Our snow page features stories about skiing, weather, snow and avalanches.
Contact us if you’d like to contribute ski photos, essays, blogs or other snow-related content. We’d love to have your material included in Summit Voice, Summit County’s fresh online source for mountain news and culture.
Day use passes are $6, season passes available for $40
Fee collection and patrols in the Vail Pass Winter Recreation area will start Nov. 25, with a $6 charge for day use passes and a limited number of $40 season passes available for snowmobiling and crosscountry skiing. The Vail Pass […]
Top racers help break in new speed center on Copper’s expert terrain off the Super Bee chair
The U.S. Ski Team, already a dominant force in World Cup speed events, could get even better in coming seasons, with an opportunity to practice on Copper Mountain’s new full-length training course. […]
Avalanche hazard was rated as ‘considerable’ in the area, with a high likelihood of triggered and natural releases
A pre-season excursion to the high Wasatch near Salt Lake City ended with the death of pro skier Jamie Pierre, 39 […]
High weekend winds built potentially fragile slabs at higher elevations; highway safety crews trigger 8 slides on Loveland Pass
The weekend storm has moved off to the east, but a lingering northwest flow will fuel at least a few on-and-off showers through Tuesday before high pressure brings at least […]
The ski season starts at Breckenridge with a beautiful, warm sunny day
Gorgeous weather greeted skiers on opening day at Breck on Friday, Nov, 11, but a winter storm is in the forecast for the weekend, with up to a foot of snow possible across some of the favored […]
All Summit County resorts now open Opening day at Breckenridge, Colorado.
Breckenridge Ski Resort is starting its 50th anniversary season with a cupcake breakfast and three lifts serving a handful of trails on Peak 8, including Springmeier, Trygve’s, Four O’Clock, Spruce and a triple jump line in upper Park […]
Breckenridge and Vail ski resort history interconnected since the early days of the Colorado ski industry
Breckenridge ski area’s 50th anniversary will be marked by community celebrations and a resort marketing blitz, but skiing has deep roots in the Summit County town that predate the sport’s commercial era […]
Aspen gets direct flights from Texas and L.A. via United
It will be easier than ever to get to some of Colorado’s best ski areas this winter, as several airlines have announced new flights, including daily nonstop service to Aspen from Dallas-Forth Worth and Los Angeles, starting Dec. 15 on […]
Keystone celebrates the Dercums, A-Basin offers top-to-bottom skiing and Copper Mountain launches a new season
With several early season storms augmenting snowmaking efforts at local ski areas, both Keystone and Copper opened to rave reviews, while A-Basin was able to open the upper part of the mountain earlier this week. Keystone’s opening […]
Summit Nordic swap at the Breckenridge Nordic Center November 11-13; at the Frisco Nordic Center November 18-20
November is an in-between time in the high country, and along with snow-covered pumpkins, many ski town […]
Report says last winter’s efforts added more than 8,000 acre-feet of water, recommends routine seeding
Cloud-seeding experts say their efforts boosted snow totals at Summit County ski areas by 12 to 22 inches last winter, producing an additional 8,850 acre-feet of water in the Blue River Basin […]
Series of early season storms could set up potentially dangerous avalanche conditions
A pair of storms set to roll through the high country the next few days could spur the first avalanche warnings of the season. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center will begin daily forecasts today (Nov. 1.), with zone […]
Some parts of the San Juans have already picked up 5 feet of snow
Although there haven’t been any avalanche accidents reported yet this season, the experts with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center say backcountry travelers should start thinking about the potential risks as the snow starts to pile […]
Nonprofit group forging ahead with plans for a new hut high on Baldy as the Forest Service accepts proposal
Summit Huts Association will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its annual Backcountry Ball with revamped fundraiser this Friday, Oct. 21, at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge. Along with swapping stories […]
Second-year La Niña usually not quite as strong
Although La Niña is back for a second winter, there’s little historical evidence to suggest that Colorado’s ski towns will once again see near-record snowfall. Based on a careful analysis of past records and trends, chances are that the state’s northern and […]
Summit County ski season under way
There was a time when I wanted to start each season with the latest and greatest ski gear, but these days, I’m just happy that I can still bend down easily to lace up the liners of my 15-year-old Scarpas before joining my […]
Opening day includes tribute to A-Basin founders Marnie Jump and Max Dercum
Teaming up with Ullr, A-Basin’s snowmaking crews have put down a blanket of white that will enable the ski area to open for the season this Thursday, Oct. 13, with skiing and riding on High Noon.
