Marolt: Of deep snowpack and shallow thinking
Did you notice how many people weren’t in town this past weekend? You probably did if you happened to be on the Front Range for the Denver Lacrosse Jam tournament for kids from age 5 to 18. With players, coaches and parents. there must have been 500 people from here over there, and our town must have been even more pleasantly off than it regularly is during this season. I’m happy to report that the local kids won some and lost some and, more importantly, completely clogged the pool filters at the Omni Hotel with popcorn they were eating while they ran around the pool and generally roughhoused in it without cramping up.
That’s all beside the point, though. What’s really on everyone’s mind is the snowpack level in the mountains. You heard the serious discussion break out almost every time it snowed since the lifts were shut down for the season.
“Uuuuuugh,” you said. “It’s snowing again!” Then the experts weighed in.
“Yes, but we need the moisture.”
And you wept, not for the tinder-dry trees and grasses or the animals that feed on them but over the fact that snow was accumulating during what we know are the numbered days of summer clicking away under a sheath of heavily laden clouds preventing us from building any kind of a base tan. and it is already June.
So there was some excitement heading over Independence Pass to the LAX Jam in Denver to see firsthand what the fruits of our hard suffering this spring had produced in the high country.
As it turns out, viewing the broken white landscape at 12,000 feet above mean sea level resulted in one of the few occasions in modern life that could not be described with “amazing.” There was a good amount of snow on the ground, probably about average for this time of year, but we were heading to a kids’ sporting event, where to let the word “average” even cross your mind is to picture your child growing up to suffer through the daily grind that is your own miserable existence. No! Everything they do must be amazing!
This notwithstanding, as I followed a motor home crawling along the double yellow lines through the switchbacks on the Atlantic side of the Continental Divide, I risked letting my mind contemplate the year of my life when the snowpack on May 31 actually was amazing.
The year was 1984, and the sport of lacrosse was in a state of flux, mostly forgotten by the Native Americans who invented it and who shortly thereafter became bored with it. That left only a handful of erudite East Coasters, who were too skinny for football and didn’t believe in baseball because it was a thinking man’s game enjoyed immensely by factory workers, to be its experts.
At any rate, it snowed almost daily and very hard that winter around here. My friends and I were at the age where getting up at 6 in the morning to drive up the pass to hike and ski caused a deep and excruciating pain, but we did it anyway because back then it was a novelty and we gave one another big macho points for doing it, even though nobody else noticed what we were up to.
At the top of Mountain Boy, we discovered a gigantic cornice. We had a heck of a time finding a way around it to get down to the snow we had come to ski. The next day, we brought up a rope to measure the height of the thing to prove to ourselves that we weren’t chickens for not jumping off of it.
The 30-foot length of rope dangled without touching when let down from the top of the cornice. One of the biggest backcountry mistakes we ever made was carrying a camera with us on the same day we explored that freak of nature. We sat up there for about an hour before working up the nerve to do it, but eventually we put our skis on and jumped off the thing. I often wonder if my back would be in normal condition for a man my age if I had only chosen to sleep in that day.
We were lucky nobody got seriously hurt, and we ended up with a few low-quality photos of the event. It’s funny to look at the images now and try to figure out just exactly what we thought we were proving by risking so much for so little. Thirty years later, you can see that we were 20 years old once, and there was a lot of snow on the ground that spring.
Roger Marolt doesn’t believe it is coincidence that cornice jumpers’ and back surgeons’ paths through life eventually intersect. Contact him at
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