Tony Vagneur: That delightful look of winter has returned to our valley

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

It comes down so nicely from the sky, softly, silently, unlike the rain, which noisily announces its presence. Snow, God’s gift from above, life-giving sustenance, but more than that, soul-soothing gracefulness.

And as it fell, we nestled in, my dog and I, he napping at my feet, me just looking out the window, reveling in the awesomeness of a real-life snowstorm like we haven’t seen in a long while, luxuriating in the absolute silence.

Later, at the clinic, after I’ve driven miles through a whiteout, the nurse practitioner comes in to give me my flu shot, muck boots adorning her feet. She’s been around a while, it’s clear, figured this was going to be a big snow and came prepared. She’s beautiful, you can tell, just from her vibrant eyes above the mask, and we banter about the snow falling outside. “We haven’t seen a storm like this in, I don’t know, years,” she says with conviction and I readily concur.

The avalanche danger is high now, which reminds me of the time, late 1970s, when my wife, Caroline, and I were living at the T-Lazy-7 Ranch. It had been snowing for a couple of days and then one night around 9 p.m., an eerie wind began blowing down the Maroon Creek valley, potent and consistent, knocking the snow off our pine tree out front. It continued for all of a minute, maybe longer. Maroon Bowl had slid, a huge avalanche that filled in the valley floor and went up the other side of the canyon, across the road, taking out trees and rocks for 50 yards or more up that side. The evidence is still there for discerning eyes.

This past week has been a powder lover’s dream, some fresh every day, some of it exemplary. For those of us who plow our long driveways ourselves and shovel large decks, it has also been work of a different kind, work we love almost as much as skiing.

The intrinsic desire of most ski bums to find untracked stashes somewhere on Aspen Mountain, or anywhere else, no longer is a driving force in my persona, and although I’ve managed to find some good turns with my daughter and grandson this week, I’m more of a mind to find some reasonably soft bumps, shorter than I am, and good hard snow to cruise on.

I’ve been to Canada heli-skiing several times and wouldn’t trade that experience for anything — run-after-run of untracked powder, cliffs and overhangs to launch off, and the thrill of the chopper darting around white-outs and high ridges. Good food and great company — I’d go back, don’t get me wrong.

It’s the storms themselves that stand out to me, not necessarily the results of what they bring. Solo trips to the mountains have been my thing for decades, and having a huge storm move in on me during one of those trips gets the adrenaline flowing. There is nothing like riding my horse into a high mountain park, the snow blowing sideways and the barely visible and almost-opaque outline of evergreens across the expanse telling me how delightful the storm is.

Being alone like that is common for me, but being alone in a blizzard of a storm, miles from civilization sans contact with the outside world, is a stacking of uniqueness that seldom comes around and gives my body a feeling of deep excitement. If I were to get badly hurt, if the horse stumbled and fell just right, and I became immobile, either from a broken leg or severe concussion, it would mean almost certain death, barring a miracle. To some that may sound gruesome or foolhardy, but to me, it’s challenging and a great day in a snowstorm.

The dog lies in the yard, calmly watching me go up and down the driveway in my 1981 open-top, slow-moving tractor, first this side, then the other and finish doing the turn-around area in front of the garage. Parking the MFer (Massey Ferguson), I whistle Tux up — 4 inches of fresh powder on his back, delivered in just over an hour.

We’re both covered. That’s the look of winter. He eagerly shakes it off and runs to meet me.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at