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8 Off-Slope Ways to Play in the Snow

With Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice karting, dogsledding, and more, the Roaring Fork Valley offers a wealth of wintry outdoor adventures.

By Cindy Hirschfeld December 23, 2020 Published in the Winter/Spring 2020–21 issue of Aspen Sojourner

Dogsledding with Krabloonik

Image: Daniel Bayer

40 Legs, One Fun Ride

You may have heard them from the lower slopes of Snowmass—some 225 sled dogs yipping and yapping in anticipation. On a dogsled ride at Krabloonik in Snowmass Village (, 8 to 10 of these huskies will do all the work as you and a fellow rider zip along the trail through forest and meadow. At the halfway point, while the dogs get a chance to rest, you can warm up with a hot beverage. Four rides ($345–$375 per adult/$195 per child, ages 3–9 ) hit the trail daily. 

Make Tracks Cross-Country

Prefer your skis skinny and light? Find your happy place among 90 kilometers of free, groomed Nordic trails that connect Aspen, Snowmass, and Basalt. Within this trail network, the Aspen Cross Country Center on the golf course also offers rentals, lessons, and guided tours, with some modifications for Covid-19 (note that there’s no longer a rental/retail shop in Snowmass). For maps, grooming updates, and dog-friendly routes, visit

Other options include the paved but snow-covered Rio Grande Trail, which is groomed for 20 miles from Aspen to Basalt, and Maroon Bells Road from the T-Lazy-7 Ranch to Maroon Lake, closed to cars in winter but with a groomed ski track courtesy of the ranch.

For even more of a secluded, high-alpine experience, head up the Castle Creek Valley to privately owned Ashcroft Ski Touring (, $25 full day, $15 half day), which maintains 35 kilometers of trails near the Ashcroft ghost town and offers rentals, lessons, and guided tours. Bonus: stop for lunch (the buffalo momos are a must) at the much-loved Pine Creek Cookhouse (reservations recommended for the two daily seatings). 

We asked local Nordic enthusiast (and expert birder) Rebecca Weiss to share some of her favorite area trails for experiencing solitude, quiet, and nature:

The 2-kilometer loop at the North Star Nature Preserve east of Aspen has “gorgeous views and a winter wonderland feel,” says Weiss. The trail’s gentle grade makes it a great option for families, too.

> The 3-kilometer Moore Trails loop near the Aspen schools complex offers some fun hills for a little challenge, notes Weiss, and links up to other trails. Keep an eye out for cedar waxwings and pine grosbeaks, and sometimes deer.

> Try skiing the trails at the Marolt Open Space, just west of downtown, in the evening by headlamp or moonlight, a time “when you can find solitude on this particular loop,” says Weiss.

At Spring Gulch, a fantastic 13-mile groomed trail network west of Carbondale (, free but donations happily accepted), Weiss is partial toward Finlandia. “It’s an effort to ski up to it, but the views are stunning, and it feels like a world away,” she says. You may also spot chickadees, woodpeckers, nuthatches, and Steller’s jays as you kick and glide.

The annual Nordic Bonfire Dinner benefits local youth cross-country ski programs.

Need for Speed

Let loose in a way you’d never dare to on Highway 82 at Aspen Ice Karting ( in El Jebel. Strap into a 12-horsepower motorized kart that’s been tricked out with snow tires and ice screws, then zoom around the 1.9-mile loop—on a frozen water-ski lake—at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. Earn extra props for drifting through turns. Rides ($40 for 10 minutes, $75 for 20 minutes, reservations required) generally take place late December to late February, conditions permitting.

Blade Runners

Twirl away in an Olympic dream or practice your stick-handling at one of five ice rinks in Aspen and Snowmass. In downtown Aspen, the small, outdoor Silver Circle Ice Rink ( is perfect for young ones, who can warm up with food and hot chocolate from adjacent CP Burger ($5; $8 with skate rental). Join daily public skate sessions at the Aspen Recreation Center’s indoor, NHL-size Lewis Ice Arena or sessions throughout the week at the city’s indoor Aspen Ice Garden (both $10; $3 skate rentals; advance reservations required at Snowmass Base Village plaza’s large, free outdoor ice rink also has complimentary skate rentals and operates daily from noon to 9 p.m. ( The free Snowmass Village Ice Rink, at the Snowmass Rodeo Grounds, is open from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. with daily public sessions (advance reservations required at

