Sunday, February 22, 2015

Just Wait Five Minutes (Or Why I Live Here)

                     Just Wait Five Minutes (or, Why I Live Here)

  Yesterday was a good example of why I live here in the mountains, despite the expensive cost of living, the lack of good year-round jobs, and other hassles both minor and major that are associated with being up here.

  It takes having three jobs to be able to (barely) afford to live here.  I drive a propane truck, run a small float fishing business, and work for a limo company driving buses and SUVs.  Yesterday I was doing Occupation Number Three, and had to pick up a couple of families from Columbia at the Eagle airport to bring to Vail in a bus.  There was a snowstorm moving in this later, but I was hoping to get them delivered to their hotel before it did, and to be able to get in a few skis runs in on the mountain before the lifts stopped running.  Since their flight was an arrival, I was not going to get my hopes up too high. Flight delays or other monkey wrenches that you have no control over can happen when you are trying to get things done in a timely fashion. 

  I picked up the bus in Avon, right across from the Beaver Creek ski area where I hoped to ski later.  The sun was shining but there was a fresh inch of snow on the ground, and looking up at the mountain I tried to guess how much snow fell there the night before.  If there was an inch in the valley, then there were probably three or four up at higher altitudes.  Usually three inches of snow isn’t enough to too excited about, but its been a somewhat lean year for snow so that sounded pretty good. 

  I drove the bus west to Eagle, and since it was so sunny out decided to wash it before their flight came in.  There were dark clouds visible all around the edges of the valley, but overhead was blue sky.  The passengers arrived a little early, but there were four other commercial flights all arriving at more or less the same time, and so it took quite a while for all of their luggage to turn up.  By the time I went out to start warming the bus up, the clouds had closed in.  Then when we began heading back upvalley to Vail, the snow had begun to fall.  Halfway to Vail is a narrow redrock canyon which is a magnet for snow and traffic accidents, and sure enough there were whiteout conditions in there.  The snow eased somewhat as we passed through Edwards and Avon, but once we got past Dowd Junction and into Vail it was snowing very heavily again.  Once the Columbians and their luggage were unloaded, I raced back to the yard to park the bus. I was hoping to get up the mountain and to squeeze in as many runs in as possible. 

  I parked near Beaver Creek in a spot that only locals know about. Its only on weekends you are allowed to part there, and the few spots get snapped up quickly, but after one pm people usually leave to go to their jobs and families, and spots open up. Not only is it a short walk to the lift, but at then end of the day you can ski across the golf course almost all the way back to your car.  I quickly changed into my ski gear and hurried to the lift, only realizing now just how hard it was snowing.  Going up the lift towards Bachelor’s Gulch, the snow was coming down sideways right into my face, so I pulled my hood down low to try to keep it out. Halfway up, I noticed that a huge amount of windblown snow had piled up in my crotch, so I had to keep my knees together the rest of the way to keep it from forming there.  The next lift ride to the top was just the same, going uphill on an exposed chairlift into the teeth of the storm.  Suddenly, rushing around just to put myself into this position seemed like less of a great idea, but it was almost three pm already so I wouldn’t be out there long enough to get hypothermic.  On my previous ski outing a couple of days earlier, I had used a GoPro camera to take some footage, and it occurred to me that a GoPro would have been pretty useless on a day like today.

  My first run was in near white-out conditions, so I stuck to a tree run to have some depth perception.  On my next lift ride up, I was ready to batten down all my hatches again, but noticed that the snow had eased up a bit.  And not only was it snowing less, but the ski to the west seemed a bit brighter.  By the top, the sun was actually beginning to show through the clouds, and by the time I tightened my boots and turned on my music, I could see all the way to the Flat Top Mountains in the west, and blue sky was starting to appear overhead! 

  Now I’ve often heard the expression used to describe the weather in Colorado,  “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes”.  Of course, in my travels I’ve also heard that same thing said about other places, too. But by the time I was halfway down the hill, I was skiing in complete sunshine on five fresh inches of the most wonderful powder I’d ever skied.  The snow had a soft, slippery quality to it that made turns completely effortless.  It wasn’t heavy wet spring snow, or dry powdery fluff, but something in between that was just perfect. I did a couple of lift rides up with other people who were also astounded at how quickly the day turned great. It had apparently been just miserable being up there all day, and everyone was just trying to suffer through it.  The bad weather had driven away most of the Saturday crowd by the time I got there, and so the runs were mostly empty.  The few that were left felt like the luckiest people on earth to just be there in that moment. 

  I only had time to do a half-dozen runs myself, but not only was each run perfect but so was each turn I made. Days like this were why I worked so hard all the time just to barely squeak by.  It didn’t require traveling from halfway around the world and spending thousands of dollars to do this, this is in my backyard, and so is the Colorado River.  My bank account may not be impressive, but I get to ski and fish fifty times a year, and that kind of compensation is hard to put a price tag on. 

Jack Bombardier 2/22/15