Saturday: Snowshoe to Broome Hut
The start of that epic winter weekend adventure began as most do: with a drive into the high country. The first part of the weekend began at the Broome Hut, located on Berthoud Pass. The access point is the Second Creek Trailhead located on the Winter Park side of the pass. The day was a typical, picturesque Colorado bluebird day! Please note that the trailhead parking for the Broome Hut is almost always crowded, so you may need to park a bit further down the road, across the road, as we had to do.
I had first trekked to the Broome Hut in the fall for Hutmaster training; however, that was Stella’s first ascent to the hut. The trek is entirely vertical – no switchbacks. But, the journey quite short, around one and one quarter mile. The trailhead begins at an elevation of approximately 10,670 feet, and ends at around 11,300 feet. Before we began, Stella had asked how long it would take to get to the hut, and I responded, “about forty-five minutes to an hour.” She looked at me with a perplexed expression as she tried to understand why such a short distance would take so long. She had yet to learn why…
The trail winds through a pine-laden forest, pillowed with freshly fallen snow. People who had come before us, using snowshoes and/or backcountry skis, had made multiple paths in the snow, all heading up to the Broome Hut. We had to stop several times for a brief respite because the air becomes so thin the higher you ascend. Eventually, we had reached a point near the tree line, indicating that we were getting close. Cresting the last bit of up hill just before the hut comes into view, you have an unobscured, close up look at the cirque covered in snow.
Once inside of the hut, I explained how the hut system works, and described the layout of the side for those who stay overnight. The hut is divided into two “sides.” One is for overnight guests, and the other is for day use only. The day use side has a large sitting area with benches, tables, chairs and restroom. There is also a large deck attached to the Broome Hut, which is only for use by the overnight guests. Needless to say, the views from the Broome Hut are nothing short of spectacular. Shortly thereafter, we had a very quick descent back to the trailhead, after which, we headed to our lodging in Tabernash.
Sunday: Cross-Country Ski at Devil’s Thumb Ranch & Spa
Since getting my (Stella) new ski equipment, classic cross-country skiing has burrowed a new place within my heart, and I am eager to continue experiencing different Nordic centers throughout Colorado (note: Larry got new nordic ski equipment, too). Sunday, day 2 of the winter weekend adventure, we had an AMAZING time skiing at Devil’s Thumb Nordic Center in Tabernash, Colorado, which is consistently rated as one of the top Nordic centers in the country. Now, having skied there, I can understand why. It is truly a Nordic skier’s paradise!
Devil’s Thumb Nordic Center is a part of Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa, which encompasses different lodging options, restaurants and a spa. The Ranch also offers guests (both those staying there and those visiting for the day) access to year-round outdoor activities. When staying at the Ranch, guests only receive a discount on the Nordic trail pass (free passes are not included in the lodging price). You purchase the ski passes inside Zach’s Mercantile. The retail shop carries an abundance of skiing necessities, along with a great selection of high quality, every day clothing for men and women. Rental equipment is also available there for both skiing and snowshoeing.
The weekend prior, we had skied at Gold Run Nordic Center, which I truly loved! And I had been pleasantly surprised by the miles of flat, gently rolling trails that they have. However, Devil’s Thumb Ranch far surpasses the Gold Run Nordic Center in that respect. Devil’s Thumb Ranch has even more trails like that (rated “easy” to “moderate”) that stretch for miles and miles, where skiers can enjoy striding and gliding, without having to do much hill climbing. The flat stretches of trails to the west send skiers gliding through a vast valley, forested in trees, and the Indian Peaks loom in the distance; these trails are primarily “easy.” To the east, skiers have more options for trails rated from “easy” to “difficult.”
NOTE: Trails that are fairly level are rated as “easy.” Trails possessing some level portions combined with small hills are rated as “moderate.” Trails possessing very steep inclines are rated as “difficult.” I particularly prefer and enjoy the “easy-to-moderate” trails because they allow me to ski a greater number of miles per day. Larry, on the other hand, prefers the challenge of going up steep hills even though it takes longer and does not allow for as many miles to be skied in one day. We have very different preferences for cross-country ski terrain, so we take turns picking which trails to go on.
