It is dumping snow and we're at 9,400 feet. But that's not stopping us from taking a little walk in the woods. No worries. We've got snowshoes strapped to our boots, the right waterproof clothes and we're still smiling from the amazing lunch we devoured after our trek up about two miles to the Pine Creek Cook House (http://www.pinecreekcookhouse.com/) in the middle of the White River National Forest about 11 miles outside of Aspen, Co. (http://www.aspenchamber.org/).
"Weekends this place is packed with kids," said Christopher Keating, the general manager and executive chef and himself the dad of a 9-year-old son.
You can snowshoe as we did or cross-country ski (there are more than 30 km of groomed trails for all levels and a place to rent gear) or take a sleigh ride led by giant Clydesdale horses. Come for lunch or dinner, wearing a headlamp on the trail. In winter, kids can sled outside.
But the highlight -- after the snowshoe in the wilderness -- is the food -- Pine Creek Smoked trout, wild game Momos (Nepalese dumplings), grilled hearts of romaine Caesar, grilled Quail salad, wild mushroom and spinach crepes, Colorado elk bratwurst, a smoked trout melt on sourdough and buffalo tenderloin.
All that locally sourced food might encourage the kids to try a small portion of something new. How about butternut squash ravioli or buffalo tenderloin?
Honestly, it was one of the best meals I've ever had in ski country -- all the better because I had to "earn my lunch," as my daughters would say, snowshoeing up to the beautiful restaurant with the giant picture windows.
Of course, you don't need a gourmet meal to enjoy snowshoeing. It's fun to take a sandwich and hot cider with you in your backpack; it's fun just to get out and enjoy the back-country landscape away from the hustle and bustle of a snow sports resort. I try to take a day off from skiing each trip just for the experience.
In Stowe, Vt., at the Trapp Family Lodge (www.trappfamily.com) my guide was Kristina von Trapp Frame, granddaughter of Maria von Trapp, the young Austrian novitiate-turned governess-turned wife made famous by Julie Andrews in the 1965 film "The Sound of Music." Maria's youngest son and Kristina's dad, Johannes von Trapp, opened the first cross-country ski center in North America here more than 40 years ago and these days, plenty of families on snowshoes and cross-country skis, take advantage of 100 km of groomed and back-country trails.
Not only is snowshoeing or cross-country skiing good exercise and a lot cheaper than downhill skiing, it's a lot of fun with kids, says von Trapp Frame, who gets out with her kids often, listening for different birds (was that a woodpecker?), looking for animal tracks in the snow (squirrel or deer?) and stopping for a snack on a conveniently placed bench (M&Ms anyone?). The sport has grown so popular with snow-loving families that Tubbs Snowshoes now offers a huge assortment of snowshoes for kids (http://tubbssnowshoes.com/snowshoes?use=kids) and until Oct. 29 is inviting schools and nonprofits to enter an essay contest to encourage kids and teens to get outdoors in winter. Winners could win snowshoes for their entire class! (http://news.tubbssnowshoes.com/2012/09/19/get-outdoors-contest-for-schools-and-non-profits/).
Jim Kravitz, the chief naturalist at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (www.aspennature.org) and the father of two young sons, explains that, like naturalist-led hikes, snowshoe walks are a great way to help visitors -- kids and adults -- delve a little deeper into the winter environment -- learning about mountain ecology, avalanches and wildlife in winter. ACES, in fact, offers snowshoe tours every day in winter at the top of Aspen Mountain, as well as Snowmass Mountain, that include snowshoe gear and instruction. (Visit www.aspennature.org for more information.)
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