The flexible forecast

Without fail, the man would walk through the front door, slip off his jacket, crack a can of domestic and sit down in front of the technicolor. The dial rarely changed and the broadcast lasted minutes rather than hours. But every evening of every year of my young life, my father relived a basic ritual, always tuning into the forecast and trying to solve the mystery of the weather.

The addiction worsened with the arrival of cable television and the creation of an upstart station known as the Weather Channel. During that era, cans of Hamm’s replaced the traditional Budweiser (thanks President Reagan). On the up side, the forecast was no longer limited to the time period between 5:20 and 5:28 p.m. With the advent of 24-hour access, he became fully hooked on jet-stream, swallowed barometric pressure with renewed zeal and began popping isobars for hours every night.

My brother and I watched the obvious perversion from a comfortable distance. “Maybe, it’s the chicks,” I suggested, eyeing the bookish, but slender brunette in tweed as she pranced in front of an interactive map of the jet stream.

“You’re probably right. She is kinda hot,” my brother answered in tones only a hard-up, Telluride pre-teen could muster. There just had to be some method to that strange madness.

Years later, the method became obvious. My dad literally lived, breathed and ate the ski industry. A career ski bum, he’d somehow converted the high life into a living wage and had an undying affection for weather forecasts. It was only natural. During the winter, the weather, and especially foul weather, were the high marks of his livelihood. Once the month of November hit, “high pressure” became an unwelcome phrase inside the household.

Not long after the brunette in tweed showed up, I took a summer job on the opposite side of the county. I lived in a cabin christened the Mexican Place (named for its former owner, a man of Latino descent) and worked under W.T., an aging ranch hand with a fondness for large, soft-fleshed women and freshly slaughtered goat meat. Drinking ice-cold cans of the King of Beers, sitting on the porch and staring at passing clouds, I learned a different approach to meteorology.

Like my dad, W.T. was obsessed with the weather. High pressure and clear weather were the high marks of our livelihoods, as we ran cattle, made hay and worked the fence-line. Cut off from electricity and stashed high on the upper ranch, W.T. had developed his own recipe for cooking up weather reports.

He did have the option of tuning in the radio, but instead W.T. tuned into his body and what it and his surroundings were telling him. Each morning as he left the Mexican Place and every evening when we returned, he would stick his nose in the air and then take a hard look at the western horizon and a nearby stand of aspens.

“It’s gonna come down hard today,” he’d occasionally pronounce. “We best get on that fence while we can.”

Like the brunette in tweed, W.T. was not infallible. Early one summer, he did successfully predict a six-day stretch of Colorado sunshine (no major shock there). But in truth, he rarely hit the mark. He’d call for pinball-sized hail and the system would blow out before we left the truck. Forecasts of balmy sunshine were often demolished by heavy cloud cover and endless moisture.

Still, W.T. did have power over the weather. The secret was adaptation. The man’s mood was steady whether the sky filled with rain, snow, sleet or the occasional dust devil. For W.T., it was all just a game. He took whatever the weather offered with a grin. Though he loved the game, he never seemed bummed about losing.

Since those few summers, a little dabbling in goat burger and even a passing but necessary taste of large, soft-flesh, I’ve done my best to follow W.T.’s lead. Ultimately, the man revealed that the movements of the sun and sky need not matter.

That philosophy squeezed me through a tropical storm, a couple seasons when the rivers weren’t exactly running, the harshest winter I’ve ever known (a deadly, two-month ice storm in Washington, D.C.) and more than a couple disappointing ski seasons. The approach kept me happily rolling in and out of seasons. That is, up until a few weeks ago.

Like many of us, I’ve had powder on the brain and am beginning to lose patience with sunny days and warm nights. Sure, I’ve managed to soak up long loops of last-minute singletrack. But I’ve been just as busy logging onto cyber-forecasts, compulsively waxing my boards and wearing my telemark boots around the house.

For the first time in my life, I actually know what isobars are, am intimately familiar with supercells and regularly wake up and curse the jet stream. With every delay in Wolf Creek’s opening and every day we move closer to man-made openings at DMR and Telluride, my head and body have been screaming for winter. Like my dad, I’ve been dreaming in forecasts.

Luckily, gap-toothed memories of W.T. came knocking last week. I recalled the simple joy of staring at the horizon and offering up a hare-brained prediction. I could taste the ease of adapting to what the morning offered and enjoying whatever ride showed up.

Thanks to a little Budweiser-induced flashback, I think I’m back on forecast flexibility. And believe it or not, I see heavy cloud cover and more than a little knee-deep powder in my future. At least that seems to be what the nose is telling me.

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows