New tracks at Spring Gulch — Northern extension of Carbondale-area Nordic trail system aims to extend season a bit longer
There’s more to love about the Spring Gulch trail system located near Carbondale this winter.
With the new year came a newly-cut and groomed section of about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) of new trails on the northern reaches of the North Thompson Cattleman’s Association spread where the cross-country ski area is located west of town.
Mountain Sopris Nordic Council Board Vice President Elliot Norquist said the organization, about eight years ago, began to notice dwindling snow coverage on the lower parts of the trail network nearest Thompson Creek Road.
“We realized the changing climate had long-term implications for Spring Gulch’s future and demanded a vigorous planning process to ensure the continued success of our trails,” the group’s website states.
So, a plan was devised to build some new trails on the other side of a small ridge between the Little Dipper trail and the far north end of Finlandia and Ginny Lane that wouldn’t have as much south-facing exposure to the sun, especially in the early and latter parts of the season.
The new skiable terrain — with trails going by names like Bullwinkle, Orion’s Belt, Lariat and the uppermost loop called Tipple — has more reliable snowpack both in the early season and later into the winter and early spring.
Last season, with permission from the Cattleman’s Association that owns the land, a group of skiers went bushwhacking into the pinion- and sage-covered meadows toward Marion Gulch, a popular snowmobile access to the Sunlight-to-Powderhorn trails, and began to map out the new Nordic trails.
Among them was Austin Teague from the Aspen Valley Ski Club, whose Nordic program uses the Spring Gulch trails for training and is familiar with the art of plotting new trails.
Trail routes were flagged, and the team came back and walked it again over the summer to make any changes that would better accommodate trail-building.
Local logger and heavy-equipment operator Mike Uncapher and his team then came in and cut and prepared the trails into the fall season.
“It was a real push to get it done and open for the fall,” Norquist said. “But it’s a really nice set of trails, not too hard, and really adds to that whole Spring Gulch feel.”
The upper trail loop, Tipple, is for more advanced skiers, with a tight downhill corner going clockwise through thick aspen and pine stands before connecting back to Finlandia and the link to the new lower trails through the meadow below.
Tipple makes use of part of the old rail bed that served the area coal mines in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and passes through part of the historic coal mining camp of Marion, including remnants of the old coke ovens that still exist.
“We’ve had our eye on that route for a long time,” Norquist said. “It’s a great little ski through that nice aspen grove, with a little slice of history.”
The Nordic Council this past year also acquired a snowcat as a gift from Pitkin County Open Space and Trails that makes quicker work of grooming operations, especially with the addition of the new trails, he said.
Long-term plans include a new parking lot along the Marion Gulch access road by the new trails, pending approvals from Garfield County, which would provide a higher-elevation access point to the trails that’s not as exposed to the sun, and again help extend the ski season, said MSNC board member Matt Annabel.
An additional fundraising effort is also anticipated to cover the cost of building the new parking lot, if it’s approved.
The new trails are marked with new maps at the various trail junctions but do not yet have sign posts.
The Spring Gulch trail system lies entirely on private land owned and maintained for summer cattle grazing by the North Thompson Cattleman’s Association and Crystal River Ranch. Access to the area is not allowed when the ski trails are closed.
The Spring Gulch system encompasses more than 16.7 miles (27 kilometers) of trails that are restricted to cross-country skiing only during the winter months (No snowshoes, hiking, or dogs allowed on the trails). The Nordic Council is a member-based organization. For membership information, visit springgulch.org/. A donation is requested at the trailhead for non-member users.
Post Independent interim Managing Editor and senior reporter John Stroud can be reached at email@example.com or at 970-384-9160.
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