Loads of snow and high winds have created a dangerous snowpack in the local mountains. This slope at the Second Creek Headwall last weekend is testament to the potential size and hazards that are out there. Photo by Kim Headberg.

Cold Temps Keep Trails Firm

The onset of Winter has made a dramatic shift from dry and warm to moist and cold, with feet of snow being gifted to us over the holidays. Lest any aspect of winter be forgotten, various periods of winds have drifted and repositioned the snow substantially, causing surprisingly thin spots on exposed ridges and deep drifts where the forces of air currents could not reach. Even after the storms had moved on their way to the Midwest, the blowing snow in the tail of the storms caused road closures and cancellations, including the Middle Park High School’s cross-country ski meet in Gould, where defense of the Tour de Northern Colorado, a fun but competitive rivalry with Steamboat and Poudre Valley Schools was at stake.

Fraser River Trail trailhead and trail in Winter Park by Hernandos and the historic Sitzmark cabin provides easy access to skiing right out of town

Local trails have been buried, and keeping up with getting them packed down has been a slow process. Dealing with repeated accumulations and repositioning by wind has been hard enough, but adding anticipation of the pandemic woes of short staffing and absences has lowered expectations from the standards we had become accustomed to over the past couple of years. 

Headwaters Trails Alliance has been getting out on a rotating schedule, so far, primarily with smaller equipment, but has also had to deal with the growing pains of a rapidly developing community. (For trail conditions, go to https://headwaterstrails.org/trail-conditions/). Forging a way around new infrastructure and buildings in Roam and Rendezvous has put stumbling blocks of interference with the continuity of the winter trail system. Hopefully these obstacles will only be temporary, and will consider provisions for routes that can re-establish the Fraser River Trail’s position as the premier pedestrian recreational option for locals and tourists seeking exercise in the outdoor environment in close proximity to our expanding towns. 

Healthy communities are created when options such as these are valued and elevated from low to high priority. Whether on an individual or on a community-wide scale, exercise breeds health, and providing the options for exercise can be considered the first step in what truly is Health Care. As a physical therapist, I have had the opportunity to see people across the lifespan and to witness a pattern of probability of relative health in active people and of disease, illness or higher medication requirements in inactive people. As our towns grow from small rural communities to urban expansions, we need to give higher consideration to providing greenways and paths, especially in riparian and floodplain areas, that will encourage people to get out and move, and provide outdoor experiences that are so beneficial for mental as well as physical health.

The lunch loops wind through willows with the iconic James and Parry providing a beautiful backdrop.

While the current situation on the trails is not the buffed-out, neatly-groomed experience that it has been, the cold temperatures have served well to preserve the snow condition, and to harden the snow-surface. On well-used popular trails, this has allowed skiers, snowshoers, dog-walkers, runners and snow-bikers alike to travel the trails without sinking in, making postholes or ruts that adversely affect other users’ safety or enjoyment of the trails.

If events are a primary motivation to get out and be active, the Snow Mountain Classic will be an opportunity to get started on a New Year’s resolution to get more exercise. It is taking place at the YMCA of the Rockies this Saturday, January 15th and has both 7.5 and 15 kilometer options. Meanwhile, the Middle Park High School will be traveling to Steamboat for the next Tour de Northern Colorado event. Stay tuned as well for the Junior National Qualifier event, January 21-23, also held at Snow Mountain Ranch, as part of the Rocky Mountain division races. These events will be great opportunities to see some highly talented young nordic skiers in action, and a good motivator to get out on the trails yourself!