Snow pros gather in Leadville for 10th annual Colorado Snow and Avalanche workshop; education session open to anyone interested in gaining avalanche knowledge
With the first few winter-like storms already passed, avalanche experts in Colorado are starting to prepare for the coming season. Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecasts will […]
Early storm, chilly temps generate some early ski industry buzz
After an early season storm pasted Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, the traditional race to open may be over before it ever really started. Wolf Creek Ski Area announced it will open Saturday, Oct. 8 with three lifts operating, and several other resorts […]
Long-range vision for resort includes new lifts, a summer mountain coaster and new on-mountain restaurants
Copper Mountain’s new long-range master plan for addressing deficiencies in its aging lift network includes removing and replacing seven existing chairlifts and adding four new lifts, as well as new conveyors for the teaching […]
One planet, one pass is the new motto for Monarch Mountain after adding new ski areas in the Alps to its season pass partnership program
The appeal of sliding down snow-covered mountains has always transcended national borders and ideologies, and this winter, Monarch Mountain has taken that global culture to […]
Top athletes set to spotlight potential climate-change impacts to winter sports communities and industries
After a powder-filled La Niña season, it might be hard to come to grips with the fact that winters just aren’t what they used to be — but that’s exactly what a recent study from […]
February snow-cover extent was third-highest on record for North America; April was the lowest-ever, according to Rutgers Global Snow Lab
Month-to-month and annual measurements of snow cover extent (land areas covered by snow) may not exactly mirror climate-change trends, but they do give some indication of cyclical fluctuations in […]
By Emily Palm
OSHA finds ‘serious’ alleged violations during investigation of Wolf Creek ski patrol director’s avalanche death
By Emily Palm
Ski columnist Emily Palm skins Keystone’s back bowls.
Loud stars and mysterious milky ways at Janet’s Cabin
By Miranda Reilly
On Thursday morning of last week, seventeen of us gathered in the Alpine lot at Copper Mountain to fall off the face of the earth for a few days. At least that’s what it felt like. I suppose in reality we were about to be closer to earth than we could ever hope to be as we embarked on a two night excursion to Janet’s Cabin.
Riding up the lift (Cheating? Nah.) with a snowboard strapped precariously to one foot and a pack that might as well have been full of rocks, I wonder why again I signed up for this, I wonder if I could just forget the whole thing.
For the next three days (it felt longer, yet too short, all at the same time) we tromp through silent woods, glide down ridge lines atop fallen clouds, cook food over flame, crane our necks at loud stars and mysterious milky ways shouting their hellos, until suddenly everything strips away.
Suddenly everything is exactly as simple as it should be on this planet. The rats are still racing somewhere, but I can’t see them, I can’t hear them, and only cute little field mice are hiding under the bunks waiting for me to drop my trail mix.
I read about Janet on the wall and say her name out loud. I hike up. I ride down. I see the dull glow of Copper below the yawning sunset. I hang my socks over the wood stove to dry. I argue the rules of Uno. I let the dirt gather beneath my fingernails. We didn’t fall off the face of the Earth. we jumped in its belly and let the modern world walk away, embarrassed for the moment, knowing it can’t compete.
As I huff and puff, lugging my snowboard out on snowshoes and cursing anyone with skis, the world turns its head again. Reality slaps my red face as I step out onto a beginner slope on a Saturday afternoon.
