle Creek near Aspen. One bull license was available. In 2021, one cow license and one bull license were available in GMU 43, and one bull and one cow were harvested. CPW is proposing two bull licenses and one cow license in GMU 43 this year.

In addition, one cow and two bull licenses are now available for the combined units of 47, 471 and 444. GMU 47 covers most of the area north and east of Highway 82, including Woody Creek and Hunter Creek; GMU 471 encompasses the area south of 82 from Independence Pass to Castle Creek. Last fall, all three hunting tags resulted in harvests – one cow and two bull moose were taken.


A woman watches as a moose nibbles on a budding tree in downtown Aspen on Thursday, April 22, 2021 | Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

Safety and Moose Behavior

Moose have very few natural enemies in the wild and, as a result, do not fear humans as much as most other big game species. Moose tolerate humans longer and at closer distances. They are extremely curious and often will approach humans or houses, and even will look into windows. For these reasons, it is extremely important to understand moose behavior when living in or visiting the areas they inhabit.

Female moose (cows) are very protective of their young (calves), so they can be dangerous if approached or caught off guard. Bulls can also be aggressive and territorial, especially during the breeding season (rut) in the fall. Moose have also taken over feed yards and haystacks and will defend them from any and all intruders, whether they’re livestock or human.

These formidable beasts need their space and must be given command and respect when observed in the wild.

•Signs of moose aggression include laid back ears, raised hairs on the neck, and licking of the snout

•Avoid animals that are behaving belligerently or abnormally.

•Keep pets away, as moose can get quite aggressive around them. Be especially cautious when walking dogs.

•If a moose displays aggressive behavior or begins to charge, run as fast as you can and try to put a large object between you such as a boulder, car or tree

While moose encounters with people are quite common, moose cause few problems. However, moose have “treed” people who have approached them too closely, have killed or injured pets or livestock, and have chased people away from territories they are defending. Caution and common sense go a long way in preventing potential problems with moose.

Watching Moose

•Look for moose sign—large tracks, droppings, browsed willows—along the edges of willow bottoms and aspen or pine forests. It will be evident if moose are present.

•Moose tracks are very large and often show dewclaws (a rudimentary claw or small hoof not reaching the ground) in snow or mud.

•Find a high spot that looks down into drainages for an excellent vantage point.

•Drive slowly along logging roads on national forest lands that parallel drainages.

•Moose sounds are limited to grunting, with bulls being the most vocal during the mating season.

•Moose do not herd into large groups as do many species of big game, even in winter. They prefer to travel in small family groups or to remain secluded.

•Never approach moose too closely. Watch and photograph from safe distances using telephoto lenses, binoculars and spotting scopes.

•Move slowly and not directly at them. Back off if they exhibit signs of aggression, such as the hair on their neck standing up, licking their snout, cocking their head, and rolling their eyes and ears back.

•Moose are excellent swimmers and very much at home in the water, which can be a good place to view them.

— Colorado Parks & Wildlife

On the Fly: The caddis are coming

The lower Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers are starting to make the switch from blue-winged olives to caddis hatches. The first few days of the hatch are always interesting; it takes the fish a minute to remember what the heck caddis are. They are starting to recall now, and are looking up and eating adults after weeks of snacking on caddis larvae.

The caddis hatch is on at local rivers, which means for stellar fishing conditions.
Courtesy of Taylor Creek Fly Shops

Last week’s refusals on big dry flies will turn in to this week’s ferocious takedowns. Running double dries is a deadly combination, and if you have trouble with one fish on the end of your line, try fighting two at once! The Roaring Fork is absolutely crawling with caddis larvae, and it’s time for caddis to start their annual rituals of hatching, mating, laying eggs and dying. Sex and death, as John Geirach says.

There are a few techniques that are crucial to your fishing time, starting with having plenty of floatant. Your line, leader, tippet and fly must float well or you will be missing fish all day. Sunken dry flies usually don’t cut it with finicky trout, and caddis fishing requires high and dry presentations on your part. Imparting motion to your dry flies from the second they light upon the water until you go to recast is practically a must. Real caddis don’t just sit there and wait to get eaten, they are struggling to launch or at least make it to shore before trouble comes in the form of a hungry fish. Move them, skate them and “bump” them all the way through your drift.

