The winter seems to be flying by without taking a pause for a breather. No warm spells, no dry spells, just continued cooler temperatures and periodic refreshening snow showers. There! just jinxed it for all of those who are ready for a reprieve from the frosty icy grip of the darker season. (sorry powder-hounds, I truly hope I didn’t cast a jinx on it). While memories of deep snowy winters in this valley are aplenty, they share space with times when melting temperatures were daily occurrences, south-facing chutes at Colorado’s favorite resort were closed mid-winter due to the lack of anything white on the entire aspect facing the sun’s low path across the southern sky. Barring any significant change in the current pattern, this season should go down as one of the good ones for snow sports around the Fraser and Colorado River Headwaters.
While we have had winters with much wilder and more frequent winds, there have been enough blustery days to knock down some of the still-standing beetle kill onto our winter trails. While savvy backcountry skiers used to seek the shelter of thick forests from howling winds, that has become more difficult due to the necessity of open clear cut buffers and thinned stands near the trails that allow the wind to work its way deeper into the remaining woods. On days with expectations of a strong blow, if deciding to venture out into the fray, it is best to consider more geographic protection as much as is possible. These are the nooks and crannies lying below ridges or along creek beds that can be identified by the flocking of snow on tree branches that remains long after the most recent snowfall and subsequent winds. When you encounter such areas, it is helpful to store them in the memory banks for those times when you want to get out but don’t want to be looking over your shoulder at creaking widow-makers hanging high overhead.
While we haven’t had the windiest of seasons yet, there has been enough to place some obstacles at the bottom of the Spruce trail in the Experimental Forest. Some of these are on a blind corner when your skis might be running fast, so be sure to have your speed control skills ready should you be skiing the Deadhorse loop in a clockwise direction (the more fun way, for those who have attained a modicum of downhill skill). Hopefully, by the time this makes print those trees will be gone without having been replaced by others.
As is so often the case in the Colorado Mountains in the midst of winter, the best quality snow can be found below treeline in glades that are not exposed to alpine air currents. A bonus this year is that the south-facing slopes have not seen so much intense sun as to create a crispy, crunchy crust. Occasional hints of melted snow that has refrozen into a lacy crepe-like consistency can be found, but most of the snow is as fresh and quiet as one could hope for, and as Colorado is famous for.
If you missed the Headwaters Trail Alliance 4th Annual benefit Progressive Ski Dinner this year, rest assured that they will be willing to accept donations of time or money at any time that you can. (https://headwaterstrails.org/) Supporting trails supports the health of a community on many levels.