Eugene Buchanan: The storm we’d just as soon forget
December 3, 2014
Steamboat Springs — OK, somebody's gotta' say something, so it might as well be me.
For all the marvelous snowpack it provided, last week's storm was a bit of a letdown. A three-day dump gets everyone's hopes up for one of the best openings ever, and then "freezing rain" crusts it over to the consistency of burnt crème brulee.
It wouldn't have been so bad if it wasn't such a complete surprise. Everyone's collective powder juices were flowing like the Yampa for Scholarship Day, fueled all the more by a bonus dump on Tuesday. But then came the Great Glaze, decimating it in a single downpour.
It was like the Broncos in last year's Super Bowl; all sorts of built-up expectations, only to flop flat on their faces. Which is exactly what happened to unsuspecting skiers as soon as they traversed over to White Out and attempted their first turn. It's as if someone pointed a giant spray gun at Routt County and shellacked the entire snowpack into a gleaming sheen.
On the bright side, it wasn't the worse opening day ever. There was tons of coverage, and the groomers skied pretty well. But it was the whackiest.
Where low-snow years serve up a lone ribbon of death, this year the whole mountain was that ribbon. It was everywhere except where they groomed. Skiing off-piste wasn't even worth the knee cartilage it consumed.
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It left locals shaking their heads as to how so much snow could go to crap overnight.
What did we do to upset Ullr and deserve that? Grass the Nordic jumps?
I skinned the mountain Tuesday, as did others, and it skied great. Then, whammo!, overnight the entire mountain was crustier than Donald Sterling.
Those lucky enough to ski it before Elsa the Snow Queen waved her wand had their tracks frozen in time and enshrined for all to see. It was as ghostly as Planet of the Apes, a relic of a former soft snow civilization. Especially since an ensuing warm spell preserved them, as if rubbing it in our faces.
It's the longest fresh tracks have ever lasted on the mountain. Even now, a week later, no one dares cross them.
It was as bad as anyone's ever seen it, from the Werners to the Withers.
"I was lucky to get out alive," said a friend who ignored caution and ducked into Closets. "Even traversing out was hairball."
Sure, we've had wind crust before, and even a fluke rain or two. But nothing like this. It had patrollers in conniptions wondering how to deal with pent-up-powder fever meets instant curveball by Mother Nature.
And the incident could have long-term repercussions as well, breaking loose avalanches as well as legs. That layer, or "rain event" if you want to sound avi-savvy, could well be there all season long, threatening to slide.
Those who didn't fall prey to the siren's call of untracked powder knew something was amiss before even setting foot to snow. You could see a weird sheen daring you to dive in. Then, on the lift, you could hear it creak and groan. It didn't sound like normal powder.
Tree clumps landed with an audible clank and then shattered into shards. If this didn't raise a red flag, your sense of sight did. Sheets of ice fractured by those braving the forbidden zone tobogganed alongside them.
A pair of sunglasses took a luge ride all the way down Tornado, one lens missing from the beating. A set of tracks down the face was nothing more than a series of open quotation marks, penetrating through every five feet before ending in a massive crater.
It didn't take a PhD. to heed the lift shack advice to stick to groomed terrain. The shellacking made even the manmade snow seem soft, a home base where you could re-circle the wagons.
My kids and I braved one turn into the quarantine only to Brave Sir Robin it back out as quickly as we entered. It was the great equalizer, bringing every skier or rider down to the same ass-over-teakettle level.
Shame of all shames, it even blocked the direct route to Slopeside to commiserate afterward.
And it wasn't just on the mountain. It was all over, like some sort of plague. From town, Valley View glistened menacingly in the sun. North toward Buff Pass and south toward the Flat Tops, the goading gleam was the same.
It's affected backcountry recreation of all walks. No one has ventured off Blackmer Drive when climbing Emerald or toured Walton Peak since it arrived. You can't head anywhere that's not packed out. It's all contaminated like the red tide. We got Grinched, plain and simple, every last Who down in Ski Town.
Still, we shouldn't complain. It happens elsewhere as often as we get our trademark Champagne. Spoiled as we are, it makes us appreciate how good we have it here in Ski Town USA. Besides, the resort is slowly beating it back, inch by groomed inch, packing out the offending film like controlling a fire. And the groomers are skiing great for so early in the season.
We just have to turn the other cheek (giving Mother Nature a collective moon in the process) and put our best foot forward, hopefully not breaking through the stratum in the process. And whistle that little ditty about the bright side; at least skiing on-piste will get our legs in shape to exact revenge after the next storm.
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