Winter in Vail Mountain’s woods |

Winter in Vail Mountain’s woods

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyDavid Pomells, right, from Jamaica, holds his girlfriend, Suzette Morrison's hand Tuesday during the free snowshoe tour at the top of Eagle's Nest on Colorado's Vail Mountain.

VAIL, Colorado ” With the Gore Range at their backs and the Sawatch Range before them, a group of snowshoers headed into the woods of Eagle’s Nest on Colorado’s Vail Mountain.

“Wow,” someone breathed as the group surveyed the Game Creek Bowl and the peaks beyond.

The hike was one of several snowshoe tours offered in Vail as part of the Gore Range Natural Science School’s winter programs. One leaves daily at 3 p.m. from the science school yurt at Eagle’s Nest, and other special hikes take place on full-moon weekends or at night.

The tours are free of charge and snowshoes are provided.

On the tours, guides from the science school discuss everything from pine beetle devastation of the area’s forests to the winter sleeping programs of bears.

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“Did you know that bears do not hibernate?” asked Kirsten Kuhn, a winter naturalist and snowshoe guide.

To be considered hibernating, animals must bring their body temperature down to the surrounding temperature, Kuhn explained.

Bears, with their sizable mass, don’t do that, although they do bring their heart rates down to eight beats per minute. A bear’s winter sleep is called “dormancy,” Kuhn said.

The hikes don’t require any snowshoe experience, and it is a great way to see and learn about the mountain in a unique way, said winter naturalist Betsy Friedlander.

The science school offers the tours as a way to “inspire stewardship” through experience, she said.

“Sometimes people walk away with a new way to look at the world,” she said. “They can look at the world through a naturalist’s point of view, and it’s cool to be able to hand those glasses over to people.”

The tours are also great introductions to snowshoeing and are an activity for people who don’t ski, she said.

Other tours, such as the night tours, feature lessons on astronomy and moon phases. Tours leaving from the Minturn Forest Service station are longer and take hikers up Meadow Mountain.

For snowboarder Phil Davis, hiking through the woods instead of riding through them definitely gave him a different perspective.

Davis, of London, was on vacation with some friends until he hurt his arm in a fall. Stuck in a sling and tired of waiting in the village while his friends rode, he decided to join the hike.

“It’s not something I would have done otherwise, but it was neat,” said Davis. “It’s nice to see the scenery. When we’re boarding we don’t necessarily take in the surroundings.”

He won a bet with his friends, too, he grinned. They had argued that there weren’t snow lions in Colorado, but as the guide explained, there are three types ” the bobcat, lynx and mountain lion.

Novice snowshoers Virgie Strader and Donna Boyle pulled off their snowshoes after the tour and said they were glad they went on the hike while their families skied.

“I loved it,” said Strader, a Denver resident. “I loved the scenery, the experience of learning about different animals, and just being able to hike through the woods.”

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or

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