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Deep in winter

Janet Urqhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

By this time last winter, I’d already been out on my bicycle. This year, I just spent yet another weekend marveling over/grumbling about the depth of the snow. At this rate, I won’t get in a good high-country hike before late July.

It began Saturday with a hike up Light Hill in the vicinity of Old Snowmass. I missed what turned out to be a perfect opportunity for a ski tour in 5 or 6 inches of new, powdery snow. At the very least, I and a companion should have been wearing snowshoes.

Instead we stabbed along in the new snow, which wasn’t impossible because the generous, underlying snowpack was sufficiently firm enough to hold us up, but for the occasional footstep that gave way to a thigh-deep plunge. In the balmy, late-morning sunshine, the occasional posthole quickly gave way to a series of bottomless footfalls and exhausting extraction efforts that delighted only the dogs, who took the opportunity to lick our faces once we were standing nose-to-nose, since they kept their purchase atop the snow. We turned around.



Sunday morning, we opted for touring skis and skins for an outing up Independence Pass, laboring up the concrete tracks left by snowmobiles. I wished I’d stuck to hiking shoes.

The snow didn’t perceptibly soften until Weller Campground, two miles up from the gate, and even then, it still was pretty hard. To either side of the road, though, the snow depth was worth stopping to admire. Huge marshmallows of snow, mounded on every boulder, completely obscured the Roaring Fork River below us.




We stopped to photograph the rocky outcroppings, layered in drooping, massive dollops of white frosting.

The upper reaches of the pass must be astounding. Several snowmobilers, snowboards and skis strapped to the machines, headed up in search of limitless powder.

We turned around and chattered down a corrugated luge run ” fun enough in terms of speed, but a bit disconcerting in that it was nearly impossible to turn or stop. I finally veered into the wind-crusted deep stuff to the side of the road.

Thankfully, it slowly swallowed my skis instead of pitching my face over the tips.

Snowmass picked up 4 inches of new snow in the past 24 hours, according to the Aspen Skiing Co.’s Monday morning snow report. Aspen Mountain and Highlands received 3 inches, and Buttermilk got 2 inches.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center report for Monday, March 17:

The avalanche danger for the Aspen zone is considerable on all aspects near and above treeline, and moderate below treeline. Watch for changing wind direction during the next 24 hours that will alter snow loading patterns.

Go to http://avalanche.state.co.us/ for the full report and information on conditions statewide.