Learn about what snow creates the best powder, what animal is leaving those tracks between the slopes and history of the area - all for free, during a day of skiing. Friends of the Dillon Ranger District is debuting its Ski with a Ranger program that kicks off today with free tours at Keystone Resort, Copper Mountain and Breckenridge Ski Resort.
The fleet of 12 volunteer rangers distributed at participating ski areas have special training in local ecology and will lead free tours through March 30.
Rangers take guests on one groomed, blue intermediate run while making stops at various educational stations along the way. There are six stops from the top of the run to the bottom that touch on topics like the White River National Forest, watersheds, wildlife and history.
Tours take place at 11 a.m. every Friday at Keystone and Breckenridge and Fridays and Saturdays at Copper Mountain. Tours at Copper were so popular that another day was added, said Sarah Slaton, program manager for Friends of the Dillon Ranger District.
The program is now in its fifth season, and the participation increases every year, Slaton said.
"We offer this tour for free because it so rewarding and educational - our mission statement is to educate and promote stewardship in the national forest and there's no more direct way to accomplish that than to connect with it in this way: Learn about it, see it, be in it and appreciate it," Slaton said. "This is as one-with-nature a person could be."
It's easy to participate, as no sign-up is required. Guests meet rangers at designated areas: At Keystone, visitors should meet at the top of the River Run Gondola; Breckenridge guests meet the rangers at the base of Peak 7, and Copper guests meet rangers at the top of the Timberline Lift.
Guests should have proper equipment, lift tickets and intermediate ability level.
The volunteer rangers are required to go through an all-day training session in which they learn about local history, ecology and snow science. They are trained to promote stewardship opportunities and engage the community at-large in the White River National Forest.
After the training, rangers pair up for outings and trade off leading the tours. For each resort, the tour is tailored to the unique history of each area.
Dan Schroder, a Colorado State University Extension agent and director, is a volunteer for the program. He is in his second season and got involved to become more engaged in educational outreach and to bolster the efforts of the Colorado State University Extension in Summit County.
"I found a lull in my winter and decided I could better serve my community if I was out engaging with recreators," he said.
At Breckenridge Ski Resort, where Schroder is a ranger, the tour explores how people came through the Blue River Valley as trappers and later as miners. The tour progresses, Schroder said, to the present day with a discussion on the emergence of the ski industry.
"The very first chairs at Breckenridge were one lift and one T-bar and that was the extent of it," he said.
Schroder said he enjoys promoting stewardship.
"I love where I live," he said. "I've been in the county for 12 years and I love what the area has to offer - this is a way to give back to that and ensure that our area stays pristine."
Schroder said being in nature brings an "innocence across the ages."
"The tour helps people slow down - I often try to engage all five senses," Schroder said. "I always tell people to just go for it and lick a tree."
And they do - most of the time, Schroder said.
"Why not? What the heck," he said. "That's my youthful approach to this tour."
"The amazing thing is the barriers and constraints that people live with every day are shaken off at the bottom of the hill when they put on their skis or snowboards," Schroder added. " "They're free of all of those things."