Lastly, across and downstream casts make this much easier to do on your part. This technique has trickled into most of my dry fly fishing, whether it’s caddis, blue wings, pale morning duns, green drakes and even midges. Repositioning or twitching your flies is much easier when they’re downstream versus upstream. Be sure to get on the water on our upcoming hot and bright days, then get back to the water at dusk to catch the egg layer caddis frenzy. It’s time, are you ready?

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or TaylorCreek.com.

Outfitted: LifeStraw introduces new technology with Peak Series

Last month I read an article that said approximately 80% of us have microplastic polymers flowing through our blood. Apparently, those tiny particles latch onto our red blood cells and limit the transport of oxygen through out the body. Just what we mountain dwellers need, more oxygen troubles.

When plastic isn’t weighing us down, it seems bacteria and parasites are creeping in. One of my favorite podcasts, “This Podcast Will Kill You” dedicates each episode to the science, history and current state of common diseases, and it’s mind boggling how many are waterborne. Whether plastics, pesticides or wee beasties are plaguing our water sources, the need for safe drinking water is more essential than ever.

Camping, backpacking and travel are times when we should be on high alert in the water department. LifeStraw recently upgraded their classic LifeStraw filter after 17 years of user comments and implementing some new technology. Along with that update, they introduced their new Peak Series in March. Designed to be portable, affordable and safe, the series includes five products of varying size: the personal water filter straw ($20), a collapsible squeeze bottle filter in 650 ml or 1 liter size ($33-38) and gravity filter systems in 3 ($60) or 8 liter sizes ($80, available mid-May).

LifeStraw technology is centered around hollow fiber membranes that resemble bundles of straws with microscopic holes in them. Those holes are so small that organisms like bacteria, parasites, and even dirt and microplastics cannot pass through. In addition, extra combinations of filtration technology is to address viruses, lead, chemicals and taste.

A step up from the classic straw is the soft-sided squeeze bottle — an all-in-one storage and filtration device. This is my current fav for its light weight and collapsible portability. The BPA-free material is durable enough to endure the long haul without having to worry about rips, punctures and tears. A great feature is that the filter can be removed from the soft vessel to be used with another bottle.

For larger groups, the 3 or 8 liter gravity system is simple, lightweight and compatible. It focuses on a high flow rate and ability to remove sand and silt without clogging, and is also designed to take a beating. Fully leak-proof, it’s great for cutting down on those laps back to the river from base camp.

Perhaps one of LifeStraw’s best characteristics is their dedication to impacting safe water practices around the world. For every product purchased, they promise a child in need receives safe water for an entire school year. They also take part in humanitarian and emergency response work. Currently, LifeStraw is working to provide safe water to Ukrainian refugees and also has ongoing projects to benefit Haiti and North American indigenous communities.

LifeStraw products are carried at local gear shops such as Ute Mountaineer and Bristlecone Mountain Sports, but can also be purchased online at LifeStraw.com.

Asher on Aspen: Getting Lost in the Trees

(Aspen Times archive)

We secured a red gondola and immediately pulled out our phones to pair the music to Bluetooth. Was it a Kygo, Kenny Chesney, or Rolling Stones type of ride? I’m a firm believer that the music on the 17-minute journey up the mountain sets the tone for the rest of the day. I leaned over to tighten my boots while my friend stuck her arm out the window to capture a video. The sun was shining, the temps were in the mid-50s and it was shaping up to be yet another beautiful bluebird day on Aspen Mountain.

While discussing where we would ski first, my friend — visiting from Denver —confessed that she was tired of skiing the same runs with me. “We always just do laps on Ajax Express and then go for a drink at the sundeck,” she said. After reminiscing about her previous ski trips in Aspen, we decided it was time for her to explore more of the mountain. Part of what makes Ajax so unique is its series of shrines hidden in the trees that pay respect to legendary locals, musicians, athletes, cultures, and even animals. After telling her about these secret sanctuaries, we spontaneously decided to embark on a shrine tour of Aspen Mountain.

