The endless winter

Deep-fried by Rocky Mountain sunshine and often wild-eyed on Kentucky bourbon, the old-timer was classic Colorado. Back then, he penned the occasional word for Crested Butte’s weekly rag but spent most of his waking hours chasing powder. And we “youngsters” (fellow ski bums then in our 20s) would listen closely as he saddled up to his favorite barstool, took a pull on his Budweiser (“On the wagon tonight”) and started spinning a yarn.

“This is nothing,” he bellowed, gesturing at a gnarly late April blizzard on an evening back in 1995. “You young bucks should have tasted the 30 days and 30 nights. Now that was a nasty spot of late winter.”

So it began, another telling of the fabled 30 Days and 30 Nights, that treacherous spring in the late ’70s when too much snow fell on our small mountain town. Whole buildings allegedly vanished under that load. Large vehicles were swallowed up overnight by moving drifts. And many shovel-weary Buttians spent weeks tunneling in and out of their hobbit holes.

“Came home from spring vacation that year, and the house was completely buried,” our storyteller added. “Had to move into the newspaper office for a few days while I dug out. What’s worse, the bar ran out of booze that week. Nothing to drink but triple sec until the liquor truck finally made it through.”

Winter made a run at all 12 months that year, according to the codger. After 30 Days and 30 Nights abated, a storm cell christened the “May Day Massacre” struck, and snowfall went on to hit in every month but August that year.

“Once you survive a winter like that, you’ve officially earned your stripes,” he said (always happy to remind us that we weren’t quite real “locals” yet). “And in case you’re wondering, I still dry-heave every time I catch a whiff of triple sec.”

The problem was, I’d earned my local stripes the hard way that spring. From where I was sitting, that season back in the mid-1990s, that so-called “nothing,” was definitely the big time. It may not have been the 30 Days and 30 Nights, but the feast of flakes was much too rich for my tastes. When the lifts shut down in early April, Mother Nature ignored our pleas and just kept cutting loose. Local leanings were shifting from snow to singletrack, but she paid us no heed. Just as the bike shed was about to thaw out, another pounder would roll in. And it didn’t end there.

That year, Crested Butte clocked more snowfall in May than January. Snow also hit during the first and second weeks of June. To add insult to grievous injury, 3 inches dropped on the Fourth of July parade.

As luck had it, that was my bride-to-be’s first spring in lovely Colorado.

And I harbored secret insecurities that my precious – a civilized gal who was born steps from the beach in Jamaica and spent her formative years mere inches above sea level – might have a little trouble adjusting. I should have known better.

Once the dumps started, my wife happily shouldered the grain scoop and routinely shoveled out the windows at our ramshackle studio (elevation 10,000 feet). On off days, she slogged groceries through ankle deep mud, rocked her Volkswagen out of its favorite hiding place in the ditch and donned her local’s stripes after just a few weeks.

However, stripes have been known to change their color. And let’s just say that neither Rachael nor I were particularly charged when we awoke early last Sunday in Durango. “Mom, Dad. Wake up! It’s snowing,” the fruit of our looms shouted from her bedroom. As that May 1 blizzard came roaring into the front yard, we followed the lead of our flowering fruit trees and promptly wilted. We then grudgingly watched as 3 inches of midwinter fluff rudely replaced “the spring that never was.”

But don’t catch me complaining. We were also quietly relieved, knowing that we now reside in the sunny south (the “soft belt” as my old-timer friend lovingly refers to Durango), where such happenings tend to be temporary. After all, we used to spend up to nine months conversing with Old Man Winter. If the unpredictable old fart missteps and belches a few inches of white on the first day of May, I can look beyond it (I’m certain that it’s at least 70 degress as you’re reading this, and last Sunday’s desperate dump is already verging on a forgotten memory).

I also know firsthand that a different tale is being weaved up north. Having lived on that other side, I take heart in knowing that the snow stake is currently registering near 100 inches at midway in the Butte (one of the better readings in the last decade). And I’ve heard several reports that the town is again in the grips of a “nasty little spring,” aka repeated doses of downtown fresh.

But I also take comfort knowing that at least one resident of CB is saddled up, gritting his teeth and riding out the unpleasantness. Odds are he’s six cocktails into a post-ski season wagon ride and bellowing to a fresh crop of youngsters. “This is nothing! You greenhorns should’ve been here back in the spring of 1995. Now that was a nasty spot of late winter.”

– Will Sands



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January 26, 2024
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January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows