Last weekend had been our first trip to Aspen. Now having been there, I (Stella) am bummed that we had to cancel our previous two trips there due to COVID, because Aspen is awesome! I know most people associate the area with Alpine skiing, which is king in the western states, but the area also boasts an amazing Nordic trail system! Between Aspen, Snowmass and Basalt, there are about 60 miles of trails regularly groomed for classic and skate skiing.
Larry and I have not skied on a groomed Nordic trail in quite a while, as we find ourselves doing more backcountry skiing as of late. However, I had been greatly looking forward to trying out some of their trails, and we had a blast (more on this later). Please continue reading about our Aspen Winter Adventure.
Day 1 ~ Thursday morning, we arrived in Aspen around noon. Our plan had been to snowshoe 6 or 7 miles on Smuggler Mountain Road. Our resources indicated that this road is not maintained in the winter, so we had anticipated breaking trail through deep snow. However, the road was entirely packed down and everyone was walking on it with just boots. We walked about 1.5 miles up, carrying our snowshoes with anticipation of needing them at some point.
Finally, at my insistence, Larry stopped a guy who told us that the entire road was packed down all the way to the top. Well, that was not going to be much fun for us. We promptly walked back down to the Tahoe and I called the Chamber of Commerce to inquire about another place to snowshoe. She suggested that we follow Colorado 82 to the gate closure for Independence Pass. There, we had found our adventure for the rest of the afternoon.
Just like Trail Ridge Road in Grand Lake, Independence Pass closes for the winter, making it an ideal place to cross-country ski and snowshoe. The road was covered with about two inches of fresh, fluffy snow. Using our snowshoes, we began our trek at the winter closure gate.
Around 2.25 miles up, we came across the trailhead for Weller Lake. We ventured onto that trail for just a bit, which winds up through the trees. After taking some photos, we decided to turn around. The trek back down to the Tahoe had been a different experience than going up. The wind and snow kicked in, blasting us dead on. It is truly surprising how quickly my stubby legs can move when I am cold. 🙂 We trekked a total of 4.81 miles and it had been a great day!
Day 2 ~ The plan for the day was to enjoy the Nordic trail system. It was a Colorado Bluebird day and we started our cross-country skiing adventure at the North Star Nature Preserve, which is along the same road heading toward Independence Pass (where we were the day prior). There are two places to park here – North or South entrance.
North Star Nature Preserve offers a 1.65-mile loop of wonderfully groomed trails that are easy and relaxing. The loop wanders through the preserve and along the Roaring Fork River with Aspen Mountain looming above to the west. We completed the loop three times, totaling 4.71 miles.
Afterward, we decided to check out the Rio Grand Trail, which is a 42-mile paved path that extends from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. Last Spring, we biked a total of 24.77 miles from Glenwood Springs to Carbondale but had to turn around due to impending rain.
In the winter, the trail is fully groomed for both classic and skate skiing. However, the portions of the trail in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs had little to no snow. Upon speaking with the Aspen Visitor Center, we decided to park at Henry Stein Park and start our journey from there. We skied 1.8 miles into town and then turned around and skied 2.8 miles in the other direction. Red Mountain looms on the north side of the trail through town. While looking south, you are able to catch glimpses of Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk. We finished our trek on the north end near the airport to the west and Puppy Smith Street on the southern end.
Directly alongside of the Rio Grand trail is the Roaring Fork River, which offered a soothing babbling sound for most of the ski trek. Along the other side of the trail are homes far too grand to even try describing. The trail is almost entirely flat, so we were able to stride and glide almost effortlessly for miles. Since we seldom ski on groomed trails like this anymore, it was a pure delight! We completed a total of 5.76 miles.
Day 3 ~ Another Colorado Bluebird day, we headed back to the Independence Pass area with a goal of skiing up the road 6 miles, for a total trek of 12 miles. We had hoped that the road would be as it had been the other day, covered with light, fluffy snow. However, that was far from actuality. The road was completely packed down and tore up from snowmobile tracks. But we were not going to let that deter us.
The majority of people ski/walk/snowshoe up to the Weller Lake Trailhead and then turn around and head back down. However, we kept going for another 3 miles past that point; it is a gentle, steady incline. Independence Pass bridges the gap between Aspen and Twin Lakes/Leadville. And, there is a plethora of options past the Weller Lake Trailhead, two of which are the infamous Devils Punchbowl and Lincoln Gulch. We turned around about a 1.5 miles past Lincoln Gulch, which is before Lost Man Campground. The road itself is inside the White River National Forest but on south/west side of the road is the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area and to the north/east is the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness Area.
The sun was so warm that I only wore a t-shirt with my Odlo base layer pants. It is amazing how close the sun feels to your body at that altitude. Once we had reached the 5.2 mile mark, we turned around and enjoyed a fun, fast ride back down to the Tahoe. We completed a total of 10.4 miles.
Day 4 ~ The plan for the day had been to continue skiing along the Rio Grand Trail, but instead we decided to take drive to check out Ruedi Reservoir. It is nearly 1000 surface acres and about 1/2 hour drive east of Basalt. It is situated in a very remote area, which would be a blast to kayak on one day.
FINAL THOUGHTS: We had so much fun during our Aspen Winter Adventure that we will be returning to Aspen for another trip in March. During this upcoming trip, we plan to use our our new Nordic skis (Madshus Panorama M78) to ski up Independence Pass even further. And, I would like to explore more of the Rio Grand Trail using our other Nordic skis. Whether you are an experienced or beginner cross-country skier, there are an abundance of fantastic trails in the area to explore. Total distance trekked on this trip: 27.16 miles.
Where is Base Camp @ Grand Lake headed next?
- Feb 4-6: Grand Lake
- Feb 21-26: Jackson Hole/Alpine, WY
- March 11-13: Aspen
- March 19-20: Grand Lake