Slow down, stamp around with a Yampatika snowshoe tour |

Slow down, stamp around with a Yampatika snowshoe tour

— In a town where a decent percentage of the population rises before the sun to catch first gondola, filed by adrenaline, sometimes the best way to spend a few hours is to slow it all down.

Local environmental education organization Yampatika hosts snowshoe tours all winter long, which wind across the Yampa Valley at various lengths and levels of difficulty to meet the experience level of any and all snowshoers and snowshoers-to-be.

“It’s not a lot of pointing and fact sharing,” Yampatika program director Kellie Gorman said. “(The snowshoe tour) is a process of discovery and curiosity. Whatever people are curious about, that’s what helps guide our program.

“Every single person who joins us comes away having learned something new, some really cool fact or an exciting realization that they want to go share with others,” Gorman explained.

These cool informational nuggets include everything from the subnivean zone of winter ecology — the animals that travel beneath the snow, such as mice, voles and shrews — to local plants and trees, and what they’re up to during the coldest months.  

“If we find the tracks of an animal, we go check them out, and we ask, ‘OK, how big might this animal be? How might it move?’” Gorman said.

“And snowpack and snow science — we geek out on that,” Gorman added.

On Fridays through March 17, the Uranium Mine snowshoe tour departs at 10 a.m. from the Fish Creek Falls parking lot, where a $5 parking fee to the U.S. Forest Service is required. The free tour is moderately strenuous, about 1.5 miles each way on the out-and-back trail of sparkly white and green panoramic views of the Yampa Valley.

Nowadays, the mine’s entrance is gated to keep people out of areas with potential for roof collapses and radioactive radon gas, but explorers can still safely get close enough to peer through the gaps into the darkness of the abandoned mine and read signage about the mine’s history. In the early 1950s, prospectors began digging the mine in search of uranium for making nuclear weapons in the U.S. arms race with the Soviet Union, but when the space was determined to be a less-than-economical option, the project was abandoned.

The tour returns to the Fish Creek Fall parking lot at about 1 p.m.

On Saturdays through March 18, a more accessible snowshoe option is the Emerald Mountain tour. The group meets at 10 a.m. at Howelsen Hill and returns at about noon. the cost, which includes a snowshoe rental, is $20.

The snowshoers take a chair lift up the mountain to more gradual snowshoe trails and clear views of downtown Steamboat and its surrounding mountains.

The ever-popular moonlight snowshoe tour, also on Emerald Mountain, takes place once per month, the most recent event was held Thursday evening. The program begins about an hour before moonrise, or at 4:45 p.m., and lasts about two hours.

Yampatika also offers private tours, which Gorman noted are often requested by those who might want a break from skiing or for families visiting town.

Tours are led by Yampatika naturalists. Karen Vail, senior naturalist, has been with the organization from its start in the early 1990s. Vail has degrees in horticulture, environmental education and gardening and has published a book about edible and medicinal plants and another about Colorado wildflowers.

All tours consist of two to 12 people. Registration is required and can be done by emailing or calling 970-871-9151. It’s recommended to wear waterproof winter boots and waterproof pants, with several layers and a hat and gloves. A 1-liter water bottle and snacks are also a good idea.

“People are surprised by how wonderful it is to slow down, to take a close look at what’s going on around us in the winter,” Gorman said. “We’re driving through it every day, and we’re shoveling it, and we’re scraping it. Snowshoeing really gets people to slow down and appreciate what’s going on — to survive and thrive in it.”

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