Steamboat Springs It’s gotten a little competitive this year.
They started appearing in early January, right after the series of big snowstorms blanketed Steamboat in powder. A friend emailed a video of two people skinning up a slope near Steamboat Springs Airport and then schussing down a whopping 13 turns. A few days later, more tracks appeared at other usual haunts — the sage-covered hill just east of 7-Eleven and the north-facing meadow where Twentymile Road meets the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge.
Whoever made them were true pros. The James Brown Bridge tracks were so well calculated that they appear framed perfectly in your windshield when you drive south over the bridge. And they were tight, four purposefully laid sinuous curves paralleling one another flawlessly. Their creators weren’t farming the terrain to save it for others, either. Not too many people are willing to put pride on the line to ski a dorky line.
This year, however, there seem to be more than usual because 1) there’s little powder to be found elsewhere; 2) December’s snow combined with January’s cold has made for the best urban line conditions in years; and 3) a month-long high-pressure system has preserved the tracks as if they’re on exhibit in the Louvre. Lay tracks right before a snowstorm, and they’ll be Zamboni’d clean before you can say “Facebook.”
For my friend Johnny, all this has become a little too much to bear. He coined the “dork line” term (short for Dads On ReKon) years ago and has been skiing these diminutive drops since these new perps were knee-high to a grasshopper — which, by the way, we’ll see plenty of if this drought persists. And the James Brown Bergschrund is right on his way to work every day, affronting every ski fiber in his body.
That’s why he called me to set some contrails of our own. It was time, he said, to get busy.
For aesthetics’ sake, we needed someplace new. It’s bad form to encroach on someone else’s turf, and artistry is a key caveat. You want high visibility for all the town to see. With these guiding principles, every hillside in town offering a modicum of turns is a potential palette, a blank canvas awaiting your strokes. The question was where to strike.
The answer: Little Gulp Couloir, a newly tamed south-facing slope behind 7-Eleven, accessed by Base Camp 1 on its north face. While Johnny admittedly butchered his line — miss one turn and it can turn a Picasso into a preschool painting — mine wasn’t half bad. More important, a line had been drawn in the snow to all other comers: Johnny and his side-stepping sidekick weren’t to be trifled with when it comes to making tracks. The biggest bonus of the Little Gulp expedition was that I could see the tracks from the swivel chair in my office.
Next up was Duckels’ Dare, a tiny, 10-turn hill heading out of town off Routt County Road 129. Dorky, sure. A statement? Most definitely.
A week later, with the high-pressure system still holding, Johnny called for another assault, this one an 11-turn wonder off 13th Street depositing you into a fence. A once-clean slate now happily home to voluptuous undulations, we named it Youth Corps Couloir, joining such other micro-monikers as the Hamburglar Couloir and Airport Arete.
But our adversaries quickly one-upped us again, laying another set of curves into Butcherknife Creek near Steamboat Springs Middle School, glistening in the sun like serpentine sirens.
If this month gets remembered for its lack of snowfall, it also might go down for its urban line accolades. Not even a windstorm swept up to Etch-a-Sketch away locals’ snowy artwork. While a 30-day run might not be too long for a painting in a gallery, it’s an eternity on a snow- and sage-covered hillside.
The bottom line of all this daring-do? If these conditions persist, play the hand you’re dealt. Instead of griping, do some sniping by skiing lines you might otherwise overlook, be it to the side of Blackmere or out your backdoor. Just don’t get too attached to your handiwork. If Mother Nature giveth, she surely can taketh away with a new blanket of white — which I don’t think anyone would mind at all.
Eugene Buchanan is magazines editor for the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at ebuchanan@SteamboatToday.com and 970-870-1376.