In the cool reaches of the Northern Rockies, the first snow of the year is a much anticipated and celebrated event. Although you can feel a change in the air, the falling flakes often come without warning. The result is breathtaking peaks, now masked in a glow of white, extending along the upper ranges, overlooking the valleys still golden below.
Though many people travel to the Rockies for the splendors of summer recreation such as hiking, camping and fishing, there's ample to do in these colossal mountains once the temperature drops and the snow pack begins to rise. Here are a few activities to try during your winter visit to the Rockies.
Scattered throughout the Rockies are dozens of ski resorts offering enjoyable opportunities for both the novice and the expert. Instructors are often available for anyone interested in lessons, as well. These resorts are a great way to spend a single day while passing through an area, or they can become the destination of a mountain vacation with the use of a multi-day pass. Some great places to ski (or snowboard) include: Jackson Hole, Wyoming; the Little Cottonwood Canyon of Utah (35 miles from Salt Lake City); Telluride and Vail, Colorado; Big Sky, Montana.
Another great alternative to this sport is cross-country skiing. This style of skiing allows you to traverse long distances, much in the fashion of flatland hiking, to reach remote areas often inaccessible due to heavy snowfall. Yellowstone National Park is an incredible place for cross-country skiing because of the myriad scenic routes to choose from and the solitude of open wilderness they offer.
The only downfall of a lucrative ski trip is the price that often accompanies it; gear rental and resort passes can be pretty expensive. Resorts do offer special discounted deals throughout the season, however, so be sure to check for these bargains before paying full price.
Possibly the best alternative to summer hiking, snowshoeing allows the participant to access steep trails and paths during the winter season. Snowshoes can be rented from most outfitting companies at a cheap daily price; they are simple to use and can be quickly attached to shoes and boots.
As with hiking, be sure to check weather conditions before embarking on a trail and be prepared for any unpredictable situations--pack extra winter gear, ample drinking water and food. Snowshoeing is a really fun way to scale a mountain, just anticipate the strenuous exercise the sport requires.
Ice skating is a winter sport often overlooked in lieu of the more glamorous mountain activities, but the benefits of skating weigh heavy on the scales of finance, accessibility and time requirements. Many towns throughout the Rockies turn public parks into free skating rinks during the winter; the only thing required is a pair of skates, which you can easily rent at an outfitter for a cheap price. Skating is an entertaining family activity that doesn't require a lot of money, a trip to the mountains or the commitment of a full day.
Possibly the easiest of all mountain activities, sledding can essentially be done anywhere with snow and a downward slope. Because of this, while traveling through the Rockies, you should always stow a sled in the trunk. This way, when driving through a town or countryside, you can spontaneously pull the car over for a quick outing. The hike up a hillside can be exhausting, but it's always worth the exhilarating ride down.
Winter, due to its harsh conditions, can be a daunting time; it's easy to succumb to the comforts of indoor temperatures and a hot cup of tea, but it's important to occasionally embrace the unique opportunities snow-covered mountains offer. Whether it's through skiing, snowshoeing or ice skating, welcome the seasonal change this winter in the Rockies when the air begins to hang heavy and the mountains begin building a frozen paradise one snowflake at a time.
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