Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by Tom here.
We all knew that eventually the winter of 2011-12 would produce some memorable powder days. But Deep Presidential Monday with a single-day record of 27 inches of uber-fluff overnight? And before that, a heart-shaped gift box with a giant red ribbon on Valentine’s Day?
As of Feb. 8, Steamboat had tallied a paltry 110 inches of snow. Not for the month, but for the season. Exactly one week later, that number had grown to 139 inches. There’s nothing like 29 inches of cold powder in a week to warm your Valentine’s heart. Even better, the total had jumped to 207 by March 1.
If there is one truism about Steamboat’s climate, it’s that the weather tends to get in a rut and stay there until you think it will never change. And at that moment, everything changes — say, hypothetically, when the mountain gets 34 inches out of a storm predicted to drop 6.
We can experience 15 mild, cloudless days in a row in late September and early October, followed abruptly one morning by full-on winter. It might snow steadily until Nov. 30, only to see the first two weeks of December revert to bluebird skies.
So, we’re accustomed to extremes in weather, but the past 18 months have set records for wild swings. If this is what climate change is going to be like, unhook me from the bungee line, please!
Steamboat residents won’t soon forget the winter of 2010-11, when we were blessed with more than 400 inches of Reddi-whip during the ski season for the fourth time in six years.
What we didn’t know on Valentine’s Day 2011 was that the snow would keep falling above 9,000 feet well into May. On May Day last year, legions of never-say-quit skiers still were traipsing up a well-packed path on Vagabond to get to the powder on Storm Peak. A little later in the month, the bronze bust of Buddy Werner at the top of Buddy’s Run disappeared, with someone even adorning him with a snorkel.
There was Nordic skate-skiing on corn snow on Rabbit Ears Pass on June 1, and we skied a bona fide slalom race on the north side of the summit of Hahn’s Peak to celebrate Independence Day.
But that was last year and this is this year.
As I write this, none of us can know what the last eight weeks of the ski season hold in store. It could continue dumping right through April Fools’ Day and not let up until Mother’s Day. Or, by the middle of March, with the days getting longer and the shift to daylight saving time, we could be skiing in swimming suits. The lesson: Harvest the powder while the sun shines!
And if you care enough to seek out the really high places, no matter what’s in store, I guarantee you can find a little patch of permanent snow in Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area where you can make some shaky tracks in August — even after a topsy-turvy winter like this one.
The past two winters, each so different from the other, have reminded us of the great extent the rhythm of life here — be it skiing and riding, whitewater floating, inner tubing, irrigating, harvesting hay, fly-fishing and many other rituals and pastimes — revolves around the rise and fall of our snowpack.