City Lifestyle

Want to start a publication?

Learn More
CMC Roaring Fork members on a backcountry ski trip to Sugar Bowls, accessed from the top of Buttermilk.

Featured Article

For the Love of Mountains

A Conversation with Mike Miller, Chair of Colorado Mountain Club’s Roaring Fork Chapter

This year, one of the Mountain West’s oldest outdoor organizations is celebrating 110 years of existence. Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) was founded in Denver in 1912 by a small group of prominent outdoor enthusiasts, whose initial excursions included a gathering at Cheesman Park and a hike up South Boulder Peak. According to CMC’s historical files, “charter members included Enos Mills, whose efforts were influential in establishing Rocky Mountain National Park; Roger Toll, who held the prestigious positions of superintendent at Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, and Mount Rainier National Parks; and Carl Blaurock, who along with William Ervin was the first to climb all of Colorado's known 14,000-foot peaks.”

From these origins, the club grew its ranks substantially in subsequent decades—and in 1993 partnered with the American Alpine Club to found the American Mountaineering Center in Golden. Today the building houses CMC’s central offices, an extensive mountaineering library, and the only museum dedicated to mountaineering history in the country. Eleven club chapters now operate around Colorado, logging more than 3,000 outdoor volunteer-led activities annually.

More than a century of adventure, volunteerism, environmental advocacy, mountaineering education, and camaraderie in the mountains has solidified CMC’s position as one of the most beloved clubs in the state. Here in the valley, the Roaring Fork chapter has been active since the 1990s. We recently spoke with the group’s chair, Carbondale resident Mike Miller, about local involvement with CMC.


 

Roaring Fork: Tell us a little about yourself.

Miller: “I moved to the Roaring Fork Valley about eight years ago, from the Denver area, after I retired from a job at the State of Colorado. I’ve been a member of the Colorado Mountain Club since 1986, and was previously involved on the front range as a trip leader, ski instructor, and teacher with the club’s Wilderness Trekking School. After moving I got in touch with the chapter out here, started doing activities with them, and about five years ago was asked to take over as the chair.”

Roaring Fork: What’s the background story on the Roaring Fork chapter?

Miller: “It was started about 25 years ago by a few members in Aspen, so it was called the Aspen group. When I became the chair, I started really looking at our roster and realized that three-quarters of our membership didn’t even live in Aspen—and that several original members had even moved downvalley. So our group council of six people met and discussed the name. We decided to change to the Roaring Fork group to better reflect our membership; currently we have about 150 members from Glenwood to Aspen.”

Roaring Fork: How does the group get out in the mountains together?

Miller: “We organize trips for every season, and they’re designed for our local demographics. We’re probably less ‘hard core’ than some other groups around Colorado because that’s what our members want. In the summer we do accessible, easy or moderate hiking and bicycling with a few more difficult climbs and backpacking for people who want something more challenging. In the winter we plan snowshoe hikes and backcountry ski trips around the valley, and of course there are the hut trips—which are always a wonderful time. This year we’re doing hut trips to Harry Gates Hut near Ruedi Reservoir, and Lindley Hut which is in the Braun Hut system above Ashcroft. I should mention that in addition to all of our outdoor trips, we offer backcountry safety education and wilderness first aid training for those who are interested. And we also sometimes partner with other organizations like Wilderness Workshop to complete trail service projects.”

Roaring Fork: Has the group been impacted by Covid-19?

Miller: “During the initial shutdown in 2020 we cancelled all of our trips out of caution. But we actually saw a big bump in membership around that time! People couldn’t travel and it was only safe to gather outdoors, so they thought ‘I might as well join a club.’ We’re fortunate because the majority of our activities are held outside, where members can distance as needed.”

Roaring Fork: What has been one of your personal favorite excursions in recent years?

Miller: “One of the things I really like to do is go out to what’s called the Rifle Ice Caves, just north of Rifle. What we’d do is take a group and tour the caves with ice spikes on our feet, scramble around and explore this incredibly beautiful spot that many people had never even heard of. Then we would drive up the road and cross-country ski a couple miles up to Coulter Lake Ranch, where we’d have lunch. The ranch can no longer host a lunch, so we aren’t able to do that now, but I loved that whole experience. The ice caves are still one of my favorite areas to see in winter.”

Roaring Fork: Is club membership open? How can locals join?

Miller: “Oh yes, membership is open to anyone. I’ve met some of my best friends through this club. If you want information specific to our chapter, you can email me at RoaringForkCMC@gmail.com. And if you decide to officially join, you can sign up online at CMC.org. Our leaders are well trained, so if you’ve been wanting to see more of the backcountry, this is a fun and relatively safe way to do it.”

  • CMC Roaring Fork members on a backcountry ski trip to Sugar Bowls, accessed from the top of Buttermilk.
  • Mike Miller, chair of Colorado Mountain Club's Roaring Fork chapter.
  • CMC Roaring Fork cross country skiers on a bluebird day.
  • Excursion to the ice caves at Rifle Mountain Park.