Dual-sport days: 3 ways to combine winter and spring recreation into one day
Summit County is known as a winter destination, but its true sporting beauty and versatility might reside in the spring season.
Thanks to the shoulder-season climate found at 9,000 feet above sea level, Summit County offers more than strictly dead-of-winter or peak-summer recreation options from March to June. Many locals take advantage of bountiful spring snowfalls and rising temperatures, and with it, the varying manifestations of the region’s most important resource: water.
“It’s all based on water,” said Trent Jones, who was born and raised in Summit County. “And hopefully we’ll get another strong year.”
Speaking after a winter’s day skiing at Copper Mountain Resort, Jones — a freeski coach for Team Breckenridge Sports Club and a fly-fishing guide for Cutthroat Anglers in Silverthorne — reminisces about the remarkable weather the region enjoyed in 2019. In spring of that year, Summit County received fairly consistent precipitation along with more overcast skies and lower-than-normal spring temperatures. That formula resulted in many multisport days in Summit County.
Whether they’re fastening their fishing waders, hopping on their bike saddles or strapping into their snowboards, Summit County locals will say spring recreation depends on seasonal weather trends. In the drier 2018 winter and spring season, fly-fishing select streams and biking portions of the county’s recreation paths and low-elevation trails came as early as March and April. In the cool and wet 2019, those activities had to wait while skiing and snowboarding dragged into June.
Whatever Mother Nature chooses to bless the Colorado Rocky Mountains and valleys with, two things are certain: There will be snow, and there will be runoff from that snow in the waterways. Ultimately, that means spring will bring a chance to experience a taste of winter and a glimpse of summer at the same time.
Ski and fish
The 2019 winter and spring season was heaven sent for Jones and his fellow skiing and fishing buddy John Spriggs. They defined the quality of their days based on the quality of the fish they reeled in and the deepness of the lines they were able to ski.
With prime fishing conditions starting in the early afternoon, a ski-and-fish day means hitting the slopes in the morning. Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and Breckenridge Ski Resort are regarded as the best spring skiing destinations in Summit County. A-Basin historically has extended its season into early June, and Breckenridge kept its runs open past Memorial Day in 2019.
Spriggs recommends getting to the slopes at Breckenridge for first chair in order to ski the best conditions earlier in the day off the T-Bar and Imperial Express SuperChair, which are higher-elevation lifts that service better snow due to lower temperatures. Over at A-Basin, the ski area typically offers above-timberline skiing off the Continental Divide well into April.
Spin on those upper-mountain lifts for a couple of hours and take notice of the sun getting a little higher in the sky and the snow getting a little slushy. It’s at this point when a skier should be thinking about trading in their ski poles for a fishing pole.
Jones said the county’s fishing is amazing in waterways like the Blue River ahead of spring runoff. It’s in these conditions that a veteran fly-fisher like Jones will notice the hatches, indicating the best locations to fish. On the river, anglers can catch native cutthroat trout or the introduced rainbow trout, both of which spawn come spring. Jones and Spriggs suggest spring fishing during the warmest part of the day: sometime between 1 and 3 p.m. Though every year is different, Jones and Spriggs said the end of April is typically solid for fly-fishing in Summit County.
“And you can ski and fish in the same hoodie,” Jones said with a smile.
For those looking to add more adventure to their day, Jones and Spriggs recommend the frontiersman-like fun of skinning to a fishing hole. “Skinning” is mountain-town slang for a type of backcountry ski touring where skiers and snowboarders propel themselves forward thanks to special bindings with a loose heel and a one-way, carpet-like traction device that sticks to the underside of a ski. It enables skiers and splitboard snowboarders — who use backcountry snowboards built to ascend in two pieces and descend in one piece — to traverse uphill terrain in a cross-country style. This requires special equipment, experience in the backcountry and knowledge of snow and avalanche safety.
On several days during the epic spring of 2019, Jones and Spriggs were able to ski tour and fish in magical locations such as the vast and deep Gore Range, living out their sweetest Summit County dreams.
“When the lakes start to thaw out, some of the biggest fish of the year can be caught, like lake trout on a fly rod,” Spriggs said. “It’s good times. But it’s all depending on the season. And (in 2019), you could ski and fish through July.”
Snowboard and skateboard
Prefer to stay standing sideways? A day of snowboarding and skateboarding is quickly becoming a quintessential Summit County sports day. Many locals, including some of the most successful athletes, grew up hitting the slopes in the morning before hitting the skate bowls in the afternoon. Olympic and Paralympic gold medalists like Red Gerard of Silverthorne and Mike Minor of Frisco spend just as much time in the terrain park on the hill as they do at the skate parks in Breckenridge and Frisco.
