By Craig Davis, Craigslegztravels.com
The first Colorado ski trip in five years began with a scene out of “Doctor Zhivago” — on a ride through a snow-covered pine forest on a sleigh full of Russians.
The sleigh was by design. The Russians were the luck of the draw at the Two Below Zero sleigh ride experience at Frisco Adventure Park. Random, but fitting for the circumstances. (More about the sleigh ride below).
The epic winter vibe only got stronger over the next couple days of relentless snow and single-digit temperatures.
Not that snow on a Colorado ski trip is ever a bad thing.
The white stuff has been more abundant than usual this winter in central Colorado, where the Summit County hub of popular ski resorts marked record levels of snowfall in February 2020.
Breckenridge Ski Resort surpassed its February record of 85 inches by Feb. 17 and finished the month with a heaping 120 inches.
That’s 10 feet of snow over 29 days.
The resort reported that tied for the snowiest month ever recorded with January 2014.
The story was similar at the nearby areas, as my visits to Keystone and Copper Mountain confirmed — Copper’s 95 inches easily surpassed its 1986 record of 83 inches for the month and Keystone ended just a bit short of its February mark. Even the groomed runs had nice cushions of fresh powder as snowfall varied between light and heavy throughout the day.
It would have been nice to get at least one of those sun-splashed bluebird days on the mountain. But the sun was a no-show most of this trip. And road conditions prevented making the 40-mile trip to Beaver Creek resort, a personal favorite.
Even the snowboard dude who waited on us at Ein Prosit Bavarian Restaurant in Frisco lamented that this winter had seemed endless and the cold relentless.
It’s not too late to work in a late-season Colorado ski trip. The good news is that March is typically the snowiest month in the region.
There should be decent spring skiing into April as well. While most of the ski areas will close by mid April, Breckenridge plans to have some lifts running through late May.
Cozy ride on the sleigh
While Summit County is best known for its five world-class ski resorts, one of the most popular attractions around Frisco is the sleigh ride that operates out of Frisco Adventure Park at the edge of town.
Particularly for those seeking a family activity.
We were fortunate to snag the last two seats on one of the half-dozen sleighs pulled by two-mule teams for the “scenic hot cocoa” tour on a Saturday afternoon. The highlight of the hour-long excursion was the refreshment and entertainment stop at the midpoint.
As we filed into the dining hall a cowboy singer was playing well-known favorite tunes. There were thermoses of steamy hot chocolate and plates of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies waiting on the tables. (Sleigh rides including dinner are also available).
While we enjoyed the goodies and song, servers poured peppermint schnapps for anyone who wanted it. All of which made the fluffy blankets on the sleighs for the return trip less of a necessity.
It also enhanced the festive mood, though we remained oblivious to the conversations of our fellow passengers, who were speaking in Russian.
But our driver was engaging and informative. He pointed out a barren swatch on a distant mountain slope that was the path of a massive avalanche the previous year.
Mules in the pines
He noted that the route of our ride was through a forest of young pines that had been planted in the wake of the Mountain Pine Beetle outbreak that turned 3.4 million acres of forestland across Colorado into massive tree graveyards from the mid-1990s to 2014.
I recalled the endless expanses of red, dead trees on a tour of a half-dozen Colorado ski resorts in 2008 at the height of the outbreak. It will take many years to recover from the devastation, but seeing regeneration of the pine forest was encouraging.
We also learned a lot about the mules that made this foray through the forest possible.
The offspring of a female horse and male donkey have been bred to bring out the best characteristics of both parents for thousands of years. They are lovable, strong, smart and reliable — but can only be pushed so far.
Our driver explained that mules’ reputation for stubbornness is actually about self-preservation. When they get into a dangerous situation, mules have the presence of mind to simply stop.
He also noted that one elderly mule team decided in the middle of a tour that the time had come to retire and refused to pull the sleigh another step. Another team had to be sent out to bring the passengers back to base.
Fortunately us and our Russian comrades, this pair was in their early teens and can likely be counted on for many more years of happy trails.
Sleigh ride information
Scenic Hot Cocoa Rides: The 1-hour sleigh ride takes you on a forested trail with a 20-minute stop at the midway point for hot cocoa (and peppermint schnapps), fresh baked cookies, and live music. Rides depart at 4 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and 7 days a week during holiday peak time from mid-December through New Year’s.
Price is $55 for ages 13 to adult, $45 for ages 4-12.
Dinner Sleigh Rides: This 2 1/4 hour adventure includes a 3-course dinner and live music show. Rides depart at 5:15 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and 7 days a week during the holiday peak time of mid December through New Year’s.
Price is $84 for ages 13 to adult, $55 for ages 4-12.
For reservations, call 970-453-1520 or visit the Two Below Zero website.
The sleigh ride is one attraction at the Frisco Adventure Park at the edge of town. Cross country skiing, tubing and snowshoeing are among other winter activities. Visit the Frisco Adventure Park website for more details.
Dining in Frisco
Butterhorn Bakery (408 Main St, Frisco): This is simply my favorite breakfast spot in any ski town I’ve visited in North America. Can’t beat the whole wheat pancakes topped by a mini mountain of fresh strawberries, bananas, wild Maine blueberries and walnuts. … For lunch, try salad and a half-sandwich — the Frisco is stuffed with enough turkey breast, bacon and avocado to fill a full sandwich.
Vinny’s Euro American Restaurant: This is the best choice for fine dining in Frisco. Features seasonal organic ingredients from Colorado’s High Country. Vegan choices are available. We had small plates in the pub one night, then returned the next evening for entrees in the dining room.
Ein Prosit Fine Beers and Sausages (313 E. Main Street, Frisco): Fine beers and sausages — enough said. They offer a variety of traditional and exotic sausages (the Pheasant mushroom & parmesan was excellent, but you might prefer the Antelope Rabbit & habanero or Curried Yak brat). We had the 3 sausages sampler plate and hung out till closing sipping Hofbrau Dunkel and Andechs Dopplebock.
Ein Prosit is connected to the three-story Frisco Emporium, a treasure trove of antiques, clothing, jewelry and assorted gifts, and features a 1921 Model T Ford inside the front window. Most interesting was the Vintage Ski World with skiing equipment and memorabilia dating to the post World War II era.