We had started the day on “Left Field” a level stretch of trail heading west before jumping onto “Rancher Bob & Ram’s Curl,” we then looped around and set out on trails in the other direction. A few of the trails located closer to the lodge require skiers to cross gravel roads, so if you don’t want to damage your skis, I recommend removing them to walk across, and then put them back on. There are also a few trails that pass by a horse ranch, which is located not far from the main lodge.
Be prepared to see lots of pups on the trails with their family members; there are several ski trails designated as pup-friendly. And while the trails are well groomed, I would suggest getting there very early if you are a skate skier, because by the time we had arrived around 11:00am, the skating lanes were already tore up on every trail that we had been on. (The width of the classic tracks is wide enough to accommodate 65mm classic skis).
Devil’s Thumb Nordic Center offers so many trails that we would have to ski there a few times in order to complete all of them, and at the end of the day, I was saddened that we had not been able to do more. Too often, we had stopped at intersecting trails trying to determine where wanted to go because there are just so many options! However, we both agree that the trail signage could be improved, as often the arrows did not seem to coincide with the map. That had added to our dilemma about which trails to go on whenever we had encountered an intersection…even the nordic ski patrol person had been a bit confused when comparing the map to the signs.
We had a total blast that day, and skied a little over eleven miles. The temperature was in the low 40’s, so I was comfortable skiing in a very lightweight long-sleeve shirt with the sleeves rolled all the way up, and my Craft pants (without any thermal base layer leggings). We both got lots of sun on our faces, and a great cardiovascular workout! If there is enough snow, we hope to ski here again in mid-March, as we will be visiting other Nordic centers in February, and then Turpin Meadow Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, who maintain their own Nordic skiing and snowshoe trail system. Stay posted for more reviews to come!
Monday: Cross-Country Ski at Snow Mountain Ranch
Monday, day 3 of the winter weekend adventure, we skied at Snow Mountain Ranch, which is part of the YMCA of the Rockies organization. When you turn into the complex from the main road, you will encounter numerous buildings and structures; the area is divided into different segments designed for various YMCA activities, one of which encompasses a well-renowned Nordic Center.
The upstairs of the Nordic Center has a large common area with picnic tables, a cafeteria (not sure of the hours, as it was not open when we were there), a waxing room, restrooms, and cubby holes for skiers to put their belongings. Downstairs hosts the retail and rental shop. It is nicely equipped, and has friendly, knowledgeable staff. The best part of that area, however, is the large, wood-burning fireplace with a giant, comfy couch in front of it! It is a very relaxing place, especially on a wintery day!
The weather that day was quite different from Sunday, the day prior, as a snowstorm was moving in, so we knew that we would not be able to ski as long, nor in as light of clothing. But, we were eager to check out the trail system, so off we went! We had started off heading west on the “Tabernash” trail, before gliding our way down toward the “Milligan” trail that connects with the “Pole Creek” trail. I would describe “Pole Creek” as the central artery of their trail system.
Jumping on “Pole Creek”, we then reversed course and made our we east to the “Just” trail. We had looped it until it intersected with the “Gaskill” trail, which leads toward a steady climb through a section where pine and aspen trees line the trail on both sides – it is a beautiful section of trail! Stella kept watching for moose hiding in the trees, as we had encountered several piles of moose poop all over the area. I think she may have been a little jumpy due to the moose encounter she had while skiing at Gold Run Nordic Center the weekend prior.
Our journey kept us gliding along “Gaskill” until we had reached “Donner Pass”. From there, we made our way back to the artery, “Pole Creek”. We skied east back to the intersection with the “Lowery” trail and then reversed course back towards the “Milligan” trail. Jumping on “Milligan”, we had then made the final push back to the lodge. And only a few moments after we had stepped into the lodge, the snowstorm had begun – it had been perfect timing for us to call it a day. There were others who were still heading out to ski, but we were content with what we had accomplished.
The trails had not been groomed that morning since snow was eminent that afternoon. The classic tracks were icy and somewhat rough, and the skating lanes were in sore shape. It was definitely not the day to experience a smooth glide, as our skis kept slipping and even sticking, despite applying glide wax to them that morning. Fortunately, we had purchased a groupon for Snow Mountain Ranch, so we were able to get two passes for the price of one. Between the three days in the mountains snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, we logged over seventeen miles during winter weekend adventure.