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The prettiest areas don’t always mean the longest hauls

Ellen Hollinshead

I had wanted to make this visit from mom and dad a good one. They are not mountain people or the types to just sit around and chat. I made a long mental list of my top special places to show them, all with wildflower-viewing potential, and all requiring a little uphill travel.

Since my parents do most of their walking on museum floors, anything even remotely uphill is their enemy. After the fourth painful crawl to yet another hillside of dead, shriveled flowers, I knew that things weren’t clicking as well as I’d like for this visit. Even though they said they had fun, I’m not so sure.

I did have a new red mountain bike waiting for me on our deck, purchased from Avalanche Sports the same day my parents had arrived, and still unridden. I said my goodbyes to mom and dad, and knew that there was just enough daylight left for a sunset ride, even if the weather looked a little bleak. I had some energy to burn.

It was sprinkling out, so it didn’t make sense to wander too far from home on Peak 8. I used to hate rides that didn’t include reaching some final goal. Now in my late-30s, I’m working on a less stressful approach of no-destination rides. All you need is a small area with lots of trails and roads to choose from, so you can just doodle around in circles, not really getting anywhere. No, pressure. Just enjoy the moments.

Ryan Gulch in Silverthorne, or the Peak 7 neighborhood are great for this.

But more often, I’ll head for the Breckenridge Ski Area.

There was no hurry to get too high, the clouds were low and heavy, but I thought I’d work my way slowly from the Snowflake lift trails toward Lehman Gulch, the drainage on the north side of Peak 10. The area is one of the most beautiful wildflower zones in Breckenridge.

I rode a section of the “9 to 8” trail near the Ten Mile Station. My mind was elsewhere, analyzing the whole visit with mom and dad and wondering why things hadn’t worked. The trail traversed across a ski slope, and when I paused from my one-track thoughts to look around for a second, I couldn’t believe that I was riding through one of the most spectacular sections of wildflowers I’d seen all summer. The service road was so close, I could’ve rolled out the red carpet for mom and dad right to this spot, but instead, I had spent four days dragging them up bumpy jeep roads and slippery trails just to show them more parched tundra and depressed marmots.

Who would’ve thought that a ski area could be the prettiest spot around?

It’s rather ironic, that I, the one so inclined to give ski resorts a bad rap, seem to experience my most special times right here quite frequently, be it on foot, bike or skis.

I’ve always believed that the opposite in anything is always true. Everything you love and desire can only exist because of everything you don’t love. Without a ski run and snowmaking here, these flowers wouldn’t exist, instead it would be a dry lodgepole forest. Without stormy skies, the flowers wouldn’t look quite so beautiful and the colors so dazzling. There were recently bloomed pink fireweed mixed with red and sulphur paintbrush, purple harebells and some brilliant yellow flower that I didn’t know.

Everywhere else, most of these flowers were done.

The majority of us think ski resorts are just acres of ravaged land. And, of course to some degree this always exists, but the benefit of this false impression is that you usually have the place to yourself (another example of the opposite being true). When I’m torn between going to one location or another, solitude wins over beauty, and I end up at the ski area a lot. If you know how to stay clear of the more popular trails on busy days, it’s easy to have the place to yourself. It’s almost a certainty if you go there late in the day for the awesome sunsets, which is also a good time to bump into a fox or two. With a little thought, you can avoid the “”ugly” ski slopes and head directly to where it is beautiful, wherever there is water. Cucumber and Carter Creek are my two favorites to explore.

By the time I got to Lehman Gulch, it was raining hard. I was close to home though so it didn’t matter, and everything was illuminated from the rain. It was another one of those stinking, special moments that I wished I could share with mom and dad, because like their daughter, they need to be reminded that the prettiest places aren’t always the hardest to get to.

Ellen Hollinshead is an Outdoor Page columnist for the Summit Daily News. She lives in Breckenridge.


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