Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Cold play: From sledding to showshoeing, you can have fun in snow and stay nearby

By R. Scott Rappold The Gazette - Published: February 10, 2014 0

In the Pikes Peak region, you don't always have to make the two-hour drive to a ski area to play in the snow.

We're blessed with an average of 39 inches of snow a year, and when the big storms hit, thanks to our rolling topography and abundance of parks, Colorado Springs is transformed into a winter playground.

From sledding to cross-country skiing to snowshoeing, this is your guide for getting out there to play when the flakes fly.

Sledding

There aren't any official sledding or tubing hills with a tow rope, but there are plenty of hills that are begging to be sledded on after a snowstorm.

The most popular might be Cottonwood Creek Park in northeast Colorado Springs. Located near Dublin Boulevard and Rangewood Drive, the park has wide, mild slopes that fill with kids after a storm.

Other good parks for sledding include Quail Lake Park on East Cheyenne Mountain Boulevard, Mountain Shadows Park on Flying W Ranch Road, Kathleen Marriage Park on Amberwood Lane and Broadmoor Bluffs Park on Farthing Drive.

Of course, there's nothing that says you can only go sledding in a park. There are plenty of good hills around. If school isn't in session, you can find sledding at Jenkins Middle School on Austin Bluffs Parkway, Timberview Middle School off Scarborough and Squirreltail drives, Trailblazer Elementary School on Wickes Road and Howbert Elementary School on North 31st Street.

In Manitou Springs, the hill behind Iron Springs Chateau is a popular spot. Farther up U.S. Highway 24 in Woodland Park, you can sled in Meadow Park.

Cross-country skiing

The Pikes Peak region isn't known for its Nordic trails, but when the snow is right, you can enjoy the quiet of nature and winter beauty close to home.

Fox Run Regional Park, north of Colorado Springs along Roller Coaster Road, offers some of the region's better ski trails. Take the Baptist Road exit from Interstate 25 and go east for 4 miles to Roller Coaster, turn right and look for the trailhead on the right.

You can make a 4-mile loop on a wide trail with gentle elevation change. You also can find consistent snow in the hills around Woodland Park. The Rainbow Gulch Trail near Rampart Reservoir is a great beginner cross-country ski route. It's wide, mostly level and follows a forest road. Take U.S. 24 west to Woodland Park. Turn right on Baldwin Street at McDonald's and drive past the high school 3 miles to a fork in the road. Turn right and climb a bit more than a mile to an intersection with Rampart Range Road. Turn right again and drive 2 miles to the Rainbow Gulch trailhead.

The trail goes gradually downhill for 11/2 miles to the reservoir. Beginners should double-back, though more experienced skiers can continue around the reservoir on the more challenging Rampart Reservoir Loop.

Of course, if you get on skis right after a big storm, you can cross-country ski about anywhere in town.

Snowshoeing

There aren't many places in the Pikes Peak region where snow is deep enough to require the flotation of snowshoes, but The Crags trail often fits the bill.

High on the snowy north side of Pikes Peak, you'll want a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get up the slick road. Take U.S. 24 west to Divide and turn left on Colorado Highway 67. Turn left after 4 miles onto Forest Service Road 383. Turn right at the Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp and follow the road to the Crags Campground.

Strap on the snowshoes and hike up the road to the campground and east along a trail that rolls up a gentle valley. This place is packed in summer, but the cold and snowy roads keep many people away in winter. Follow the trail northeast to the head of the valley, where the namesake craggy rock formations can be seen. Explore and return the way you came.

In addition, Mueller State Park south of Divide offers 55 miles of trails. Some years the snow can be measured in feet, making for stellar cross-country skiing and snowshoeing among the ponderosa pines.

From Divide, head south on Colorado 67 for 4 miles to the park entrance on the right. Pay the $7 per-vehicle entrance fee. The Black Bear Trail is a great option for snowshoers, as it winds up and down west to the park boundary. You can return the way you came or make a loop with the Homestead or Mountain Logger trails.

Park officials recommend School Pond, Lost Pond, Homestead and Elk Meadow trails for intermediate skiers and Cheesman Ranch and Ranger Ridge for advanced skiers.

Those looking to get some speed can go sledding at four locations in the park: Elk Meadow, on the east side of the main parking lot; Preacher's Hollow, east of the namesake picnic area; Peak View Hill, across from campsites 1-5; and School Pond, a smaller hill on the back side of the School Pond trailhead.

You can check conditions online at parks.state.co.us/parks/ mueller.

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