Winter's cornucopia

Durango is not a ski town. At least that’s one of the first few things I learned (in addition to the proper pronunciation of “Florida” and “Kroegers”) upon moving here more than a decade ago. A river town, definitely, bike town, for sure, but skiing? If you want that, it’s a 30-minute drive up the road.

Being a transplant from more northerly latitudes, where the nearest gondola or chairlift was only minutes away, this was initially a tough pill for me to swallow. For years, I had become accustomed to the daily routine of ski, work, party, repeat. But now, as if it wasn’t bad enough I had landed a “real” job, there was at least a 30-mile drive on either end of the “play” part of the equation. We’re talking major cut into my leisure time. No more hopping up to the mountain for fresh tracks before work or a few speed runs on the lunch break. Skiing became a serious commitment. And god forbid you forget your pass – may as well call it a day.

Anyway, over the years, I slowly came to grips with the new reality of living in a quasi ski town. “The backcountry’s really great,” I’d offer to snobbish resort-dewlling who balked at the idea of driving more than 10 minutes for turns. “It takes about 45 minutes, but once you get there, it’s a quick shot straight up.”

They remained skeptical. As for me, I learned to appreciate Durango for what it offered: singletrack out my front door; a class III river run right through town; virtually nonexistent snow banks; and spring that came in March versus May. And when winter did manage to make a brief guest appearance, I would milk the golf course Nordic track and occasional ski commute to work for all I could. At the same time, I trained myself to tune out the Weather Channel and ignore the rest of the state’s ski reports as much as possible.

“We really don’t even have winter in town,” I would gloat to my resort refugee friends sometime around mid-February, when I knew their morale was at its lowest. “Sorry to hear about your car. I’m sure you’ll be able to get it out in June, once the ice melts.”

But the truth was, while I enjoyed the 325 days of sunshine and didn’t complain about the lack of shoveling, a part of me pined for the good old days of camaraderie that comes with ski town life. The kinship of sharing turns and sharing stories, which only grew more epic as time went on or the beers flowed. Knowing that almost everyone you met was there for the exact same reason, something that was so misunderstood by the rest of the world, no matter how hard you tried to explain the feeling of floating through 2 feet of fresh. It was a connection that needed no words, just a knowing nod on a powder day.

Of course, as anyone who spent time in the Lower 48 over the last few months knows, this winter was a good one (or bad, depending on how you look at it.) From Minnesota to Malibu, and up and down the spine of the Rockies, precipitation was generous and the mercury skimpy. An oldtimers’ winter, they call it, because only the oldtimers can remember any as deep, cold or long.

As for us “newcomers,” well, we just tried to deal with it as best we knew how, whether that be hibernating under the electric blankets or logging a new personal best in slopetime. And while I didn’t fall into the former category, unfortunately, I didn’t exactly fall into the latter, either. However, what I lacked in quantity in my season’s turns, I made up for in quality – and that much sought after camaraderie. Old ski buddies who hadn’t been seen or heard from since the last epic winter came out of the woodwork. The golf course had a seemingly endless season, Hesperus actually had lift lines on good powder nights, and I ruined more than one pair of gloves relearning the intricacies of rope tows at Chapman Hill.

But perhaps the winter’s crowning achievement came after one particularly stellar afternoon of slush bumps, when I allowed myself to be convinced by a close skiing cohort to partake in a “frontcountry” excursion on the outskirts of town.

“I’ve been checking it out from my office,” he confided. “People have been skiing it. I think it’s going to be killer.”

Thus, after a short lunchtime reconnaissance mission, the concept for Bodo Corn Camp was born. E-mails were sent, gear assembled and roll-up tables, camping chairs, beer, food, boom boxes and small children hauled in. And although we had enough provisions for our own Olympic village, we were unsure of how many others were going to join us in the inaugural mission. But over the course of that sunny March day, as the crust warmed to perfect corn, they came. A flurry at first, followed by a full-on blizzard. By the end of the day, the mountainside was a maze of S-turns. On its flanks, dozens of former and current ski bums (and almost as many dogs) had converged, to toast the winter of ’07-08, each other and one last run. And that day, with the city splayed out not too far below, marked the perfect end to a season in which Durango truly was a ski town.

– Missy Votel

In this week's issue...

May 14, 2020
The great re-awakening

Shrouded in unknowns, the timeline for re-opening some businesses in Colorado came into clearer view Tuesday.

May 15, 2020
The best defense

Pandemics often bring pandemonium. It is easy to be fearful about coronavirus. But we already possess the greatest weapon on Earth against it: our amazing body and its powerful immune system.

May 7, 2020
Yes! The Farmers Market is opening

It may be hard to imagine, but while us humans are shuttered away in our houses, or hiding behind facemasks and Zoom meetings, the natural world is going on without us.