Wolf Creek Ski Area in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado – Christi Bode
By R. Scott Rappold
a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.
“he succumbed to ennui and despair”
R. Scott Rappold Ventures outside in something other than a ski suit for a change during a snowstorm
I was staring out my window, eyes fixed on the snow-capped San Juan Mountains, trying to come up with a word to describe how I am dealing with the fact ski season maybe is likely over in Colorado.
“Bored?” Yes, but not fitting. I have lots to do.
“Angry?” I was at first but I’ve moved through the stages of grief to “grudging acceptance.”
“Hopeless?” No, because I know this crisis will pass and I will ski someday again.
So I settled on “ennui.” Leave it to the French to come up with such a condition.
As I write this from my home in the San Luis Valley – a home I have left once in the past three days, and then only for more liquor – it has been ten days since Gov. Jared Polis issued an order for all downhill ski areas close. It seems ski tourism was a factor in the spread of coronavirus in some mountain towns, so the step was taken to try to stem that tide.
The closure order extends through April 6. My local ski area, Wolf Creek, was slated to close for the season April 5. And now all Colorado residents have been ordered to stay indoors until at least April 11.
Snowpack, I should mention, is near 100 percent of average after an up-and-down winter in the San Juans. Wolf Creek is an untracked paradise thanks to the 20 inches that fell last week.
You see, I am a professional ski bum. I skied 101 days last winter. I base my entire year on being able to ski as much as possible six months of the year. When I write, it’s usually about skiing.
So the closure order, announced late at night March 14, after an incredible day of powder skiing at Wolf Creek, hit me like a punch in the gut. I was paralyzed by anger. Selfish feelings? Maybe. I’m not sick. I don’t know anyone who has been. I’d be fine if they wanted to close the restaurants and bathrooms and let us skiers just ride the lifts. I’d sign a waiver. I’d stay away from any other humans.
Alas, it was not to be. So after five days of sulking on the couch, of putting back on the weight I lost during ski season, of alienating my friends by sharing my feelings on social media, I decided to try this uphill thing. Ski areas are on federal land, so while the governor’s order closed the businesses that operate the lifts, it didn’t cover land access.
I have never embraced the popular backcountry skiing movement. For one thing, all my disposable income goes into downhill skiing and gear. For another, as a credentialed member of the sporting press, I have the freedom to ski all Colorado Ski Country USA resorts, so if the snow is better somewhere else, I drive.
But there were 20 inches of new snow just sitting up there, calling to me. So I decided to drive up and see what was what. I parked along the highway, put my ski boots in a large backpack, strapped my skis to it, and began walking. Plenty of other people had had the same idea so there was a trail broken along a beginner run all the way to the top.
I learned a few things about earning your turns.
1. Hiking up without snowshoes is extremely difficult.
2. Hiking up with snowshoes is also difficult.
3. The second you stop hiking you get cold because you’re drenched in sweat.
4. Your run seems far, far too brief for the effort you put in.
An hour and three minutes later (an hour of hiking, 3 minutes of downhill) I was back at my car and done. An hour later I was home and pricing alpine touring gear on the Internet.
Alpine touring skis have bindings that release at the heel, and when combined with climbing skis that attach to the base to keep the skier from sliding backwards, allow skiers to travel uphill through deep snow. You then take off the skins, clip in the heel and enjoy the powder.
Alas, with so much uncertainty in the economy, my wife convinced me now was not the time to be buying expensive new ski sets when I already have four pairs.
I had planned to give it another shot today, March 26, but last night the governor issued the stay-at-home order. It says, “All travel, including, but not limited to, travel by automobile or public transit, except necessary travel, is prohibited.”
I would argue that going to ski after being cooped up in the house for days is “necessary travel,” but then I read the whole order. A person can be fined up to $1,000 and sentenced to a year in jail for a violation. This is no time to be pushing the limit. That’s my ski pass money for next year. So I unpacked the car and put my skis away. I may not touch my old snowshoes again for years.
Not being able to ski is a very small gripe at a time when so many people are sick and others are out of work. Wolf Creek is the largest employer in Mineral County; 400 employees are having to make due without paychecks. Tens of thousands of other ski area employees across Colorado are suffering.
So I will wait without further complaint. I hike alone on the trails in my town parks, gazing ruefully at the white mountains in the distance. I use the exercise bike in my home gym. I suppose it’s time to brush the dust off my mountain bike, which I haven’t ridden since the big snows started to arrive in November.
And trust me, the snow must go on. Our snowpack usually peaks April 11 and begins to decrease with the warm days and high sun angle, but I’ve had some amazing powder days in late spring. My last day skiing last winter was May 15, a super-deep day at Arapahoe Basin. Who knows if ski areas will be allowed to reopen? Nobody can say what the future holds in such uncertain times.
What can I say for certain?