Eugene Buchanan: A pole, pedal, paddle commute to work on the Yampa River |

Eugene Buchanan: A pole, pedal, paddle commute to work on the Yampa River

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The idea hatched when staring out our new downtown office’s window overlooking Howelsen Hill and the Yampa River. What if I skied to work and then kayaked home? What a great carbon-footprint-conscious commute and recreation-filled work day. What self-respecting fun hog could resist?

So, like Butch Cassidy conniving his hideaway in Brown’s Park, I began to make a plan. For the ski part, it helps to live in Fairview on the backside of Howelsen. I’d just skin up and schuss away to town below. And since work is right on the Yampa, I could simply paddle westward home afterward. 

Of course, it took some logistics planning: I had to stash my kayak gear at Backdoor Sports, leave work clothes at the office, ski my laptop to work and stash a bike at the Depot Art Center. I probably put more thought into this than I did any real work that day.

Then I had to scout my line. Unfortunately, the boating runoff didn’t happen until mid-April — well after the city’s snowcats had plowed Howelsen’s face to mitigate landslides. By the time I rallied Expedition Ski-Work-Yak into action, the slope was a veritable zebra of brown mud swaths paralleling waning strips of white. The face was off limits, Mile Run a little weenie and the Nordic jumps a hair illegal. That left no choice but … the poma line, a lone north facing, tree-bordered couloir and the only line left with any snow. I’d just have to beware the errant forehead bruise and duck the seats.

Enlisting a wingman, I rallied my buddy Andy to meet me at my house at 8 a.m., when we started skinning from our living room. As with all good plans, ours quickly evolved as we found ourselves climbing all the way to the top of Emerald instead of just the top of Howelsen. After taking in the 360-degree view and Whoville far below, we schussed away through the aspen glades, our only lane changes coming from detouring to more open lines. We then accelerated onto the fast-warming corn of Prayer Flag and Orton meadows before taking an off-ramp to the top of Howelsen, where we braved the poma line. The ski had it all: creek-crossing, bushwhacking, skinning, boot-packing, peak bagging, corn schussing and poma seat dodging.

Bidding Andy adieu at the bottom, I shouldered my skis and clunked across the 10th Street bridge to work. Inside, I stashed my ski gear in a corner, wiped my armpits clean in the bathroom and switched into my work attire, nobody (sniff, sniff) the wiser. After all that, I was at my desk by 10:30 a.m. — darn traffic.

When the Flintstones whistle sounded, I strolled back across the street and changed into my kayak gear, stashing my work clothes under a bench. Then, I kayaked my way home. Instead of gridlock, I glided back and forth across the face of the A-wave, yielding only to a lone fly-fisherman. Catching an eddy, I then merged back into the current to paddle down to the Z-wave and C-Hole.

Roundabouts were replaced with rolls, stop signs with surf waves and traffic lights with eddy turns. Finally, I hit the brakes at the D-Hole and got out at the Depot, where the final piece of the puzzle came into play: hopping on my mountain bike for the quick pedal home. It was my own little pole, pedal, paddle with a bit of punching the clock thrown in.

Granted, some work was involved in rounding everything up afterward. Like following Hansel’s breadcrumbs, I had to retrieve my clothes at Backdoor, my ski gear from work and my kayak gear from the Depot. In fact, combined with having to cache all my gear beforehand, it probably increased my carbon footprint more than the eco-friendly commute saved.

It also probably wasn’t my most productive workday, what with all the clothes changing and gear swapping. Then again, since I’m writing about it, the whole thing was sort of on the clock. So, I might just have to take a little me time off after all.

Should I go skiing or kayaking? 

To reach Eugene Buchanan, call 970-871-4276 or email

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