I attribute my renewed love for skiing to my discovery of Spring Gulch, a 19 km trail system operated as a non-profit organization on land owned by the local cattleman’s association. Located seven miles outside of Carbondale, the land is used for summer grazing and has stunning views of Mount Sopris and the Elk mountains. In winter, ski trails loop around an open meadow and then wind uphill through scrub oak to “Finlandia” the ski area’s highest trail which traverses 3 km through a forest of tall mature aspen trees. Besides the beautiful, peaceful scenery, what makes Spring Gulch special is that it is simple, well-loved and accessible to all.
Over the years there has been increasing frustration from locals, many of whom moved to this area because of their love of skiing, that they are being priced out. (Daily lift tickets cost almost $100 and Season Passes are over $1,500) Skiing at Spring Gulch is by donation, but is not required. Frequent users are encouraged to pay $35 for an annual membership. These membership fees along with the proceeds from a few annual fund raisers pay the salaries of the ski area’s two employees who spend each day in the winter grooming and maintaining the trails.
This system works because it means so much to this community. I recently heard sustainability defined as “using exactly what you need and no more”. In this regards, Spring Gulch is a model for sustainability. I have realized that skiing is not about high speed lifts, new base villages, increased snowmaking capacities and new automatic ticket scanners. It is about the physical connection I feel to the land as I follow every contour of the slope. It is the feeling of pure joy and playfulness from moving fast and freely. It is the feeling of what it might be like to fly, and it is the peaceful, meditative stillness of being alone in the winter landscape.