South Routt What tumbles like tumbleweeds across the ranchlands of Routt County when there are no tumbleweeds to tumble? Well, snowballs of course.
With the unseasonably warm weather the valley has been experiencing in recent days, the snow has become ripe for what are called "snow rollers".
Those snow rollers, like the massive cartoon snowballs that threaten to obliterate the cartoon's protagonist as they gather speed down a hill, pick up snow as they roll down steep slopes. At the end of their journey, the initial flakes can grow to become as large as five feet in diameter, according to an avalanche specialist at the ski area and local residents on County Road 131.
Ski corp. avalanche technician Jeff Hirschboeck said the snow rollers can actually cause avalanches in some cases.
"A roller can start an avalanche," Hirschboeck said. "The trigger there is the weight and disturbance of the slope."
The phenomena are caused either by pieces of the cornices that hang over steep slopes falling and starting a reaction below or clumps of snow sitting in trees that fall and start the process, Hirschboeck said.
A National Weather Service meteorologist quoted by the Associated Press also said the rollers occur when the snow is deep and the winds get high enough to push the ball along.
Hirschboeck said he has seen a snow roller that was about four to five feet in diameter sitting in the middle of a ski slope at Sundance Ski Area in Utah.
The ski area workers had to blow the colossal ball up with a two-pound charge, he said.
Out on County Road 131 and County Road 35, the rollers have grown as large as volleyballs or basketballs in some cases. Other smaller rollers spread themselves in wide swaths over the ranching landscape like braille dots on stark white paper. They don't actually look like snowballs a roller's shape more closely resembles a cylindrical spiral. Hirschboeck compared the phenomena to cinnamon rolls.
Behind the roller lies its skinny trail, marking its path.
Terry Whitecotton, who lives on County Road 35, said he has seen the rollers all his life, some of them as large as a five-foot man. He said he has seen the rollers in the area about twice in the past five years.
"When you get strong winds, they start to roll," Whitecotton said.
He said he remembers playing on the colossal structures when he was a young boy.
"When I was a kid I used to climb up them," Whitecotton said