Many people visiting don’t realize the sheer number of unseen shrines and memorials hidden in the glades. For over four decades, locals have been ducking through the trees to establish concealed hideouts dedicated to their favorite hero’s and loved ones. The sanctuaries remain unseen from the average skier’s view while cruising down the groomers. These shrines are typically found in tight, dense trees. So it is recommended to be well-versed in skiing in the pines before setting out to find these special places.

The mystique and whereabouts of these shrines are half the fun. Their exact locations should only be revealed by word of mouth and by means of exploration. To continue in this spirit, I will reveal the general vicinity of a handful of shrines, but I refuse to give away their exact coordinates. With only a few days left of Aspen Mountain being open for the season, I implore you to try and find these on your own. After all, this closing weekend will be your last chance until next season when Thanksgiving rolls around.

Our journey started with the easily accessible Jerry Garcia shrine located on Ruthie’s run. Skiers come here to pay tribute to the lead guitarist and vocalist of the psychedelic rock band The Grateful Dead. There is an old guitar with a couple missing strings hanging loosely from a branch with lyrics scribbled on the front. Street signs that read “Stoner Ave” and “Grateful Dead” are nailed down across the trees and several bouquets of red roses dangle from the branches. There are even a few leaves of marijuana that have been strategically placed as well as several hand-drawn photographs and printed images of Garcia tacked down to the tree trunks.

Nearby, skiers will also find a shrine dedicated to Aspen locals who have passed away. It was a pleasant surprise to find a laminated picture of my Aunt Gunilla (former publisher of The Aspen Times) nailed down to a tree for everyone to see. I couldn’t help but smile and feel inspired to bring more pictures of her and dedicate an entire tree in her honor. What a remarkable way to carry on someone’s legacy.

Next, we ventured over to Buckhorn and veered right after the catwalk. Here, we dipped into the trees and found Bob Marley’s shrine. My favorite part about this memorial is the fort constructed of branches and twigs that holds a wooden bench inside for people to sit down and enjoy the view. Jamaican flags fill the nearby tree trunks along with framed pictures of lyrics from his most celebrated songs. The view from this location is quite spectacular and I envision it to be the perfect spot for a picnic ski break.

Our next mission was to find the Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe shrines located deep in the trees near Ridge of Bell. This is rumored to be the first shrine ever on the mountain built in the 1970s after Elvis passed away. While getting lost in the glades trying to track down the King of Rock and America’s ultimate diva, we stumbled upon a shrine dedicated to the culture and people of Scotland. We stopped for a moment to browse pictures of castles, bagpipes, and men in kilts before we continued our search.

(Aspen Times archive)

On the verge of giving up after skiing through several paths of tight trees, we eventually found Elvis Presley Boulevard (as the locals call it). The strenuous hunt for this particular shrine made it even more worth it once we finally discovered its whereabouts. Here, skiers will find several trees with pictures of the actress herself as well as two fully covered tree trunks dedicated to the famous rock star. License plates, keychains, beads, old concert posters, photographs, and other memorabilia filled the trees that honor this legendary musician. Given the storied history between the two, it seems appropriate that their shrines are placed next to each other.

Our tour merely scratched the surface of all the shrines that the mountain has to offer. Other notable shrines on Ajax include John Denver, Jimi Hendrix, Hunter S. Thompson, The Beatles, Jimmy Buffet, 9/11, golfers, cowboys, and many more. To see them for yourself, be sure to scout out a ski patroller or ask a local to point you in the right direction. Getting lost in the trees to find these special places makes for quite a rewarding scavenger hunt.

I challenge you to soak up these last four days of skiing Aspen Mountain and find these shrines for yourself. Just like the picture I found of my aunt; you may just come across something entirely unexpected. Happy hunting. And happy closing day.