Tom Ross: Solstice springs into ski season
December 21, 2011
Who says Thursday marks the first day of winter? As far as I'm concerned, the winter solstice marks the first day of spring, and Hayden couple Tammie and Patrick Delaney agree wholeheartedly.
They're throwing a disco party Thursday night to celebrate their wedding anniversary and to mark the inexorable return to summer and warm temperatures.
"We're in the wonderful journey into summer," Tammie Delaney said Wednesday. "The solstice is the start of summer. That's what I love!"
Don't freak out. I'm not suggesting that ski season is coming to an end. The coldest, snowiest days of the winter are still ahead of us. And I'm planning to savor every powder turn and every glorious day on the cross-country trails. But if you are inclined to look closely, spring is in the air. Or maybe I should say spring is in the sky.
The winter solstice marks the point at which the winter sun begins to climb a little higher in the sky over the northern hemisphere, and every day grows a little longer.
So, Delaney's comments about the journey into summer are referring to the fact that beginning Thursday, the hours of daylight we experience in the northern hemisphere have stopped shrinking and have begun growing — by about a minute per day this time of year. Yet we refer to this as the first day of winter. I would say that we've turned the corner on winter.
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A database at the U.S. Naval Observatory, which tracks these seasonal changes, reflects that by late January the duration of daylight here will be growing by about two minutes per day. Steamboat will see 9 hours and 20 minutes of daylight on New Year's Day, and the number will have grown to 10 hours and six minutes on Jan. 31. Ten days later, on Feb. 10, we'll enjoy 10 hours and 28 minutes of daylight, and by the end of February we'll bask in 11 hours and 17 minutes of daylight.
Think of it this way — we'll have more daylight in which to enjoy spring skiing with every week that passes.
Steamboat Today columnist Jimmy Westlake wrote an excellent piece Tuesday explaining how the Earth's tilting on its axis during its annual trip around the sun triggers the changing of the seasons as the North Pole and the South Pole take turns aiming toward the sun. It's more complicated than that. Westlake, a professor at Colorado Mountain College, is the master of all things astronomical, and I'm not challenging his science even for a second.
But Westlake did recite in his column the conventional wisdom that the passage of the solstice marks the end of autumn and the beginning of winter.
So I got him on the telephone Wednesday in cold and rainy Atlanta, and he concurred. "The solstice brings the hope of warmer days ahead," he said.
Now that it's finally snowing again in Steamboat, I guess we can all agree that we're looking forward to the gradual arrival of spring skiing. And longer periods of daylight.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com
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