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Ski with a ranger – and learn something new

Janice Kurbjun
summit daily news
Summit Daily/Mark Fox
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Aspen bark could have medicinal properties used by the Ute Indians in the central mountain region, Frisco resident Sue Turner said on a recent Ski With a Ranger tour at Copper Mountain.

The Ute Indians used the powdery substance from aspen bark as sunscreen and as a pain killer – as do animals, apparently.

“Deer and elk will actually nibble on the bark before they go into labor to give birth because of the pain killing properties of it. I thought that was cool, being a mom myself,” Sue said.

She said she pocketed that piece of information learned in one of her and her husband’s three years as rangers in the program, which is a part of Friends of the Dillon Ranger District.

FDRD is a nonprofit that promotes stewardship of the White River National Forest in Summit County through partnerships, volunteer service, education and support. Since its inception in 2004, more than $1 million in volunteering, money and in-kind donations have been generated in the district. Dillon District Ranger Jan Cutts also sees the organization a complement to the Forest Service staff in Summit County – doing work on the ground when forest service staff cannot.

Rangers are at Copper Mountain (top of Timberline Lift), Keystone Resort (base of River Run Gondola) and Breckenridge Ski Resort (base of Peak 7) every Friday at 11 a.m. to round up visitors and locals interested in the hour-long Ski With a Ranger interpretive tour.

They generally do the tour on a green slope to enable all types of skiers to partake. Each tour is different, too, said FDRD Program Manager Sarah Slaton – meaning guests can come back each week and learn something new.

This past Monday, Bob and Sue Turner gave a special tour under softly falling snowflakes. The snow blanketed the slopes and the trees surrounding it and created a wall of white out in the distance.

“Who has the smallest footprint that’s leaving the biggest footprint on the environment right now?” Sue asked.

“Think about that. We’ll talk about it at our next stop,” Bob said.

Turns out it’s the pine beetle with its “devastating effect” on Colorado’s forests – about 100,000 trees are estimated to fall per day in Colorado for the next 10 years.

The Turners’ tour focuses on footprints, starting with the history of people in Summit County going back 10,000 years – the Ute Indians, the miners, the trappers, the ski industry. They talk about the animals and look at animal tracks. And there’s the footprint of the surrounding environment on visitors and locals – the altitude, the sun, the UV rays.

“We really try to orient people to where they are and taking in the whole experience while they’re here,” Sue said. “Our goal is really to try to connect people who are up here at Copper Mountain with Summit County and with White River National Forest. So, we cover the gamut.”

Slaton said it’s a particularly useful outreach in the winter, because many people assume public lands shut down when the snow arrives.

“The White River National Forest is one of the most heavily used national forests in winter,” she said, adding that often, people don’t even know they’re skiing on national forest land.

The Turners got involved with the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District about three years ago doing summer trail work and being a volunteer patrol ranger on the trails. They moved from the Front Range about five years ago and immediately started investigating volunteer opportunities to focus their energy.

“We looked at several groups to get involved in and give time back to,” Sue said. “We settled on Friends of the Dillon Ranger District and we’re also volunteers with Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center’s adaptive ski program.”

They arrive at Timberline Lift about an hour before their tour begins to start recruiting a tour group. They catch people as they come off the lift to tell them about the tour and give them the option to come back when it begins.

Sue said it’s a highly collaborative effort between Friends of the Dillon Ranger District volunteers and Copper Mountain’s ambassadors. The two groups share interesting information because the ambassadors are charged with guiding free snowshoe tours and the rangers handle on-mountain ski tours.

“It’s terrific. I learn something new every single time I’m out,” Sue said.

Bob, who is also president of the organization’s board, said his favorite memory from the program is when he learned a new piece of information from a guest last year: That fox may be slowly evolving out of the feline family and into the canine family.

“They’re still in transition,” he said. “They have claws that are partially retractable. Even though they’re classified today as a canine, 5,000 years ago, they were much more catlike than they are now.”

He said the tours can be very interactive experiences with interested guests. About a week ago, the tour took well over an hour because of all the questions asked.

“People are coming up here, spending a small amount of change to do so,” he said. “To take an hour out to do this tour, it’s people who are interested in the ecology and the history of the area. And they have a lot of questions.”

It’s kid-friendly, too. Sue skis with a backpack with props from the U.S. Forest Service, including photos of animals in the area and rubber prints of animal tracks for children to touch and look at.

After she finishes talking about the animal footprints in the area, she suggests the tour ski slowly past wooded areas along the Soliloquy trail to see if they can identify any tracks themselves.

It’s a chance for resort guests to slow down and take in their surroundings, Slaton said.

“People come to ski resorts and stay within their goggle view,” she said. “It’s high pace, keeping up with friends. It’s hard to take a moment to stop and look around and see how cool it is.”


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