Leaf-peepers is a friendly name for those of us who get excited about the new ski season as soon as the colors begin to change in the mountains. Foliage colors, reach the mountains near our favorite ski resorts at different times and at different stages. The Gold Standard for fall foliage is New England, with Ground Zero being the Green Mountains of Vermont that turn brown, red, yellow, and orange in the fall for a few glorious weeks.
It seems odd that we get such joy from the annual death of leaves from “deciduous” trees (those that lost their leaves in the fall). Why leaves change colors in fall, with some years more brilliant and long-lasting than others, is based on some simple science and environmental cues.
Scientists at the University of Virginia (where the colors come a bit later than further north) explain it (short version) like this: The colors are due to plant pigments in leaves. “Chlorophyll” is the pigment responsible for the green color in leaves, and for producing carbohydrates (sugars) plants need for growth. It does this through the process of “photosynthesis” — producing sugars and oxygen from carbon dioxide and water.
“Carotenoids” are the pigments responsible for yellow and orange (like carrots) colors in leaves.“Anthocyanins” are the pigments responsible for red and purple fall leaf colors. These are only produced in the fall when sugars are trapped in the leaves.
Vermont foliage forecasters are predicting the start of color about Sept. 24 and peaking between Oct. 12-14. Columbus Day (or Indigenous Peoples Day as it is sometimes referred to) will bring out the peepers among us encases, so be sure to make advance reservations for a room at the inn.” This is your only opportunity throughout the year to take in these brilliant displays of color. Ski resorts across the country provide a unique experience for hikers to enjoy these colors.
It’s a different story in the western mountain rangers and New Englanders often joke about that beautiful “one color” display. But those blazing yellow Aspen groves are brilliant and you’ll find them at all your favorites Rocky Mountain ski resorts. Colors typically peak in Colorado’s northern mountains throughout September. The central mountains peak the last week of the month. It’s the first week of October Typically, colors peak in Colorado’s northern mountains throughout the month of September. The central mountains peak the last week of the month for the southern mountains. Beginning to mid-October is perfect in Wyoming.
Here’s our guide to fall foliage west and east:
1. Jackson Hole
Roads like these near Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows are beautiful.
Wachusett near Worcester, Mass. offers up a full-color display in fall. Credit: Wachusett Mountain