Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Winter is on it's way

Don't get me wrong. I love winter in Steamboat more than any other season. But no matter how much I revel in the signs that it is coming or speculate what a good winter it could be based on how much rain we have been getting I don't want to give up a single day of summer or fall to make it come sooner. Well maybe a couple but not too many. Every season in Steamboat is special to me so it is hard to get me out of here most of the year. I love to travel and always have but there is so much to do here I just don't get that wanderlust as often anymore. Maybe its just that it doesn't lead me outside the Yampa valley as much anymore.

We have been getting pretty regular rains for about 4 weeks now. Both the frequency and amount of precipitation is like nothing we have seen in several years so more thana few people are talking about what this winter could hold for us if mother nature keeps delivering the goods. It appears that the local skiers are not the only ones sensing this. Check out the following quotes from Tom Ross for the story...

Selected quotes from Tom Ross's excellent article on the change of seasons:
Last call for summer: Ptarmigan already pturning color high on ptundra Monday, August 22, 2005

We hiked about as high into the Mount Zirkel Wilderness as a soul can hike during the weekend, hoping to find a snowdrift for the dog to roll in. What we found was even better. Oh, to be sure, we found beacoup snow. There were big drifts with streams bursting right out of them. And there was a massive avalanche runout where the snow was deep and firm even in the middle of an August afternoon. The snow that lingered from twin avalanches must have measured 250 yards in length, and we felt certain it would persist long enough to to be buried by the first snows of the new season.

And isn't that what matters? The new season? Aren't we due for a big winter of no less than 375 inches of snow? Well, I have good news to report brothers and sisters. Call it a favorable omen. High above 11,000 feet there is a sign of a big winter to come.

The ptarmigan already have begun to change their plumage from mottled brown to snowy white. I'm thinkin' they must be getting ready. We had hiked up past the Slavonia mining ruins Sunday morning into the spectacular Alpine bowl that lies beneath Red Dirt Pass. The snow drifts that dot the landscape represent the headwaters of the Elk River. The meadows along the way to Red Dirt Pass are putting on as fine a late summer wildflower display as we've ever seen. There were blossoming penstemon, harebells, bluebells, paintbrush and larkspur. There were blossoms that weren't familiar to us, like rosecrown and Parry primrose. There was even a delicate little blossom called bistort that reminded me of a snowball -- oops, there I go again.

From the mining camp at 10,000 feet, the trail gains 2,180 feet of elevation in 2.5 miles on the way to the summit of Mount Zirkel. And as we climbed, it was as if we were walking back in time in terms of the species of wildflowers that continue to blossom.

We climbed a fair distance above Red Dirt Pass where we glimpsed Gilpin Lake far below us, and wondered at the expanse of big Agnes. On the way down, we were picking our way through rocky tundra when six large birds exploded out of the low vegetation 15 feet in front of us. As they scattered, I immediately recognized them as ptarmigan. Their heads, backs and the tops of the wings were mottled gray and brown -- perfect camouflage in the rocky tundra. However, their breasts and the underside of their tail feathers already had begun the seasonal transition to the camouflage they would need in winter.

It's only August folks, and already the creatures of the high country are preparing for a big winter. How about you?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for getting me psyched. Nothing like about a good fall and then a strong winter to liven up a ski town.

See you on the slopes!

Anonymous said...

Having spent 5 days on the slopes of Steamboat in 2003, we are heading back this January for 14 glorious days of skiing. Hope the prediction of a bumper snow season is correct.

Steamboat Winter said...

It's a prediction and hope based on a wet summer and fall, lots of little clues and the feeling you get when something is different in your home town. Anything can change but the current storm path portends a good winter in Steamboat.

Have a Great Trip in January! Hopefully we get some nice storms when you are here.