Skiing the Fast Lane: Discovering ‘Owl Creek’, The Aspen to Snowmass Village Nordic Trail

Skiing the Fast Lane

D i s c o v e r i n g  T h e  O w l  C r e e k  E x p r e s s w a y

The Aspen to Snowmass Village Nordic Trail

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Aspen Trees, Owl Creek Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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The secret world of cross country skiing, as I am rapidly discovering, appears comprised of a labyrinth of complex ‘understandings’. Unlike its downhill counterpart, with its huge piste-side highway signs announcing each run’s level of difficulty, the Nordic way takes a much more stoic – ‘surely, it’s obvious’ approach. A commendable attitude and one I applaud, but it does make for a somewhat confusing state of affairs when a), no, it isn’t obvious, and b) just how is one to know just how difficult difficult is until said difficulty has been encountered?

And so it was that yesterday, Sunday February 8, 2015, Kris and I set out to explore a new Nordic Trail. After having covered the length of the Rio Grande track-bed trail from Old Snowmass to Aspen, as documented in the recent Rogue Carver on Skis posts, it was time to set out and embark on a whole new trail. After having enjoyed the Rio Grande Nordic Trail so very much I thought it appropriate to turn our attentions to our other great ‘long-distance’ Nordic path; the frozen expressway known as “Owl Creek”.

As two important pedestrian thoroughfares go these two trails could hardly differ more. The Rio Grande… track-bed flat and with only the odd on and off ramp to worry about… could hardly be more welcoming to a beginner. Owl Creek on the other hand delights in barreling through the undulating woodland propelled by a hilly up-and-down course that steadfastly clings to every nook and cranny of the aspen grove-covered foothills.

Our fellow skiers, perhaps a dozen in total, largely comprised of the most athletically clad, and athletic looking young people you are ever likely to meet. Certainly, I didn’t encounter many such clearly accomplished Nordic skiers while sauntering along the Rio Grande. But what impressed me were the speeds that some of these people were up to. Needless to say Kris and I gave them all a very wide berth indeed. But once they had passed, and peace descended, I have to say that from the tiny slice I sampled yesterday I reckon exploring the rest of the trail is going to be a great deal of fun.

Despite stretching from the City of Aspen to Snowmass Village, around ten miles in length, the Owl Creek Nordic Trail may only be accessed in very few places. One such opportunity exists a quarter mile or so on the road up to the West Buttermilk Ski Area Parking Lot. Don’t expect any signs, at least I don’t remember seeing any, regarding parking, the proximity of the Owl Creek Trail… or even the West Buttermilk Ski Area itself. It’s all very exclusive… very hush-hush, you know. But it is there, I can assure you.

Once on the trail, just yards from the off-road parking, it soon became clear that this beautifully groomed  track is an altogether different kettle of fish… at least in comparison to the good ole’ Rio Grande.

A tad concerned that Kris and I might just find ourselves a league or two out of our depth I inquired of a regular, the only other person around, as to whether he thought it wise, given our relative inexperience, to find another point at which to enter the trail and he assured me that it would be fine to put in here as long as we didn’t expect it to be “perfectly flat”. Well, of course we didn’t, we’d both skied on-ramps !

To cut a long story short we were well and truly, as in waaay, out of our depth, and did our best – but man those little gullies were steep. However, bit by bit we inched our way along, growing in confidence with each steep incline, and boy-oh-boy I’m sure glad we persevered.

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Kris, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Express. MARTIN COONEY

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Author, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Express. MARTIN COONEY

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What a day it was… and what a day it is now, 24 hrs later. While real, actual fresh-fallen snow has been a rare event indeed so far this year the sun has been putting on quite the show. I just can’t tell you how weirdly warm the days and nights have been of late. The heat of the sun is just intense. And yet still, there it is all along the trail – snow !

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Author, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Express. MARTIN COONEY

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But anyway, enough gabbing, come on… let’s go.

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Author, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Express. MARTIN COONEY

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Kris, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Express. MARTIN COONEY

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I finally catch up with Kris and together we swhoosh through a most enchanting aspen-covered world.

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Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Express. MARTIN COONEY

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Click on the picture above to open up a panorama. Click on any of the pictures for a close-up view.

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Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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The trail at this point weaves in and out of woodland and across pancake flat snow covered meadow.

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Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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After a while the strobing effect of aspen tree-trunk shadows, combined with the flashing of the tree trunks themselves, serve to concoct a quite mesmeric effect…

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Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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…when all of a sudden the trail spills out onto the most spectacular wide-open meadow.

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Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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And whoever decided to send the trail all the way around the meadow’s far edge is a genius.

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Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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What a wonderful, wide, dramatic, sweeping curve it is.

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Kris, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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Kris, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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Kris sure enjoyed the experience.

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Kris, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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A quick pose or two.

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Author, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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Hey, who’s this geezer ?

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Author, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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A smile for the camera.

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Kris, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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And she’s off again.

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Kris, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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Aspen Trees, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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We didn’t really go much further. Everything seemed just so beautiful right where we were that we stayed put for quite some time, taking in the view, absorbing the scenery and soaking in such a lovely moment in time.

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Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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Mt. Sopris, CO, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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Time came though to head back, and off we went along that magnificent, huge, curve.

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Mt. Sopris, CO, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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Up the downs, and down the ups.

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Mt. Sopris, CO, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEY

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And finally… back to the car, and home to my homemade Italian pizza, and beer.

As we were leaving I caught this glimpse of Mt Sopris, 12,965 ft, the imposing western bastion of the Colorado Rocky Mountain’s Elk Range, and made a mental note: 2015…. stand atop.

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Mt. Sopris, CO, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Express. MARTIN COONEY

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Author, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Express. MARTIN COONEY

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Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll join me again next time.

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Giuseppe_Arcimboldo_-_The_Waiter_-_WGA0835

Μ @ ℜ τ ¡ Π

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Mt. Sopris, CO, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Express. MARTIN COONEY

Mt. Sopris, CO, 12,965 ft

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Martin Cooney, top of Galena Mountain, Two day hikes from Uncle Bud's Hut, Late September, Colorado, 2014

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