COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. (CBS4)- Once a week at Copper Mountain skiers get the chance to learn more about their surroundings. Typically, skiers only focus on the 20 feet in front of them. Unless they’re hitting the slopes with a special guide.
“We get more visitors here to Summit County than you do in Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon, so we have to be conscious of our environment,” said Dillon Ranger District Volunteer Daryl Roepke.
He is one of many volunteers who give guided tours of the slopes at Copper Mountain. Each Friday, skiers ride to the top of the Timberline Express Chairlift. That’s where they begin an education about the mountain that goes beyond where the double black diamond runs are.
“Today we’re gonna stop and we’re gonna look at trees. We’re gonna look at the animal tracks, we’re gonna talk about what lives here and why it does and how it survives in the winter,” said Roepke.
The “Ski With A Ranger” program covers everything from the types of trees that line the trails to the type of snow best coveted by skiers and boarders.
“What we’ve got here, this red bark tree here, the rough bark, that’s an Englemann Spruce. Now, the Englemann Spruce, they’re pointy on the ends. The fir over here, actually the needles are much softer and they’re round on the ends,” said Roepke.
The runs of Copper Mountain lie in the White River National Forest. Volunteers from “Friends of the Dillon Ranger District” offer the weekly lesson about the public lands.
“It’s neat to know more about the place you ski in. It’s more than just white carpet,” said one skier on the tour.
Skiers learn some surprising facts about the terrain, including that feet of snow actually causes a drought for the evergreens which line the runs.
“These trees actually almost live in a desert-like condition in the winter time because there’s no moisture that’s available to their roots,” said Roepke.
The lessons actually stick with the skiers.
“It’s just fun as you’re skiing down a trail, being able to recognize the trees and know what nature does to this place,” said another skier on the tour.
Skiers and boarders begin to recognize more than one kind of sign in a lesson on wildlife, what they look like, what their tracks look like, and what kind of scat they leave behind.
Holding up laminated cards, Roepke shows the group what signs they can expect to see.
“On the front side is the animal itself. On the backside, is what we typically see to know that the animal has been here,” said Roepke.
He pointed out some fresh tracks in the snow off to the side of the slope.
“Right here we have a snowshoe hare. The snowshoe hare feeds off the bottom limbs of the evergreen trees around here. Why is the snowshoe hare important? Because we’ve established the lynx in the San Juan Mountains and they have migrated up into this area,” said Roepke. “The snowshoe hare is a major source of the lynx. As a matter of fact, we’ve had a lynx and her kitten spotted by the Blackjack lift here in Copper, so we know they’re here. I’ve actually seen the lynx tracks following behind the snowshoe hare.
Skiers even learn which types of snowflake makes for the best conditions.
“It’s that one, the pointy one, it’s the dendrite one. When you see it, you’re gonna have a good powder day,” Roepke.
Skiers said they will probably look at Copper Mountain differently the next time they hit the slopes.
“I think for sure I’ll notice little things that I never did before,” said one skier on the tour.
Get to Copper Mountain by taking I-70 through Frisco in Summit County to the Copper Mountain exit. Follow the signs to the area.
The “Ski with a Ranger” program meets every Friday at 11 a.m. at the top of the Timberline Express chairlift. The program is also available at Keystone, Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek, Aspen and Monarch Mountain in the Pike National Forest.