Among the things I love most about living in the Yampa Valley is that it affords me the chance to do things that seem exotic to people in other parts of the country. I'll give you a for instance.
There's nothing better than calling back to the home folks in the Midwest on a Sunday afternoon in early June and saying, "Well, we've just come home from skiing on Rabbit Ears Pass, and I wanted to check in and see what you guys are doing."
The stunned silence on the other end of the phone is something to savor. The possibility of going skiing wasn't right at the top of my list when I woke up at about 7 a.m. Sunday. But as soon as I parted the curtains and saw blue sky, I knew what I wanted to do. The departure of the storms that had hammered us all week added up to one of the best opportunities in a decade to take a special photograph in the Elk River Valley. I've learned through experience that there are just a few weekends in one's adult life when Sand Mountain remains covered in snow and the valley floor is green and lush. The cattle are still grazing on the new growth in the hay meadows, and it looks like heaven on earth. I've taken that photograph before, and I wanted to improve upon it in 2005. My tripod, film canisters and lenses were spread out on the living room carpet when it finally dawned on me that my plans weren't going to work out. The Steamboat Marathon on Sunday isn't the best time for a lazy auto trip up Routt County Road 129 with plenty of impromptu stops on the shoulder to set up the tripod and compose a bucolic image.
I was kind of disappointed until the boy staggered upstairs in his PJ's and said, "Are we planning to go skiing?"
We passed on bacon and eggs, and within the hour, we were on our way up Rabbit Ears with Buck the Wonder Dog.
We thought about stopping and skiing at Bruce's Trail, but it doesn't afford the big views that make skiing on the pass so special. So, we continued east to the trailhead for Walton Peak. The snow cover looked disappointingly sketchy, and we figured we'd have an adventurous creek crossing about 1 kilometer into the ski. We drove another mile to the turnoff onto Forest Service Road 502. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that there was already a set of vehicle tracks through the slushy snow leading to the parking lot used by Steamboat Snowmobile Tours in winter. Sure enough, when we caught up to the Subaru parked on the side of the road, a pair of ski tracks headed up the road in the direction of Walton Peak. We hadn't brought our best skis, and it was a good thing. In places, four inches of new snow lay on top of two feet of winter snow. But in other places, the fresh stuff was all that covered the gravel on the road. I was skiing on my 25-year-old Europa 99's. Fischer made this ski as a sort of early Telemark hybrid. They are as skinny as a touring ski, but have a lot of camber, fish scale bottoms and metal edges. They're classics. We came across Barbara and Bill Philip skiing back to their Subaru. Bill had an achievement of note to report.
"I've skied 10 months this year!" he said. "And this is really good skiing." If you're a Nordic skier, then you recall that we had a good snowstorm on the pass in September 2004 -- good enough to allow skiing for nearly a week on Bruce's Trail. Bill has skied every month since. I was kind of kicking myself because I skied in September, but took May off. I guess Bill's diary entry will be superior to mine. That's OK.
We skied about 5 miles roundtrip but didn't quite make it all of the way to Walton Peak because of a dark cloud that was building behind the mountain. We got just close enough to make out a pair of Telemark tracks winding down the peak along the edge of the evergreens.
Sunday's ski was a memorable one, and it reminded me of a lesson that's taken me most of 25 years to really appreciate. When the valley offers you a rare opportunity, don't pass it up. Forget about mowing the lawn, because the chance to ski on Rabbit Ears in June only pops up every decade or so.