Article & Photos by Ann Driggers
Here in Colorado it has been a slow start to winter with above normal temperatures and a dearth of precipitation. Normally we can count on mountain biking one weekend and skiing the next, thereby effectively eliminating the shoulder season. But this year the mountain bike trails have closed for winter wildlife before there was enough snow on the ground to even contemplate clicking into skis. In short the early winter has been a bit of a lemon. So what is a mountain gal to do? Turns out these abnormal weather conditions can create opportunities of a new kind. The cold, clear nights and lack of snow make for incredible ice development on high mountain lakes – smooth and clear like glass.
When word got out that the ice on Maroon Lake, at the base of the iconic Maroon Bells, one of Colorado’s most photographed wilderness scenes, was ‘in’, plans were made in short order for an ice skating party. However, getting there was not as simple as in the summer when one can drive, or take a shuttle bus - the USFS closes the road about 7 miles out during the winter months. Since the road was mostly dry biking was the best mode of transport and towing the Burley Nomad trailer with all my gear was a no-brainer. In addition to avoiding the weight and bulkiness of a large backpack while teetering up a long hill on the bike, the voluminous trailer allowed for additional creature comforts for a fun day in the mountains.
Riding in complete solitude up the closed road, which at any other time of year can be incredibly busy, was a treat in itself as I watched the early morning sun creep down the sides of 14er Pyramid Peak. With 7 miles and 1,300 feet of climbing towing the Nomad behind my mountain bike was a decent workout, for which I was actually grateful given it was the weekend following Thanksgiving.
Once I arrived at the lake and parked up on the ‘beach’ my friends were most envious when I pulled out of the Nomad, not only my skates and hockey stick but a chair, delicious soup, pumpkin bread and hot toddies in addition to all the extra warm clothing I would need now I had finally made it up the hill.
There are almost no words to describe the euphoria experienced while gliding around on the glassy ice in such a spectacular setting. Many hours were spent in wonderment and joy at being able to experience this rare phenomenon of skating on Maroon Lake. It is said that the ice skating season can be just a couple of days every five years. Indeed it held true this time as the next night it snowed and the glassy ice was covered.
At the end of this most glorious afternoon I packed up the Nomad and sailed back down the road into town, a huge grin plastered over my face. I had turned this lemon of an early winter into the best tasting lemonade I have ever had in my life.