One of my favorite things about aging in the mountains is the constant opportunity to experience new things. This winter, I’ve been learning how to ski. I decided (as usual?) to go with whatever is most difficult first (downhill/resort skiing is not an option on my budget). So, I went to the Nordic Center near Leadville and took a skate skiing lesson.
I absolutely loved it. The only hangup I have with it is the need for a groomed track. If I lived in Leadville or Crested Butte, I’d be all over it. I just can’t imagine driving 1-2 hours to recreate if I don’t have to. So, next I tried my second choice- classic skiing, not on a groomed track… attractive because it can be done anywhere up until you start getting into steeper terrain, which, for now, I avoid because I know just enough about avalanches to know that I don’t know nearly enough about avalanches to venture into their territory. I rented a set from Salida Mountain Sports a couple of times and then took the plunge with a set of my own.
They’re a slightly wider (for an XC ski), metal edge, waxless ski. With the help of the experts at Salida Mountain Sports, we settled on these because I’ve got more than enough fitness to haul them around, they’re better for non-groomed places than narrower skis (we all know how I am about non-groomed places), and the width/edge will help with my current lack of handling skills. I had a couple of fun adventures up Hancock Road (of Vapor Trail 125 infamy) right off the bat-
Of course, I had to start mixing things up almost immediately.
You can watch a little video of that one over on the Mountain Bike Radio YouTube Channel: https://youtu.be/vA0lYCYL9q4
I plan on skiing somewhere else tomorrow morning, though I’m not sure exactly where yet. The weather is currently “socked in.” Salida has a magical property about its weather. When storms move through, the surrounding mountains will be invisible with snow clouds. More often than not, we get wind and sun… occasionally a few inches of snow, but the donut hole of fair weather corrals the city more often than not.
Such was the case this morning. I decided I’d ride my newest bike- the Ibis Hakka MX, on a road loop I’ve dubbed the Dirty Shavano Loop (mostly because of the fantastic views of Mt. Shavano you get on the way up).
The wind was blustery on the way out (as I expected), but the sun was shining and made 38 degrees feel more like 50. I stopped and took a bunch of pictures on the way up.
Once you’re at the FS252/250 split in the last pic (also Vapor trail 125 infamy), you cruise through several extremely peaceful meadows right under the watch of the Angel of Shavano. The meadow is about as close as you can get to the mountains and still get a sense of how large and vast they are before you’re close enough to just be “on” the mountain itself. Once you turn at the split, there are a few north-facing areas to navigate. They’re starting to hold a good bit of snow (finally).
Eventually, you hit Droney Gulch (where CR250 turns right and becomes CR251-1 on the Strava map) and start descending quickly back towards Highway 285. It was there that the sun disappeared completely, and the wind went from “just there” to “holy s**t.” As I plummeted from ~9k feet to 7something, the temperature went down just as quickly. I had to stop several times and warm my hands up inside my gloves, and, as I reached the highway crossing, the wind and snow became suddenly blinding.
Within a couple of miles of crossing the highway, the sun was out, and the valley air was warm again. I looked behind me (towards the mountains I’d just been in) for the first time since I started my descent, and they were engulfed in a snow cloud.
Just missed it.
So, for the first time in my 36.5ish years of living, I was chased by a snow storm.
I’ll never forget, back when I was in Salida to race VT125 when I was chased down Chalk Creek by a thunderstorm for the first time. I had no idea that it was the first of many. Getting chased out of the mountains by bad weather seems like a basic rite of passage. I’m quickly learning that there’s something about an approaching storm that you don’t have to see to know that you need to GTFO RIGHT NOW.
I first noticed it when I ignored it (once, and only once) when I lived in Blackhawk and got pounded by hail on Rollins Pass. The next time I felt uneasy when headed upwards, I listened and turned around. The storm I avoided produced lightning that struck 15 hikers on a nearby 14er (and killed a dog). Today, I didn’t consciously register that the sun was gone and the wind speed had doubled… I just knew that I needed to be down lower, faster. It wasn’t a super gnarly storm or anything, but it hit that part of my subconsciousness that’s like, “yo… you need to be someplace besides where you are, and you should go there quickly.”
This place has an amazing wildness about it. I feel like I’ve only just begun to find all of its corners and edges.