Have you ever taken the time to read stories in the snow? When we’re ripping through fresh snow at the ski resort, or pushing our heart rates on the skin track (maybe with music blaring through headphones) we are certainly connecting with the mountains experiencing the thrill our winter landscape provides--however there’s a whole story we may be missing!
Slowing down in our winter environment opens up a whole drama that (quite literally) leaves its tracks in the snow. While our wildlife may be more abundant and active in the summer time--winter landscapes give us a unique opportunity to, for a moment, follow the lives of the animals we share a home with here in the Eagle River valley! As we get later into the winter, and the snowpack gets deeper, the lines between our community and the ecological community get blurrier. Deep snow forces deer, elk, and other prey species lower into the valley. And where the deer & elk go, the mountain lion and other predators follow!
Only a few weeks ago mountain lion tracks were spotted in the town of Minturn. On a hike just last week I had the privilege of following a coyote, perhaps only minutes later, for over a mile up the trail. The tracks would dart off the trail, then return to the easier path--sometimes begging the question, what was our canine friend looking for in the drifts of snow? Later in the hike a frenzy of tracks closed in on a relatively fresh deer carcass--just bones and fur remaining. With more time, perhaps, I could have followed one of the many stories in that frenzy a little further.
Our valley is full of active winter wildlife--from mountain lion, lynx, and cyote, to the distinctive tracks of squirrel darting from tree to tree and even evidence of small rodents briefly emerging from their subnivean (under the snow) labyrinth. It takes years to become an expert tracker, but all you need to start reading the stories in the snow is a guidebook or app, and the willingness to maybe slow down for a moment. I’d highly encourage you to try it--no two chapters are the same!
Walking Mountains offer’s tracking themed snowshoe hikes every other week on Thursdays! The next Tracks, Signs, & Snowshoes program is this Thursday 2/13. The hike will be lead at Maloit Park, where in the last few weeks Walking Mountains programs have seen Moose & Lynx, among other exciting tracks!