Mountain Pulse: Experience Colorado’s winter beauty |

Mountain Pulse: Experience Colorado’s winter beauty

Ian Smith
Vail, Co Colorado
SPT MtnPulse 01 TS 12-18-08

VAIL, Colorado ” Leaving the comfy confines of Vail Mountain or Beaver Creek is almost a taboo suggestion during the winter, but no Eagle County resident should limit themselves to just alpine skiing or snowboarding.

The area is full of opportunites to get outside this winter and enjoy Colorado’s breathtaking beauty. With blackout dates quickly approaching for those owning certain mountain passes, it’s time to look away from the lifts.

If anyone is uncomfortable getting off a pair of skis, there is always Nordic skiing. The sport isn’t for the faint of heart ” or stamina. Depending on how much energy a skier wants to exert, Nordic can be quite a workout.

“It’s probably the best winter workout there is,” Shane Sluder, owner of Vail Nordic Center, said. “It works your upper body with pulling, abs when you use your poles, and then obviously, your legs. It’s nice because even if you only have an hour, you still can come out.”

The Vail Nordic Center offers opportunities for both experts and beginners to try the sport on more than 17 kilometers of terrain. The center holds town races, much like the summer’s bike races, where anyone can come out and ski. The race is broken up into divisions for people of all levels ” all the way from kids to experts.

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“It’s a pretty easy crossover (from alpine),” Sluder said. “After a couple of quick pointers from us, they can do it. If you’re athletic enough to alpine, it’s an easy crossover.”

Backcountry bliss

Trailwise Guides is another option for those hoping to work up a sweat. The company gives backcountry cross-country skiing tours to people of all levels. Tom Wiesen, the founder and lead guide since 1991, said the company’s guides provide instruction to help skiers who are getting started.

Once someone masters the basics, it’s all downhill.

“You enter the joy of gliding, and breaking free of the grip of the earth,” Wiesen said.

There are a number of different options for skiers booking a private tour. Trailwise Guides offers morning, afternoon or classic tours ” which is flexible to a group’s schedule.

Rugged beauty

In the summer, hikers gaze upon flowers, cool off under waterfalls and take on 14ers. Snowshoeing is winter’s version of that, with participants immersing themselves in Colorado’s rugged mountains.

Maybe the best part about shoeshoeing is how easy it is to pick up. Wiesen said after only a few minutes of instruction, people are ready to go. From there, it’s up to the individual about where to travel.

“Cross country skis by their nature are slippery,” Wiesen said. “You have to go out on a little flater terrain. Snowshoes allow you to climb steep mountains.”

The Vail Nordic Center has more than 10-kilometers of snowshoe trails. Trailwise guides offers two different private, backcountry tours. The adventure snowshow tour is the more challenging of the two with climbs high into the mountain terrain.

Stalking wildlife

Physical activity isn’t the only way to experience Colorado’s outdoors in the winter. The animal population is also active and easy to find if you know where to look.

Trailwise Guides provides the latest viewing equipment, and know all the best spots, Wiesen said. It’s not uncommon to see bighorn sheep, elk, bald eagles, mule deer and coyotes. One time, the Trailwise Guides even spotted a mountain lion who was sauntering back to its nook.

Whatever the outdoor choice this winter, Eagle County residents should remember there’s more than just a couple of ski resorts.

Sports Writer Ian Smith can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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