Eugene Buchanan: Crust, what crust?
December 21, 2014
Steamboat Springs — OK, I take it back.
What a difference a storm can make.
One day we're languishing in the remnants of the worst snow layer ever, and the next thing we know, a 20-inch snowstorm wallops Mount Werner into submission, popping the celebratory cork on full-blown, Steamboat-style Champagne.
Those who got out Dec. 14 were rewarded with the first sip. After two weeks of being painstakingly beaten down by the sun and side-stepping ski instructors, the evil sheen that had so disgruntled everyone was knocked out by a third punch, this one from the same heavens that wracked us with the "freezing rain."
It was as if Mother Nature herself reached down and said, "You have suffered enough, my minions, now rejoice and enjoy my bounty."
Combined with two weeks of warm temperatures and the resort's wildfire-like combat efforts, it was the only elixir that could have salvaged the season. Instead of cold blower pow that would have adhered like teenagers to a curfew, the first 7 inches were moist, bonding to and smothering the shin-skinning layer. Dr. Deep himself couldn't have written a better prescription.
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Then Dec. 15, Santa continued to come in spades with a storm adding another 13 inches. Only a guy like the Broncos’ Pot Roast or portly Saint Nick himself, skiing on old-school slalom skis, would've broken through the barrier.
It's as if someone took a giant can of Crust Begone and pointed it square at Mount Werner, blanketing the offending film with fluff. It was good vs. evil, with the victory needle swaying toward benevolence just in time for the holidays.
Lift ops were smiling, PR wonks were Instagramming and skiers and riders were high-fiving and pushing powder clauses to the brink. In one fell swoop, the storm placated the town's pent-up powder jones. It wasn't record-breaking by any means, and hidden shrapnel kept you from exalting with reckless abandon, but it was back to the Steamboat we all know and love.
The windfall also caused closet crustologists to sound off on yet a new round of pontifications. Those who claimed it would be here all year and that the trees would never be skiable were forced to recant.
Those espousing on temperature gradients, crystal bonding and isothermic layering put their thermometers back in their pocket protectors. All theories were swept aside thanks to one Steamboat-style storm.
Of course, people still approached the mountain tentatively, dipping their toes in the water before plunging in.
Was it really gone? For good?
It was like one of those horror films featuring a creature lurking below the surface, like "Piranha," "Anaconda" or even "Snow Shark" (yes, there is such a thing) about a Great White circling the slopes below bikini-clad skiers.
Knowing it was still lurking down there somewhere, I took my snowboard out on the first wave Dec. 14, thinking the extra surface area might keep me safe above its clutches. But with 7 inches of whipped cream clinging to it like shortcake, I only punched through once with my tail, an audible crunch following the fracture. I escaped like the stern-scarred speedboat in “Jaws.”
Then the next day, it was hasta la vista for the denizen of the deep, thanks to the perfect trifecta: Steamboat Ski and Corp.’s SWAT-like packing regime, warm temps baking it down inch by icy inch and 20 saving-grace inches serving up the season's first true powder day. And it was celebrated all the more for what we had all endured.
Of course, it's still down there somewhere, a tree ring reminding us of the subpar start to the season. Avi-archaeologists digging pits will find it, buried and broken at the resort but still very much alive in the backcountry, where travelers will have to tread lightly all season long.
But for the on-piste persuasion among us, the season's savior was born in a storm that kicked ol' Crust Kringle in the derriere, heralding a collective “hallelujah” just in time for the holidays. And then there was much rejoicing.
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