The deafening peace, the comforting solace, wave goodbye as I dodge tiny kids in giant helmets, as the details fade away into dream-like fog. I think about work on Monday. I think about running back in. I mourn the loss of my wild asylum. I decide what toppings I want on the pizza that will welcome me back.
Janet’s is part of a network of backcountry shelters maintained by the Summit Huts Association. Get more information about Summit Huts here.
Janet’s Cabin was the first backcountry hut built by Summit Huts Association in 1989-1990 and opening for guests in 1991. Janet’s is located in Guller Gulch, a roadless area between Copper Mountain and Vail Pass along the Colorado Trail. Details.
The hut was named after Janet Boyd Tyler, an avid skier who died of cancer in 1988. The cabin was built in her memory near her adopted home of Vail, where she was a long time resident. Her lifetime season ski pass to Vail Mountain is buried in the cabin foundation. As the cabin is located in a roadless area, helicopters were required to build and are necessary to re-supply the hut each season.
This is Miranda Reilly’s first piece for Summit Voice, but we’re hoping to hear more from her soon.
Wax ’em up: Don’t let your local ski shop have all the fun!
By Bob Berwyn
As much as I love the piney scent of the great mountain outdoors, there’s another smell associated with skiing I like even more: The aroma of molten paraffin, mingling with molybdenum and fluorocarbon fumes.
It sounds weird, not to mention a little toxic, but laying down a coat of fresh wax on a pair of downhill or cross-country boards is a quasi-religious experience, usually accompanied by mysteriously mumbled incantations to Ullr, muttered to elicit copious quantities of powder.
There’s the ceremonial lighting of the P-Tex candle, held carefully between both hands in a prayer-like clasp.
Then, the raspy penance of metal on metal, as the file is drawn over steel edges.
Finally it’s time to do the deed, holding a bar of wax ever-so-gently against a hot iron, and letting it drip, drip, drip down the base of your boards in a pattern that looks like a secret code. To spread the wax and impregnate the base, the iron is applied with small circular motions or smooth, long strokes — imagine you’re massaging the small of your lover’s back.
The excess is scraped and peeled away in a ritual exfoliation, and finally, like a priest polishing a consecrated candelabra, you buff the final coat with a soft shred of cloth, optimally a corner of a shawl once owned by the Dalai Lama, although a piece of a favorite T-shirt will do just fine.
If you hit it just right, your boards become wings beneath your feet.
Alas, these days, most folks just bring their boards to a ski shop, where a tech runs them across a roller and calls it good. And you can’t really blame them. With out-of-control rents and home prices in most ski towns, who has room anymore for a ski-tuning spot, although many a great hot waxes have been carried out across the backs of two chairs in hotel rooms around the world.
It’s all about technology and high-tech ingredients, and like with many other products in our consumer-oriented world, it’s become partly about marketing. Even those of us with a deeply ingrained old-school mentality can succumb. My latest find is a brand called Green Saucer Wax, reverse-engineered from alien technology, according to inventor Chris Artemis.
I was skeptical at first, but will now vouch for this wax and would be willing to do an infomercial testimonial, especially after I saw how fast it is, not only in the snow, but also when I had to skid across the top of rocks and bushes during an early-season outing at Berthoud Pass. If you see a few green sticky blotches on some of the pointy boulders up there, that’s my telltale spoor.
My A-Basin buddies and I love this wax, and are starting to use it for many other things besides waxing tele boards. For instance, we were able to re-polish scratched CDs with just a little dab of saucer wax and a nice, soft chamois cloth. Then we shined up our belt buckles and even use it to keep our glasses from fogging up while sitting in the hot tub.
I discovered this stuff a few seasons ago sitting next in the A-Frame at the Basin. Out of the blue, the guy next to me pulls a few tubes out of his parka:
“Psssst! Got some good stuff here, Check it out.”
Then he started to talk it up, telling me that it’s made by a bunch of aliens living in a secret cave on Mt. Evans. They come from a mountainous planet far, far away, where it’s always winter. The aliens are highly evolved, as evidenced by the fact that their feet have evolved to resemble a pair of skis.
