Tom Ross

Tom Ross

At Home: Paying the Price for Too Much Snow

Tom Ross can’t recall a spring like this one

Advertisement

photo

U.S. Forest Service/courtesy

You do the Math: The Tower measuring site at 10,500 feet on Buffalo Pass in summer, top, and with 194 inches of snow May 24.

— How crazy was spring runoff 2011 in the Boat? A neighbor of mine swears he saw a trout jumping in the flooded parking lot of Steamboat Hotel on the evening of June 4. It was a rare asphalt trout (salmonidae bitumina for you expert anglers).

The Yampa River had flooded across virtually all of the meadows on the west side of U.S. Highway 40 and, presumably, the fish were spreading out. The rest of us were hanging out, watching the rivers flow.

On June 4, the snow was still 5 feet deep on the West Summit of Rabbit Ears Pass and the feds told us that remarkable snowpack still contained 3 feet of water. The snowmelt already was descending on the valley.

On the evening of June 6, Little Toots Park along the banks of Soda Creek was the place to be. The creek had jumped a concrete retaining wall and came pouring through the park where giddy people of all ages were frolicking in the frigid water that had been snow just hours before.

“We’re going to come back tomorrow night and kayak through the park,” local Jill Lambek said.

Not far from Little Toots that night, Chris Arnis was among the crew of kayakers seeking thrills in Charlie’s Hole on the Yampa.

“You have to be out here tonight,” he said. “I figure this only happens once every 20 years. If I wait until next time, I’ll be 68!”

That’s the spirit, Chris!

Elsewhere, stand-up paddleboarders paddled from Bucci Ponds clear across the valley to River Road, negotiating the new Steamboat Everglades. The water was clearing most fences, adding the term three-wire spring to three-wire winter.

So, is it true that there’s no such thing as too much snow in Ski Town USA? It depends on whom you ask. Despite Steamboat’s buoyant attitude, the threat that the rising rivers could damage property and endanger lives still hung over us June 8, when typically runoff has begun to subside. And never have local backs been more sore than from hefting sandbags this spring.

As I write this, the stoic citizens of the Yampa Valley are emerging from what may have been the nastiest and newsiest mud season in three decades. By the power vested in me, I hereby pronounce that all of you who survived May 2011 are Steamboat locals for all time.

Out of necessity, people in this valley are well-versed in turning snow into fun. We ski on it sometimes from October into May, and in between, we recycle it into paddling sports and fly-fishing.

But excessive snow also can get in the way of mountain biking and hiking. It’s anyone’s guess when we might be able to drive to the summit of Buffalo Pass this year and hike north on the Continental Divide Trail. If you go anytime before say, July 20, take a pair of snow gaiters to zip over your hiking boots.

How deep was the snow on Buff Pass on Memorial Day weekend?

The snow wizards at the Natural Resources Conservation Service were reporting that the snow on top of the pass was 194 inches deep on May 28. That’s 16 feet (check my math). That’s deeper than an NBA big man standing on top of another. Picture Dirk Nowitzki standing on LeBron James’ shoulders — the snow still would have been over their heads.

If you’ve ever toyed with the notion of attempting to ski in the Colorado Rockies in every month of a calendar year (and who hasn’t?), your time has come. I know I’m going for it.

A June cross-country skiing outing on Rabbit Ears Pass was a given. And a July ski outing on Buff Pass shouldn’t be a problem, provided the road is open.

August could be the crux month, when one might have to go to 11,000 feet to find a permanent snowfield in order to fake a few Telemark turns on a pair of wide touring skis or even some skate skis.

With a little luck, we’ll be able to return to Rabbit Ears Pass and Bruce’s Trail for a token ski in late September. But I’m not leaving it to chance.

Sometime in early September, I’ll strap the skis onto my backpack and head for a huge avalanche run-out I can count on at the foot of Red Dirt Pass, deep in Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.

Come October, heck, it will be winter again.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.