Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs When it comes to spring skiing in the winter of 2011-12, it’s time to get it while you can.
Or as the late Janis Joplin famously sang,
“I say get it while you can, yeah Honey,
get it while you can hey,
Get it while you can,
Don’t you turn your back on SNOW, no no, no”
With a month left in the Alpine ski season at Steamboat Ski Area, everyone is eager to maximize the time remaining, but this week, while spring break crowds are peaking, it might be time to dial down the speed.
Injuries are a fact of life on a big Colorado ski mountain, but reports from Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue suggest it could be time for all of us to chill and look out for the welfare of the families enjoying spring skiing on Mount Werner this week.
Lt. Travis Wilkinson said that on Sunday his crews took 13-, 7- and 52-year-old males to Yampa Valley Medical Center for possible head injuries. They responded to five calls Monday, taking five people to the hospital for a variety of ski-related injuries. These included a possible broken hip, possible broken arm, two possible head injuries and a possible shoulder dislocation.
I’m not saying any of those mishaps were caused by people who were skiing too fast. I’m just saying, the snow is relatively unforgiving right now, and the trails are more crowded than in other weeks.
Snow conditions in the mountains and meadows surrounding Steamboat are changing rapidly. We skate-skied hard at Lake Catamount on Saturday, cruised the groomers on Mount Werner on Sunday and got in a few licks at Catamount again Monday morning. In the span of 48 hours, the conditions at Catamount had changed significantly.
As we skated from the outfitters center to the crossing of Routt County Road 18 on the west end of the lake, we had to ski through several semi-frozen puddles.
The Dry Creek, Pleasant Valley and Connector loops all were very skiable. But Catamount Director of Lake Operations Dave McAtee told us Saturday he thinks that because the soil was so saturated with moisture last fall before winter temperatures settled in, the little seasonal creeks in the wide-open fields at Catamount already have begun to run beneath the snow.
It was a different story at Mount Werner on Sunday, where we encountered a variety of conditions, including a surprising amount of cold, dry, powdery snow that we could carve on trails like Rudi’s Run, Cyclone and even lower Rainbow.
I expected to encounter more pineapple sherbet snow than we did. By 2 p.m., the upper portion of Heavenly Daze still was quite firm, while the lower third was beginning to soften up.
As we skied through the noon hour, I began to notice the slopes becoming more crowded while lift lines remained very moderate. There were empty chairs on Four Points, and we typically had no more than three or four parties load chairs ahead of us before we could claim a seat on the Storm Peak Express.
The short lift lines seemed like a disconnect to me until I realized that virtually no one was skiing the bump runs. Hence, all of the advanced skiers were zooming down the same slopes being used by vacationing families.
That mixture always causes me to keep my head on a swivel while skiing at my own moderate rate of speed. I’m constantly trying to anticipate the next move of a slower skier below me while looking over my own shoulder to see if I’m being overtaken by a faster skier. I’ve also learned that some of those speed demons know exactly what they are doing and others actually are intermediate skiers who possess more confidence than technique.
We have several more weeks to enjoy spring skiing conditions and turn our skis loose on wide-open trails.
This is a good week to concentrate on a pure carve.
Don’t turn your back on snow, no, no, no.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com