Tales of the deep

Not quite 10 years ago, my front page loudly proclaimed, "The drought is over!" Close to 6 feet of snow had fallen in nine days, and during the last week of February 1995, the town of Crested Butte and the newspaper I worked for had cause for celebration. The fickle coin of Rocky Mountain weather flipped, and a long dry spell drew to an abrupt end. Suddenly everyone in possession of a soul was out dancing in the streets. Our little corner of planet earth was coming back to life.

The celebration went well beyond those nine days, as a steady run of powder days rained down over the next three months. Mornings and afternoons were spent at least knee-deep, and a royal revival of good, old-fashioned ski bumming filled the evenings. Ironically, the feast became too rich and heavy, evidence that Mother Nature doesn't always listen to ski area management. When the lifts shut down in early April, she just kept cutting loose. When attention turned from snow to singletrack, she paid us no heed. Just as the mountain bike and climbing rack were about to get their turns, another pounder would hit.

As a result, Crested Butte's total snowfall in May easily beat out February's. Snow also hit during the first week of June. To add insult to what by that time was injury, 3 inches dropped during the Fourth of July parade. Needless to say, the celebration had long since ended.

Still, those painful, bonus months of winter weather were long forgotten when the drought returned the next November. Looking back, my fellow bums and I christened 1994-95, "The Winter of Fun," and the cheesy nickname actually had poetic purpose as an antidote to the winter that preceded it - "The Winter of Un." In addition to providing the best upright party in a decade, the "Winter of Fun" served another equally vital purpose.

For the first time in ages, the old timers stopped talking about the last winter of epic proportions. Prior to the 6 feet in nine days, all we ever heard about was the fabled "30 Days and 30 Nights."

According to legend, "30 Days and 30 Nights" was another cycle when it snowed too much. Granted, the legend was usually spun from the barstool and had been beered and bourboned well beyond reality. But through their gapped-tooth grins, that first generation of ski bums told of constant accumulation. Cars vanished for the entire winter, turning up the next spring in new locations, apparently moved by a glacial flow. Shoveling was a constant and unwelcome burden until one of the barstools yielded a flash of genius. The next day, the lumber store sold out of sheet plywood and the deep serpentine pathways leading to homes were transformed into long, dark tunnels high enough for tall men to stand upright. If you let the tale go on too long, you'd hear how the generation subsisted on nothing but pretzels, beer and cigarettes. You see, the grocery truck couldn't make it to town. Apparently, the liquor truck had better tread.

Inevitably, the familiar tall tale would end only when it was interrupted. And the intrusion usually came in form of the same question from one of us newbies. "So how was the skiing?"

The answer was always the same. "Ski?" the storyteller would huff. "Bah. We didn't ski. There was too much snow. It was so deep, the snowcats couldn't groom. We didn't see corduroy for months."

Speaking of months, I've had those old yarns spinning in my head for the last few. Even part-time residents realize that Durango is coming to the end of one of those fairytale winters. And while we have yet to name the winter of 2004-05, might I be so bold as to suggest the "Winter of Big Water." On the one hand, the name applies to the seemingly endless rain and fog that hung over Durango all winter long. On the other, it hints at the bonus that's yet to come. When that monstrous snowpack starts to break up, a deluge of Biblical proportions is sure to pour down our River of Lost Souls.

Whatever its name, may we never again hear the phrase, "I remember when it used to snow around here," shouted in jeering tones from the barstool.

This year, we definitely came close to 6 feet in nine days and even approached "30 Days and 30 Nights." And a good time was had by most. But what really matters is that the intensity has returned to Durango. In our hearts and minds, the drought has ended.

- Will Sands


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