Spring Gulch ‘a diamond in the rough’
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE, Colorado – The Roaring Fork Valley’s best-kept secret is something the Mount Sopris Nordic Council wants all cross-country skiers to know about: the Spring Gulch Ski Area.
Nestled among the pinon- and juniper-studded hillsides just west of Carbondale, the ski area is a 23-kilometer network of groomed trails, covering close to 700 acres. But it’s not your typical ski area and the MSNC wants to keep it that way.
“It’s a diamond in the rough,” said Tripp Sutro, long-time MSNC board member.
A distinct lack of restaurants and equipment shops makes it what Sutro calls a completely natural experience.
“Cell phones don’t work up there,” he added. “The parking lot may have several cars but you might only see three people because of the way it’s laid out.”
The history of the MSNC and the Spring Gulch Ski Area are one and the same.
Legend has it that extreme skier and Colorado Rocky Mountain School graduate Chris Landry was mountain biking up Spring Gulch one day in the early 1980s. Inspired by the old mining roads and railroad bed, Landry decided that it would make a great place for cross-country skiing.
Wick Moses, MSNC board member and an avid Nordic skier, said snowmobiling had become popular at nearby Marion Gulch by then, which made skiing difficult. So Landry and the late Paul Lappala made the ski area and the supporting Mount Sopris Nordic Council happen in 1986.
“The Spring Gulch trail system was a win-win for everyone,” said Moses. “The snowmobilers got Marion. The cross-country skiers got a dedicated track, and the cattlemen got a bunch of trails to help them herd cattle.”
Cattlemen? What do cows have to do with cross-country skiing? In this case, everything.
The Spring Gulch Ski Area, some of which rests on land owned by the Crystal River Ranch, is a cooperative venture with the Crystal River Ranch and members of the North Thompson Cattlemen’s Association, who graze their cows up there once the snow melts.
“It’s a hand-shake deal,” said Sutro. “The skiers vegetate the area in the summer, which keeps erosion from narrowing the trails. This also provides grass in the summer for cows.”
The exchange allows the MSNC to do what it does best: provide free, cross-country skiing for the Roaring Fork Valley. The council has close to 300 members who enjoy the trails in winter, work on them in the summer and volunteer for fundraising events throughout the year.
There’s the ski swap at Colorado Rocky Mountain School in the fall, the annual Ski for Sisu ski-a-thon in February, and in the summer, the MSNC runs the parking lot at Colorado Mountain College’s Lappala Center during the Carbondale Mountain Fair.
Proceeds from these fundraisers along with sponsorships from Pitkin County and the town of Carbondale support trail maintenance up at Spring Gulch.
“Grooming equipment is our biggest expense,” says Sutro, who’s also in charge of keeping the trails skier-ready. MSNC uses special equipment and that means paying for gas, upkeep and salaries for two people to run the machine.
MSNC takes pride in its groomed trails and varied terrain. Colorado Rocky Mountain School’s Nordic racers train there, as do others in the community.
On Feb. 5, 2012, the Nordic Council will host a day of races, featuring high school skiers from around Colorado. Students of all ages will compete in skate skiing and classic, Nordic track ski races.
Meanwhile, keep your fingers crossed and do a little snow dance because Spring Gulch won’t open until there’s about five inches of white stuff on the ground.
To reach the ski area, take County Road 108 out of Carbondale past Colorado Rocky Mountain School. Go up the hill, veering left past the Marion Gulch Road and the Crystal River Ranch. Look for a turn-out on the right. That’s the parking lot. The ski area is across the road.
“In this day and age, it’s an easy, accessible way to be in the high country,” said Sutro.
The Mount Sopris Nordic Council encourages membership, but skiing at Spring Gulch is always free and open to the public. And that’s no secret.
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