April snow raises hopes for traditional Mother’s Day ski outing
Steamboat Springs — Driving over the east summit of Rabbit Ears Pass April 16 on the way home from DIA and staring at the patches of ground that were bare of snow, I remarked to my wife, “Doesn’t look like we’ll be skiing on Mother’s Day this year, honey.”
I know, normal families associate Mother’s Day with a large Sunday brunch, but our tradition is to throw several pairs of older Nordic skis in the car-top box and head up to the pass to bid the ski season farewell. The appeal of skiing on Mother’s Day for us is that it underscores what a remarkable climate we live in. And if I’m honest, I enjoy bragging about that fact to relatives living east of the Mississippi River.
Even more exotic is skiing on Father’s Day. I’ve done that on Rabbit Ears at least four times — at the tail end of the monster winters of 1995-96 and 1996-97, when mid-mountain snowfall at Steamboat Ski Area was more than 440 inches, again in 2008 and again in 2011. On Father’s Day 1996, I photographed skiers standing on the edge of melted-out tree wells where the snowpack was still five feet above the bare ground.
Of course, that won’t be happening in 2015 with our below-average snowpack. Even some 400-plus-inch winters don’t afford Father’s Day skiing on Rabbit Ears.
Case in point, I was confident in late spring 2006 that the snow would hold up on Rabbit Ears until Father’s Day, after 432 inches fell midway up the ski area. As it turned out, my son and I settled for hiking five miles and 2,400 feet of vertical above Fish Creek Falls to Long Lake that Father’s Day, where snowfields were persisting at 9,880 feet.
We didn’t actually ski, but pulled rectangles of a cut-up, closed-cell foam sleeping pad out of my daypack and slid down a snowy slope on our butts. We laughed like children.
Ironically, we have skied on Rabbit Ears in early June (not quite Father’s Day) after milder winters. We did that even in 2005 after a sub-par winter of 274 inches. But that was only possible because a freaky June storm dropped four inches of slush on Walton Peak Road. You have to grab your summer skiing when you can. The snow was all gone a day later.
Prospects for skiing on May 10 this year have brightened moderately since last Thursday. Coming back from a fishing trip to North Park Sunday afternoon, the pass had been transformed by six inches of wet snow that fell over the weekend.
Now, we need some overnight temperatures in the 20s to solidify that wet snow that brought the snow depth at the West Summit back to 43 inches. To put that number in perspective, after a moderately above-average winter in 2013-14, the snow depth at the West Summit was still 69 inches on May 15.
Even if we don’t get to celebrate Mother’s Day on skis this spring, I can always draw on fond memories of the epic early summer of 2011. That was the year some of us hiked Mount Werner on May 1 to ski legit powder.
That same season, I skied a couple of hundreds yards on a narrow ribbon of snow on the West Summit of Rabbit Ears on July 3, just to say I did it.
The real reward came the very next day after I caught wind of a July 4 slalom race to be held on the north side of Hahn’s Peak. Dave Mark and his band of stout North Routt volunteers had lugged slalom gates nearly to the 10,000-foot summit and set up a credible race course.
I rose early to drive to the trailhead near Columbine, put my Telemark skis and boots in a backpack and slogged up to the peak for an experience I will never forget.
Whether you call the changeable season we are experiencing this week, spring, or spr-inter or just plain mud season, I call it an opportunity to make some memories on skis.
There are far more adventurous skiers than I looking for snow to track this month — you better get you some.
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Amid rising costs of living, Steamboat Springs City Council unanimously accepted a proposal that would issue bonuses and raise salaries up to 6% for city employees starting in July.