Tom Ross: Wooden Ski Rendezvous is about being in the moment
NORTH ROUTT — Participants in the annual Wooden Ski Rendezvous, which took place at the Cabins of Historic Columbine, came close to achieving time travel last weekend.
Columbine, 29 miles northwest of Steamboat Springs in North Routt County, was founded as a gold mining camp in 1890 but transitioned to a logging camp when the placer gold ran out and the hard-rock mining on nearby Hahns Peak proved impractical.
To this day, the log cabins feel like they continue to exist in the 19th century, and Feb. 28 to March 1, the historic structures were the site of the annual rendezvous, hosted by Friends of the Routt Backcountry.
For decades now, the organization, inspired by organizer Leslie Lovejoy and her husband, Mark Ensner, has sponsored the event as a means to promote the values of quiet recreation among the peaks and meadows of the Routt National Forest.
However, the Rendezvous is as much a celebration of the old ways to ski, as it is a gathering of activists. Consider Johnny Walker who volunteers to perform the almost forgotten skills of applying pine tar to the kick-zone on the bottom of wooden skis.
Why would anyone smear his or her skis with pine tar? Simply put, it prepares the skis to receive the kick wax that allowed skiers in another era to climb snowy hills and glide back down.
Walker learned the obscure craft while growing up in, of all places, a tiny town along the Columbia River on the border between Oregon and Washington states.
“I’m in charge of the pine tar by default,” he said. “There’s nobody else who can do it anymore. I’m planning to pass it on to Roddy Beall. People have forgotten about how we started skiing on Alpine telemark skis on low-cut boots.”
Beall is a member of the younger generation interested in supporting the old ways. So is Allison Wither, a member of one of Steamboat’s oldest skiing families, who placed first among the women in this year’s race. She proudly wore a hand-knit sweater, passed down from her late grandmother Francis Wither, and a ski hat that her late aunt Dorothy Wither acquired during a trip to Norway.
For people who seek to escape the 21st century with its smartphones and all-knowing tablets, Columbine is well suited to making the world go away.
In 2020, owners of the Historic Cabins at Columbine, Tammy and Todd Zvorak offer guests authentic log cabins, all of them unique in their own way. Yet, guests have access to modern comforts.
The Columbine Mining Camp was underway by 1890, but it was in 1897 that a man named James R. Caron laid out an 11-acre town site and made it official. In that era, gold prospectors at the Minnie D. and the Master Key mines searched, often in vain, for the lode of high-grade gold ore that Hahns Peak, the old volcanic vent towering above them, seemed to promise.
At its peak, the population of Columbine reached 68 and rebounded again to 59 in 1930, according to History Colorado.
“This (event) is not so much about the race but (the traditions) of my family,” Wither said. “We want to be out here in nature as it is and experience great peace of mind. For me, it’s my meditation.”
Lovejoy has worked diligently for many years to preserve the gladed aspen slopes on the west side of Hahns Peak, which dominates views from the cabins at Columbine. She succeeded in persuading the Routt National Forest to designate the area as a suggested quiet area. But, numerous snowmobiles share the forest with backcountry skiers.
John Spezia, a longtime member of Friends of the Backcountry, summed up his affinity for quiet recreation in the mountains.
“Your self-importance kind of goes away, and you become one with nature,” he said. “It’s about being in the moment.”
Tom Ross retired from the Steamboat Pilot & Today in 2018 after 36 years in the newspaper business. He continues to write a regular column for the paper.
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