Looking for winter
The Aspen Princess
It’s been 70 degrees in Basalt the past few days. It reminds me of when I lived in Southern California, and I started to get confused about what time of year it was.
I’ve seen plenty of bikers out, not only riding the Fryingpan but even on Castle Creek, which you all know is highly unusual for this time of year. It’s hard not to enjoy the mild, California-like climate, but at the same time, it’s a bit scary. I can picture this time-lapse video in my head of the next 50 years as the Earth gets hotter and hotter, the snow melts, the water disappears, the plants shrivel up and die and everything catches on fire (which is what is happening in California right now). Don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing better than going for a long run up the Fryingpan in the middle of March when it’s 65 degrees and there’s a pleasant breeze, cooling the sweat on your face. But deep down, something doesn’t feel right.
The worst part is feeling disconnected from the mountains, which is the reason we all live here, right? I know the die-hards always find a way to scrape through even the most challenging seasons. I know they got a lot of days in the backcountry this year when long dry spells meant unusually stable conditions and maybe even getting to ski some lines that would not have been possible in a normal snow cycle. I know the uphill thing has kept plenty of Aspen’s fitness-obsessed occupied and have often heard the credo “There is no such thing as bad snow conditions for the uphill skier” thrown around on the patio at apres. I know that if you are a true local, it’s never OK to complain when the lifts are running, but this isn’t a complaint — it’s more like an alarm.
I remember when those early-morning avalanche-control-work bombs served as my alarm clock, an early-morning wake-up call on a powder day.
There was plenty of bombing going on this past week, but it had nothing to do with a powder day. While late-season slides due to rising temperatures are not unusual, these bombs feel like a whole different kind of wake-up call.
I do know that powder days felt like a distant memory Tuesday at Snowmass when I had to pretty much straight-line every run I did off Elk Camp just to make it to the bottom without getting stuck. I was full-on in the back seat with the nose of my board up as high as it would go, almost like I was being towed behind a boat, trying to keep from going under water.
I was with some friends from out of town, taking some courtesy runs at Snowmass and realizing we are damned lucky to have Highland Bowl; are we not? Speaking of which, if you all don’t respect the closure ropes, we’re all going to be screwed. If there’s anyone in this valley we should listen to, it’s the Aspen Highlands ski patrol. So go buy your nephew a bowl strap belt or a T-shirt or a hat, and for crying out loud, don’t duck any ropes. We’re looking at weather that could melt an ice-cream cone. You do the math.
Anyway, were it not for the snow refrigerator that is Highland Bowl, I may have been a very sad girl this season, and the shortage of powder days gave me an excuse to put my board away and go out and ski. Snowboarding on firm stuff isn’t that fun for me anymore, and I love to change it up. It keeps me excited about both sports, and I love having the right tool for the right day and the people I’m with. I don’t know how many years I spent chasing skiers on all those damned traverses, building up whatever those muscles are in the front of your shins. I guess the point is that if we all want to keep enjoying sliding down mountains on the white stuff underneath our feet, we’d better start thinking a little more about the bigger picture.
I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer — we all love these spring skiing conditions, evidenced by the girl at Snowmass who stripped down to her G-string mid-run, a very impressive feat and a very sexy bum, but isn’t this corn snow the kind we typically see in April? Anyway, it’s all very strange, disorienting and downright scary.
Boston’s been getting pounded with snow, the state of California has less than a year of water left, and it’s 70 degrees at 8,000 feet in the middle of March. It all feels kind of Armageddon-ish. Scientists are predicting mega-droughts by midcentury. Many of California’s water-shortage problems stem from the below-average snowpack — a record low for the past 25 years in the Sierra Nevada. As a result of the water shortage, they’re also looking at problems with wildfire, agriculture and the loss of thousands of jobs.
Snowpack is declining in the valleys where the Colorado River begins. I know this doesn’t sound like me or my typical column fodder. (Face reality? Me? What?) Maybe I’m just getting older or more aware, or maybe the reality of what’s going on is so in-our-face that it’s finally penetrated our little bubble of Aspen, where we ran away to ski and to avoid reality. But when it’s on our very slopes (or not on our very slopes if you’re referring to the snowpack), then you know this shit is getting real.
The question is: What can we do? How can we effect change in a world where our government has been rendered totally ineffective?
If you have an answer, please let me know. I’d really like to be able to see winter next year.
The Princess is in a really weird mood today. Email your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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