Keep the Cycle Going

Fat bikes, with their cartoonishly chubby wheels, maintain traction on packed-down snow, letting you ride all winter long. Brian Long, trail system manager for the City of Aspen’s Parks and Open Space, recommends riding early in the morning (unless it stays really cold all day), as softening afternoon snow can make biking more difficult and leave ruts in the surface. Unlike regular mountain bikes, fat bikes are not permitted on most trails. Here’s where to ride around Aspen (check for more specifics):

The city maintains a 4.5-mile loop for fat biking that encompasses a figure-8–shaped course at the Aspen Cross Country Center, the multipurpose trails on the Marolt Open Space, and a groomed singletrack along the Maroon Creek Trail. Most riders start at the cross country center and ride the loop clockwise so that they descend, not climb, the Maroon Creek section.

The unplowed roads to the Maroon Bells and to Independence Pass both offer primo packed snow for fat biking, as well as breathtaking views and no auto traffic; beware, though, of several avalanche slide paths that cross each road at certain points.

> This winter the Rio Grande Trail will have a completely packed-snow surface from the Aspen post office access point to Cemetery Lane (in years past, this section was half-plowed), making for good fat biking all the way to Basalt.

> Prefer to let someone else suggest the route? Sun Dog Athletics ( heads into its 12th winter of custom guided fat bike tours (from $120).

Paragliding off Aspen Mountain

Image: Daniel Bayer

Big Air 

Ever wish you could just jump off the mountain? Paragliding is how to do it, and Aspen is one of only a few places in the country where you can go on a tandem flight in winter with a licensed operator (, $295). Take off from 10,600-foot Sam’s Knob at Snowmass ski area or from 11,000 feet at Aspen Mountain (the latter without skis on), and get the same views as our feathered friends overhead. You’ll float back down to earth some 10 to 15 minutes later, but your head may be in the clouds the rest of the day. 

Get Your Motor Running

Even if you’re a dedicated skier, revving up a snowmobile and motoring through the powdery backcountry has an undeniable appeal. Here’s where to get that two-stroke stoke. 

 T-Lazy-7 Ranch ( guides tours five days a week (from $250), one to the Maroon Bells and one a lunch outing to a rustic cabin, where you’ll dine on burgers made with the ranch’s own Wagyu beef while taking in the view of 14,025-foot Pyramid Peak.

 Western Adventures, Inc. ( offers two- to four-hour tours (from $300) in the backcountry above the small town of Lenado, as well as unguided snowmobile rentals.

 Sunlight Mountain Resort (, near Glenwood Springs, provides one- and 2.5-hour tours (from $120) that start next to the ski area and travel through a scenic section of the White River National Forest.

Soft ’Shoeing

Anywhere there’s snow, you can snowshoe, but to really maximize the sport’s appeal—the solitude and serenity of a winter landscape, the fun of almost floating across deep snow—head for a nearby route that’s not completely packed down. Near Aspen, try the Difficult Trail, where dense conifers keep the snow cold and light, or the Hunter Creek Trail (via the upper trailhead off of Red Mountain Road), where you can make endless sets of tracks in the meadows of Hunter Valley ( In Snowmass Village, hit up the Tom Blake Trail off of Owl Creek Road, which winds through a forested path below the ski area, or the Rim Trail (from the upper trailhead off of Divide Road) for a steady but moderate climb to an amazing vista ( Snowshoers are also permitted on trails within Aspen’s extensive Nordic system ( and at Ashcroft Ski Touring ( Rent snowshoes at the Ute Mountaineer in Aspen, the Aspen Cross Country Center, or Bristlecone Mountain Sports in Basalt.

Consider a guided outing, too. New this year, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies ( runs free naturalist-led tours twice daily starting from the end of the Snowmass Mall; other tours take place twice a day at the top of Aspen Mountain and Snowmass ($71) and daily at Ashcroft ($100). Erik Skarvan of Sun Dog Athletics ( shares his contagious enthusiasm for snowshoeing on custom outings around Aspen (from $120). 

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