Tom Ross: Don’t quit ‘grousing around’ |

Tom Ross: Don’t quit ‘grousing around’

Steamboat artist captures special powder moment

Steamboat artist Tinker Tiffany and I have never met. However, she just helped me reconnect with an amazing wildlife encounter that took place almost 30 years ago.

I had to work on Black Friday, so I assigned myself to go shopping in downtown Steamboat. My mission was to visit a handful of art galleries to see whether I could discover some modestly priced gifts produced by Steamboat artists.

I knew it would be an easy task, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover Tiffany’s work at Artisans Market, 626 Lincoln Ave.

Tiffany paints on silk stretched over a wooden frame. Her color palette is bright, and her subject matter, usually taken from nature, often is playful. She also reproduces her work as fine giclee prints.

The image that caught my eye is called “Five Grouse Day.” It depicts a skier carving perfectly linked turns through a loosely spaced evergreen forest. The trees, draped with snow, are either quite short or their tips are protruding from an unusually deep snowpack like the one we experienced in Steamboat last winter.

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There are a couple of grouse perched in the treetops, but the speckled birds that caught my eye are exploding out of the powder right in front of the skier.

I can say with confidence that the scene Tiffany depicts in her painting is based in reality. Grouse really do burst from unblemished powder stashes to startle skiers on some of the best powder mornings of the year.

I once witnessed a similar scene deep in the gladed tree runs of Priest Creek. It was a heart-pounding moment for my skiing partner.

It happened on a January powder morning in the Shadows at Mount Werner when an old buddy, Mark Skeie, and I were getting face shots on very turn. Without warning, a grouse erupted from the pristine snow right in Mark’s path. His forward momentum trapped the large bird against his chest, and for what seemed like several seconds, I could see its wings beating against him until it escaped.

Skeie’s heart was pounding so hard that we had to stop and wait for him to calm down.

It turns out the grouse prefer to weather heavy storms by hunkering down beneath an insulating blanket of snow.

Tiffany had a very similar experience, skiing outside the ski area’s boundary beyond Gate D.

“I had a grouse come up between my legs and then get trapped against my chest,” she said by phone Friday. “I had to fall over backwards in the waist-deep snow to release it.”

However, the painting is based on another day, when she and two friends again were telemark skiing beyond Gate D.

“That area that faces the Middle Fork and The Dome is full of grouse. As we skied the first pitch, two came out on either side of us. The next run down, a friend had another pop out. Among us all, we saw five that day. We were laughing about it.”

Tiffany’s giclee prints, sized at about 8 by 10 inches, are a value at $24.

Steamboat artists like her are offering fine art with a local flair at galleries all across town. I can’t finish this column without mentioning that painter Cully Kistler has a small number of framed, original oil paintings of local landmarks for sale at Sleeping Giant Gallery for $65.

You’ll find more to choose from this weekend during the Steamboat Clay Artisans holiday pottery sale at the Depot and again Dec. 6 during Holidays in the Rockies at Christian Heritage School.

You never know what memories you might rekindle.