Enjoying the outdoors off-season style
Vail CO, Colorado
Forget moving to the Vail Valley for the winters and staying for the summers: Jamie Wilson Gunion is all about fall.
“That’s why I live here,” says Gunion, who grew up in Eagle County. “It’s just gorgeous.”
Only in this valley would a season trademarked by rolling hillsides aflame in golden aspen leaves be considered the “off season.” But that reputation is fine by locals like Gunion, director of marketing for the Vail Recreation District, who don’t mind hoarding autumn’s spectacular views and crisp days to themselves. While tourists and many residents choose the gap between Labor Day and ski season’s opening day to escape the High Country, those who stay find no shortage of ways to continue enjoying the outdoors.
“It’s a great time of year to ride,” says Jeff Mohrman, co-owner of Colorado Bike Service in Eagle-Vail. “Nobody really cares who’s faster than who. It’s just a cool time of year.”
Recreation in the off season generally divides into two opposing camps: Those who prolong the summer and those who hasten the winter. So whether you’ve spent the summer leaving tracks on bike trails or longing to make tracks in powder once more, it turns out fall isn’t so “off” after all.
It takes more than a few snow flurries and falling leaves to force Hannah Irwin to hang up her hiking boots for the skiing variety. The naturalist at the Vail Nature Center leads hikes all summer long, and though the guided hikes ended Oct. 1, Irwin’s still busy hitting the trail. She keeps hiking virtually until the mountain opens, savoring the views from Bighorn Creek Trail, Gore Creek Trail and Lonesome Lake Trail.
“It’s definitely gorgeous this time of year,” says Irwin, who says she’s been surprised this season by the number of hikers still visiting the Nature Center for autumn hiking advice.
For people determined to put boot to dirt throughout the fall, Irwin recommends bringing hats and gloves to handle changing weather and wearing waterproof boots to deal with soggy, snowed-on trails.
Ask an avid local mountain biker for an autumn trail recommendation, and there’s a good chance they’ll point you to Meadow Mountain near Minturn. Dense aspens make the trail a delight in the fall ” even after they’ve shed their leaves, Mohrman says. He loves the challenge of staying on the obscured, slippery trail once the leaves hit the ground and start to release their earthy, autumn scent.
Mohrman disagrees with riders who think once the trees are barren, there’s no more biking to be had.
“It’s biking season as long as you want to ride,” he says. “We just kind of follow the snow down and end up in Fruita.”
The downvalley migration is a common coping mechanism for hikers and bikers wishing to prolong their seasons once snow arrives in earnest to the High Country. But once the valley is covered in white, most know it’s time to stay home.
“Usually when the cycling disappears, the skiing’s probably pretty good,” Mohrman says.
Before snow has even begun to accumulate in town, some of the valley’s diehard winter addicts are already heading into the hills. Depending on the year, Vail Pass, Shrine Pass and even Beaver Creek and Vail mountains can be a winter wonderland for snowshoers long before the lifts start turning.
Mia Stockdale, co-owner of the Vail Nordic Center, sometimes takes a break from her mountain bike ” and her annual off-season surfing vacation ” to snowshoe around the Vail Pass Recreation Area or to the top of Spruce Saddle at Beaver Creek. For early-season snowshoeing, she recommends basically any of the local hiking trails that don’t get a lot of direct sun, including Stone Creek Trail in Eagle-Vail.
If you think Nov. 21 just can’t come fast enough, you’re not alone. Plenty of locals, like Double Diamond Ski Shop Manager Adam Hart, have found ways to snap into their skis well before the masses come to town.
One not-so-secret local spot for preseason skiing is Chair 10 on Vail Mountain. For the last five years, Hart has joined the contingent of locals who drive up the access road to the bottom of Chair 10, then hike up and ski down. After a few snowstorms have come through, enough snow usually collects in that area to sustain a few runs, Hart says.
“It’s definitely cool to get first tracks up there,” he says.
Another favorite spot of Hart and others seeking the season’s first first tracks is Vail Pass, particularly on the north side of Interstate 70. For Hart, taking advantage of the season’s first snowflakes is more than just fun ” it’s also satisfying.
“You’re making turns,” he says. “And other people aren’t.”
Sarah Stewart is a freelance writer based in Breckenridge. E-mail comments or questions about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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