The wax is made of crystals found only on this planet’s second moon, where a tribe of nomadic snowboarders gathers up the crystals from the frozen beaches at low tide, while telemarking goddesses sing from a chairlift that never stops running.
They’re selling wax here on Earth to finance an intergalactic “Save Our Snow (SOS)” campaign, in the face of not only global, but interplanetary warming. Lately, the aliens have been working on a line of saucer wax in a variety of colors and aromatherapy scents.
I thanked my newfound friend, realizing that his offering was made in the spirit of interplanetary brotherhood. The gesture was a far cry from the early days of waxing, when long-board racers jealously guarded their secret recipes for “dope,” trying to gain a split-second advantage over their competitors in the raucous races that helped pass the time during long mining-camp winters.
The whole concept of ski wax surely was born in the gleaming wasteland of some snow-covered Arctic tundra, when a native reindeer herder tried using a little whale blubber for added glide after watching a walrus trample one of his clan. For centuries, not much changed, as skiers experimented with various combinations of animal by-products and plant-based substances.
Then, humans figured out how to manipulate petrochemicals. It was the beginning of the end in so many ways.
For the art of waxing, it meant that plastic compounds replaced wooden ski bases, minimizing, and even eliminating, the need for slick coatings, at least for most average skiers.
Even the pros agree.
“If you really want to be an efficient waxer, you need a $1,000 wax kit,” says Olympic ski racer Jana Hlavaty, director of the Nordic center at Keystone, Colorado.
“People put too much emphasis on waxing, explaining that no-wax skis are the way to go, for all but the most competitive racers.”
“You spend a half hour waxing and trimming, but only 15 minutes skiing, so you might as well go home,” says Hlavaty, who helped a U.S. squad to a ninth-place finish in the four-by-five kilometer relay at the 1976 Games in Innsbruck, Austria.
If the art of waxing hasn’t quite been completely lost, it’s because of skiers like Hlavaty, who still maintains a bench for pine-tarring skis at the Nordic center lodge.
“I think I’m one of the only people in Summit County who still knows how to pine-tar a ski. Oh my God, it smells so se-exy,” she says with her sultry Czech accent.
Most people wouldn’t even know what she’s talking about, but a few old-schoolers who show up at the center each winter with wooden skis are pleased. Since wood is porous, the pine tar is used to keep water out. It has to be applied with a careful touch, simultaneously using a blowtorch and wiping away the excess carefully with a rag to create a smooth layer as a base for subsequent kick-and-glide waxes.
“It’s very much a science. It’s turned from an art to a science,” says Matt Dayton, another U.S. Olympian who was part of a combined cross-country and jumping team that finished fourth at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
In a cross-country race, if you get on that first downhill and everybody flies past you, you know that you’re in for 45 minutes of hell,” Dayton says, describing the feeling of choosing the wrong wax.
On the other hand, when you hit it just right, it can be magic, he says, recalling the 2003 Nordic World Championships in Italy, when Johnny Spillane won a first-ever gold for the U.S. in the Nordic combined sprint with a powerful performance in the cross-country leg.
“He had rockets on that day,” Dayton says, attributing Spillane’s win, at least partially, to getting the right wax.
Author’s note: This story first appeared in Mountain Gazette in 2009.
Confessions of a freeheel fanatic
By Bob Berwyn
When I first started telemark skiing, it was a fringe experience. Adherents of the recently resurrected Nordic freeheel technique were almost cult-like in their fervor for this reborn discipline. Most of its adherents – at least the ones I knew – lived in Tipis or communes in San Cristobal or out on the Mesa, or in snow caves hidden deep in the Kit Carson National Forest, or in their cars – Far out, man!
That included my own mentor, raven-haired Jen. She with the strong hands and gentle soul; with pine-scented hair, lips that tasted like ripe strawberries and wisdom and patience that seemed as deeply rooted in the Earth as the pinyons and junipers growing all around us in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristos.
