Monday, November 2, 2009
October Snow Days
20+ inches of snow, before Halloween
A big, early season upslope was upon us. The forecast called for rain changing to snow around midnight, Tuesday night, and continuing through Thursday but flakes were starting to fall after 8PM. Signs were looking good for the upper end of the forecast. More snow fell on Thursday; all told, we ended up with over 20 inches (although the warm ground meant that not all of it stuck).
Ski to Work
Anyway, Wednesday morning, I made the call without hesitation: there was enough snow to ski to work (just under 3 miles), and the forecast meant that there would be even more snow to ski back home. This being our 4th winter snow season here, there's generally a handful of days, at best, that are skiable for work. Many of the storms that dump enough snow are followed by immediately sunny skis that melt everything on pavement and concrete by the afternoon.
And pavement and concrete are the enemy.
The difficulty of urban skiing, you see, is numerous snowless crossings. Without taking off skis at every intersection, the way to handle this is to walk straight up and down like a duck, without sliding the skis on the pavement at all. The best conditions, on the other hand, is when there is a thin layer of solid ice on the road. But beggar's can't be choosers, especially when it comes to October snow.
All geared up, I made it to work in about 35-40 minutes, which is about twice the time it takes to run. Still, the fun is the journey itself, as it's nice to get the skis out, get the legs used to the motions again, and evangelize skiing and alternative transportation. Enough people smile or ask about it to make it even more fun.
As even more snow fell, I thought Thursday would be even better, so gave it another go. The ice on the roads was nice, but the deep snow in open fields was pretty tough. Snow kept falling all day, but the temperature stayed in the mid 30's. By Thursday afternoon, tragically, the roads and sidewalks were bone dry. Here I encountered one more sole traversing the desert: a female tele skier (the hat gave it away) with her skis on her shoulders!
"It's time to just give it up and walk!" she laughed as I crossed the road. She had skied in both days, too, but it looked like our ski commuting was done for this month at least.
My favorite spot for a quick, immediate run or ski (or even the beginning of a cross-town mt. bike ride) is what I call "Powerline South", which are the dirt trails directly across from our condo, running 2 miles N-S from Harmony to Trilby along the railroad tracks. There's a tiny bit of rolling here and there to make it interesting, and we can regularly see and hear coyotes in the area at night. This trail is slated to be an extension of the official city "Powerline Trail," which is bittersweet. I love the trail system, of course, but it is sad to see the fence go up, and the prospect of the trail losing its best characteristics: unofficial, dirt, numerous railroad crossings, etc. I hope the new trail doesn't destroy or block off some of the existing wildness.
Jess and I hit the trail a bit Wednesday night, as she got her snowshoes out for the new season. We made most of the new tracks through deepening snow. I played around a bit more Thursday and Friday night, under a nearly-full moon, finally getting a good set of tracks to stay (and saw a few others as well).
Close-by Front Range ski access is a rare commodity. Fantastic, world-class snow conditions are easy to find -- if you drive 80-90 minutes. So all year, I try to pay attention to which trails might be good with some decent snow. These trails wouldn't be found in any local snowshoe or ski guide if they only have enough snow a couple days every other year. I've had great fun at Horsetooth (service road up to the rock), Horsetooth/Soderberg (Towers to Sawmill); Young's Gulch in the lower canyon; and Pineridge/Maxwell/Dixon Lake (but upper Foothills is too rocky).
This time, I decided to give Coyote Ridge a try.
The storm was moving out Thursday night, and the nearly-full moon was coming in, so I was able to ski without a headlamp. To summarize: conditions pretty much sucked for skiing, and would have been great for trail running instead. The wind alternated patterns of nearly dry trail with drifts, and rocks poked out everywhere. Every once in awhile I'd get a good stretch to ski, and I stubbornly persisted to the top of the ridge and enjoyed the view, but I can't call it good skiing. Oh well.
RMNP - Nymph, Dream, Emerald Lakes
By the weekend, everything around or near town was pretty bare outside of the trees. My hopes of trying out Bobcat Ridge, Devil's BB/Blue Sky, or Crosier Mountain, were pretty much dashed. Still, Jess and I were hopeful about good old reliable Bear Lake area, which was still showing 13 inches on Snotel, and has enough tree cover and traffic to keep the snow around. Plus, we wouldn't have the mid-season windchill and sometimes snow that's too deep to deal with, which has turned us around in RMNP before. After driving through the canyon in the warm sun, we finally got to Bear Lake, and weren't disappointed.
There was enough snow, and enough of it was fun, to make it worthwhile. Sure, traffic was a bit heavier than ideal, but it was nice to see lots of folks enjoying the day. It was certainly possible to hike in shoes, as many were, but the traction of the snowshoes certainly made it easier, and my skis made it more fun. There was plenty of sketch: narrow trail with blind corners, slush turning to ice as you changed directions, etc., but I made mental notes of the worst spots going up, in order to avoid them going down. Yeah, I banged my skis up and fell enough, but wasn't going fast enough to damage anything seriously.
We had not been to Emerald Lake previously, so we enjoyed the view:
Two minor problems with RMNP (as compared to Brainard Lakes or Cameron Pass), especially the popular/short trails: sharp corners/turns cut by hikers but not maneuverable by skiers; and total gaper fest stretched out across the trail. Still manageable on this nice day, though. I can't wait for Wild Basin to fill in more and to head back.
All in all, it was a fun 4-5 days of playing in the snow, and now it's all gone.