COPPER MOUNTAIN — Right after putting away the moguls, and before breaking out the Independence Day fireworks, locals celebrate what we lovingly call Mud Season, a time of year when the mountains come alive with birdsong, splashing trout and showy wildflowers.
It's a quiet time, and if you want to experience Summit County like locals do, it's a great season to visit. Everybody has their own reason to love mud season, and we've come up with the top seven ways to experience springtime in the Rockies like a local.
1) More Skiing: With powder piling up throughout April, Arapahoe Basin is set for one of its best spring seasons in recent memory. The resort is 100 percent open, including sunny Montezuma Bowl and the formidable steeps of the East Wall, all with the deepest base of the year. A $169 spring pass enables turns through the scheduled June 2 closing date, with concerts and other events scheduled weekends through the end of May.
2) Backcountry Skiing: Our snowpack strengthens in the spring, as alternating warm days and cool nights solidify the layers and turn the surface into silky corn snow. If you've ever been tempted to head out for a ski tour across the local crags, try it first with a guide like Peter Krainz, a seasoned Austrian mountaineer and musician who offers backcountry touring programs after the lifts close down. Krainz is the only guide licensed to lead ski mountaineering trips on Summit County classics like Buffalo Mountain and Quandary Peak.
3) Wildflowers: As much as we love the snow, we also look forward to the first spring blooms, often in the form of pasqueflowers on sunny lower-elevation slopes. Some of our favorite spots for early blooms:
• The Ptarmigan Trail in Silverthorne offers a great overview of Dillon Reservoir and most of Summit County, and it's definitely one of the first areas to show spring color, with pale, fuzzy pasque flowers, bright blue mertensia and downy patches of alpine phlox.
• The Tenderfoot Trail in Dillon is fantastic for an afternoon hike to soak up the western sun. Look for phlox cushioned around the base of sagebrush, and a little later, the tall blue lupines.
4) Waterfalls: When the snow up high really starts to melt, the streams swell as they tumble and fall down steep slopes of the Eagles Nest Wilderness:
- Cataract Falls are at the far northern end of the county, but well worth the drive to watch the creek thunder down a few hundred vertical feet through moss-covered cliffs.
- Booth Creek Falls are actually in Eagle County, just on the other side of Vail Pass and a short drive from Copper Mountain. The sunny aspen-covered slopes leading to the canyon often melt out early, enabling hikers to get closeup views of the falls at their peak.
5) Boating: All that water has to go somewhere, right? Inevitably, it gathers force and when it reaches the main valleys, becomes a medium for dancing kayaks and splashy raft rides:
• In Frisco, Ten Mile Creek Kayaks has you covered for lessons, demos and gear, and if the water level is right, you could ride the stream right down to the Frisco Marina for a boat drink.
• For rafting, longtime local KODI Rafting is our favorite, with trips on local streams and excursions to more distant rivers in the region, depending on where the water is good.
• The Frisco and Dillon marinas will ramp up operations as soon as Dillon Reservoir thaws, offering a full range of flatwater boating, from guided fishing trips to peaceful sailing jaunts and even a water taxi across the reservoir.
6) Fishing: Fish get hungry too, and they're especially ravenous in the spring. As the water warms, their metabolism goes into high gear, making them eager to grab on to a fly or a worm.
- Officers Gulch Pond is just a couple of miles east on I-70 from Copper, and early season anglers often report catching a dozen brookies up to six or eight inches long when the ice first melts.
- Tenmile Creek is just across the highway, with good fishing holes all along the stream, including a series of wetland ponds near the I-70-Highway 91 junction, and small riffles of whitewater hiding pockets of feisty brook trout.
- Up higher along Highway 91 (the ice melts later), Clinton Gulch Reservoir is a stronghold for rare cutthroat trout.
7) Two-for-ones: After all that outdoor activity, you're bound to be hungry. And it just so happens that many Summit County eateries save their best deals for mud season, with two-for-ones common in Frisco and Breckenridge. The offers and timing change, so your best bet is to pick up a copy of the local newspaper (look for the blue boxes) and scan the ads - you're almost guaranteed to find a dining deal nearby.