Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs I was returning from a rewarding powder skiing expedition to Walton Peak during the weekend when a young stranger referred to me as “a dirt bag local.” I chose to take it as a compliment.
To be clear, the young man who made the comment was not insensitive enough to call me a dirt bag to my face. And if he was in fact referring to me, and not to some other dirt bag in the middle of that snow-swept meadow on Rabbit Ears Pass, he almost certainly thought he was out of earshot when he stereotyped me.
After crossing Walton Creek, I had paused to put the climbing skins back on my skis before the last little march up to the parking lot. I was just getting under way again when a trio of adults approached on snowshoes. We exchanged smiles and pleasantries and I observed that there were good powder turns to be had up on the peak.
Soon after we passed, with the separation between us at about 20 yards, I heard one of the two men in the party remark, “Some of these dirt bag locals who can’t afford a season pass,” and then I believe he said something to the effect of, “come up here to ski powder.”
It wouldn’t have been unlike me to call out a sarcastic response at that point.
“Who you callin’ dirt bag, snowshoe guy? Your mother skis in galoshes!”
But in this case, I never felt the impulse. Maybe it was because I was still buzzing with satisfaction over the tight parallel turns a friend and I had carved like signatures into the east face of Walton Peak a bit earlier.
Actually, I found the dirt bag remark amusing.
As best I can tell, the derivation of the term “dirt bag” has its genesis in upright vacuum cleaners that catch household dust bunnies in a heavy paper bag. Hence, a dirt-bag skier would be someone trailing a cloud of dust, hairballs, stale Cocoa Puffs and the dried-out husks of household flies behind them.
The whiskers on my chin might have looked a little grizzled, and I’m certain I was having a bad hair day as I slogged back to the pickup in the Walton Creek parking lot Sunday. But I was wearing perfectly decent outdoor clothing and a brand new ski pack, and I definitely wasn’t trailing a cloud of dust.
Still, given a choice, I think I’d rather be referred to as a dirt bag than a dust bunny. So I’ll accept that I’m nothing but a bag of dirt on skis and wear the label with pride.
I can understand why some people would be puzzled about the motivations of those who bother to climb up modest mountains to ski powder when the Steamboat Ski Area offers so much prime terrain, gladed tree runs and an abundance of high-speed chairlifts.
The simplest answer I can provide is that after 33 winters in the Yampa Valley, I get a kick out of all kinds of skiing. I enjoyed some medium-speed cruising on Mount Werner on Feb. 6, and back in November I took my old Fischer touring skis — the ones with quaint metal edges — out of the garage to do some early season kicking and gliding.
I’m looking forward to taking my 1937 slalom skis for a spin through the trees during the Wooden Ski Rendezvous up in Columbine on Feb. 26. And if the snow holds up this spring, we’ll sneak up on the pass one last time to skate on the morning crust in early May.
Another factor in my determination to earn some of my turns the hard way is the onset of Aging Weekend Warrior Syndrome.
When one reaches his or her late 50s, hanging on to physical fitness is a big part of the equation. It’s one of the reasons I spend so much of my time on skis skating at a groomed touring center — there’s no workout quite like it.
Truth is, I’m proud to be a dirt bag local skier who occasionally climbs for his turns in the mild country on Rabbit Ears Pass.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com