Steven Rosenthal, the town of Breckenridge’s outdoor recreation coordinator, knows this well. From the town’s skate park adjacent to the Breckenridge Recreation Center, boarders can see the Imperial Express SuperChair at just under 13,000 feet near the summit of the Tenmile Range’s Peak 8. Rosenthal suggests starting the morning by stashing a skateboard and lunch in the car before heading up to the mountain from the town’s gondola parking lots. Once at the top, enjoy the view and then snowboard the resort’s rolling Peak 7 terrain, hit fun groomer trails like the intermediate Claimjumper and Monte Cristo runs coming off the Independence SuperChair. Rosenthal also recommends checking with the resort about what terrain parks might be open, as Breckenridge’s terrain parks crew had more than enough snow to manicure parks late into last year’s season.
Once down, eat lunch and exchange the snowboard and boots for sneakers and a skateboard, and then ride the town’s recpath north from the parking lot just a few minutes to the skate park. Have fun shredding the park’s Big, Hot-Tub and Loveseat bowls or the snake run.
“You know, a lot of snowboarding came from skateboarding,” Rosenthal said. “A lot of our tricks are named the same things. So we’re very closely tied, and we are in a unique opportunity here in Breckenridge.”
The Breck skate park is well-known for its transitional features, but the newly renovated 28,000-square-foot skate park in Frisco has received acclaim after it opened with its new flow bowl, street section and pockets of transition elements last spring. Skaters not riding the Frisco Peninsula Recreation Area park are definitely missing out.
More snow isn’t necessarily a bad thing for skateboarding, though bountiful snow years like 2019 naturally will delay the opening of town skate parks to later in the season. Rosenthal said the Breckenridge skate park waited to open until April 20 in 2019, though, in drier years, expect that opening day to be earlier — perhaps much earlier. As of Saturday, the Breck skate park wasn’t officially open yet this season, though on dry days some locals have been busting out shovels to clear features, like the quarter pipe, to get some skating in sans snow.
Shred and bike
The classic contemporary multisport spring day in Summit County involves a favorite kind of bike and a preferred method of traveling downhill on snow. In fact, there is an event every spring that pairs the winter and summer pastimes in the ultimate “pseudo triathlon” — The Imperial Challenge.
Longtime Breck local Jeff Westcott runs the Imperial Challenge, an annual event that serves as the transition between winter and spring. This year, the event, which consists of a 6.2-mile road bike ride or run before ascending and descending Breckenridge on skis or a snowboard, will take place with races over two days, on April 12 and 13. For many transient locals who fancy themselves members of Summit County’s prideful ski community, they don’t truly feel like a mountain man or woman until they’ve finished the Imperial.
The Imperial is operated by Maverick Sports Promotions, which was co-founded by Westcott and another one of Breckenridge’s most intrepid of adventure sports visionaries: Mike McCormack. McCormack also founded and operates the Breck Epic, a six-day, 220-mile mountain bike race that takes hundreds of the world’s bravest mountain bikers up and down 40,000 feet of rugged Rocky Mountain trails and terrain each August.
If the Imperial or the Breck Epic seem too much to tackle, McCormack said adventurers still can find a way to mountain bike, ski or snowboard in the same day if trails are chosen wisely and conditions permit — an “if” as big as Quandary Peak.
The trick with mountain biking and skiing Summit County in the same day is deciding whether to do both in the high Alpine. If so, bikers might have to wait until the middle of summer. In 2019, McCormack worked with volunteers, the U.S. Forest Service and the county’s Open Space and Trails Department to clear high-Alpine trails of lingering snowpack and avalanche debris well into July. The force of 2019’s winter delayed many mountain bikers from accessing their favorite above-timberline terrain — the trails at the heart of the Breck Epic — until summer.
Again, it’s worth bearing in mind that every season is different and conditions change daily. For that reason, McCormack recommends checking in, person-to-person, eyeball-to-eyeball, with those who work at local bike shops rather than trusting websites. They will know the latest regarding the conditions of local trails.
McCormack recommends doing what the locals do if Mother Nature is not cooperating: go elsewhere. Popular local destinations include the banana belt of Eagle County, Salida and Buena Vista down south, or the Colorado mountain biking mecca Grand Junction to the west. Closer to home, the trails at the Frisco Peninsula are the best bet thanks to where the peninsula resides topographically. Some of its trails are typically the earliest to dry out — as early as April and as late as June — making it safe to ride while other backcountry trails are still muddy.
“And it’s really important to not ride trails that are not ready,” McCormack said. “If your tires are leaving a track, the trails are not ready. It’s important to adopt local stewardship values about what you choose to ride. Every year is different.”
Editor’s note: This story previously published in the spring 2020 edition of Explore Summit magazine.
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