I ended up living with her for several months, sharing cramped quarters in a ’68 VW microbus. The homemade woodburner probably came close to asphyxiating us every night, but we maintained the arrangement through the coldest months of a snowy northern New Mexico winter, staving off frostbite and hypothermia with physical closeness. And the price was right.
As things warmed up, however, the fumes from our smoke-infused Polypro, blending with the scent of our herbal teas and vegetarian meals, became a little too funky, even for the most the most passionate of lovers. I moved into an old adobe house where water from the acequia in the yard crept through the clay and up the wall, forming a blue-green mold that froze into a shimmering patina on frosty spring mornings. I invited Jen to live with me. She said no, in keeping with the feisty spirit of independence I’d come to expect from my newfound free-heeling, free-wheeling friends. Still, we skied together nearly every day, and made love almost every night.
With patience and devotion, I discovered how to sustain a gentle, trusting and nurturing relationship with a woman, both physically and emotionally. And I learned how to meet a mountain on its own terms rather than relying on willpower or attacking it with sheer physical force. The lessons were related. They were a gift, born, I believe, out of the post-’60s hippie vibe that lingered on in places like Taos, Santa Cruz and Boulder long after tie-dye went mainstream. The skiing part of the lesson, anyway, has always stayed with me, probably because I have spent plenty of time consciously practicing.
Much to my regret, I didn’t hang on to the rest nearly as well, even though it may have been the more important of the two. Now I often ask myself why it’s been so hard to find a love as easy and untangled as what passed between us that season. And I am learning the answer. Part of it has been neglect on my part, forsaking the pure, simple and true for the complex or convenient, and sometimes settling for just-because. And I’ve learned other lessons from other partners; lessons about deceit, manipulation, power and greed that supplanted trust and buried my innocence as gradually as the first snows of November cover the brown earth. I didn’t even notice until it was gone.
“That’s such a guy thing,” Jen said with her huckleberry laugh after I tumbled and slid down Stauffenberg, a steep and bumpy Taos chute where I tried to impose my will with jump turns and torque. “Let the mountain come to you. And trust your skis,” she said on the next run, before slipping over the lip and threading her way down a nasty double fall line. She crested the powder bumps with little floater turns, all light-footed finesse, dropping low to steer through the troughs, all the while staying totally centered and keeping her upper body pointed down the mountain, like the headlight on a north-bound train.
She showed me how to find the fall line, the place where water flows and fire doesn’t go, by waiting, waiting … and waiting just a little longer before initiating a turn. “Once your skis are truly pointing downhill, it’s easy to turn them back across the slope without fighting the mountain,” she explained patiently, before sliding off once again, nailing a tight line through a sun-spangled glade and bursting back into the open snow in a dazzling spray of powder.
“I gotta learn how to do that,” I thought to myself, following my teacher – my love – down the mountain.
“It’s all right in here,” she said later that day, placing a hand on my solar plexus as we soaked in the hot springs by the Rio Grande. “Don’t forget to breathe with each turn. Stay relaxed and breathe.” We kissed and our breaths mingled as one in the steam above the water.
Before I met Jen, I knew telemarking only as something out of the history books, a semi-obsolete Nordic technique used by knicker-wearing oldsters at obscure Scandinavian touring centers or by ski jumpers trying to feather their landings after a 300-foot flight. At that point I had already been skiing on alpine gear for about 20 years, but it only took that one season to discover that this was more than just a way of getting down the mountain – it was a calling, and it’s all still fascinating 20 years later. Watching a good tele skier is a study in paradox, like witnessing a head-on collision between the past and present, with the evolutionary outcome uncertain. It’s a quirky blend of ritualized tradition and freestyle anarchy, like Laurel and Hardy doing Samurai. It’s an archaic form that fulfills a timeless function, an indescribably elegant ballet with a trace of almost desperate awkwardness at its core.
And I still have a few free-heeling friends who live in their cars or in snow caves.
Far out, man!