It’s been a while since we’ve seen such a feeding frenzy. Sixty-three inches of snow in 10 days after a prolonged drought will do that to people.
When a storm cycle like this hits, a palpable energy fills the air, creating a buzz like the snowflakes zapping the power lines. It’s an instant happy pill, the dry months erased with the bushes on the hillsides. Everyone is friendly, the snow seemingly carrying endorphins embedded in its crystals. Realtors ride the lift with radio jockeys and doctors high-five dishwashers, everyone enjoying a common bond.
It’s the same energy kids feel about Santa Claus, and it makes us just as jolly. That it happened around Christmas makes it even better. You could feel it in the flakes glistening at Howelsen Hill’s sledding party and see it in the smiling faces of retailers shoveling snow off their sidewalks for shoppers.
But the people it affected most were skiers and snowboarders. It was a gift townsfolk haven’t unwrapped for two years, save for a quick 24 hours last Presidents Day. And this time, the euphoria settled in for days.
Compare it, if you will, to the Broncos’ past two seasons. Last year, like Tim Tebow, was all over the place. A record drought and then 27 inches overnight; an errant toss and then an 80-yard touchdown pass in overtime of the playoffs. The seasons ended the same, as well, with both of us lucky to have the records we did.
The similarities continue this season, three early losses equating to mountain biking Ridge Trail on Dec. 1. Fans and plow drivers grumbled, and hotel staff played Parcheesi. But then the switch flipped, for the Broncos and the ’Boat.
For a week, snowfall racked up like Peyton Manning’s yardage. Ten here, 14 there, 8 here and the next thing you know, we’re having a winning season. The snow reports resembled Groundhog Day, leaving even Switchboard Kent incredulous: “It’s sounding repetitive, but it’s another powder day in the ’Boat.”
This is what kicked the mania into turbo drive. For several mornings in a row, people rearranged family and work obligations to get out on the mountain.
First comes wrestling with the guilt of whether or not to rally to the mountain. You have work to do, errands to run and sidewalks to shovel. But then you remember why you struggle to make ends meet to live here. When the storm-cycle stars align, it’s the swell hitting the North Shore, wind buffeting Hood River and a blue-wing olive hatch rising off the river. And you ask yourself, “If the world’s truly going to end today, where would you have rather spent your last few days — chained to a desk or choking in the white room?”
So the choices begin. Snowboard, Telemark or Alpine? Park at Ski Time Square, Knoll or Meadows? Wildhorse gondola or shuttle? Then the crucial singles or main line debate, the savvy spying a “mark” — a tall guy in an easily recognizable jacket — as a barometer of progress.
Next comes outsmarting the Storm Peak Express line before the ultimate decision on the chair: Where to? Can you still get untracked on an actual run, or should you head straight for the trees? And what insider knowledge do you have? Is Lower Shadows or Rolex opening? If so, you Bernie Madoff your way that direction.
My frenzy started with a simple, one-syllable text. “Slash?” it read, code from a snowboarding buddy to make turns the next morning. One morning quickly led to three, turning my domestic life upside-down. Dishes piled, the driveway resembled Antarctica, pets went unfed and ski clothes littered the mudroom in a feeble attempt to dry.
To pull it off takes above-average ski-bum smarts, especially if you’re juggling job and family. You’re more efficient than you ever are in the workplace, packing work clothes in a spare bag and a lunch to eat at your desk. You drop off the kids while wearing your ski pants and change back into your civilians in the parking lot for that 11 a.m. meeting.
But it’s all worth it in the end. While the town’s gross productivity likely falls during weeks like this, something more important rises: the collective spirit of the community. And that’s the most important gift of all.
Eugene Buchanan is a longtime Steamboat Springs resident and the magazine editor for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. He can be reached at ebuchanan@SteamboatToday.com or 970-870-1376.