– While settling into winter in the Yampa Valley, I notice myself becoming more incessantly enticed with meteorology and weather patterns. Not only dose it dictate my day to day affairs, it determines what I will be able to do in weeks to come. Warming trends make ice climbing marginal to non-existent currently, but has decreased a once extreme avalanche danger down to moderate after an unwanted ice crust surprised residents of Northwest Colorado just before Thanksgiving. The increasingly erratic climate trends provides unexpected opportunities to scale southern facing rocks, run snow packed trails and uncontrollably bomb groomers on the Steamboat Ski Area.
What does the changing climate mean to the future of winter recreation? When recently discussing ice climbing with John Saunders, director of Outdoor Education at Colorado Mountain College, he brought up a very interesting idea that I never deeply thought about before; what does the future of ice climbing look like? How much longer with climate trends allow ice to form each winter, it can be such a temperate sport, being extremely conditionally dependent. There are some climbs that only come in once a decade, and other climbs that are consistent, but could be extremely different from one week to the next. The same can be said for snow and avalanche conditions, huge dumps on unstable layers can create increased avalanche danger, extreme winds and radical weather patterns may make storms slabs more evident in the backcountry. Moreover, how much longer with will we keep seeing 400+ inches of snow in the Park Range each winter? How much longer till warming trends encroach our mountain landscape? Will we be skiing waist deep freshies in 2030, or will skiing and winter climbing be a thing of the past, such as Walk-Mans, the abacus and chivalry.
As we mosey deeper into the depths of winter, I tend to cycle through several weather related websites, including: www.noaa.gov, www.wounderground.com, avalanche.state.co.us (CAIC), www.opensnow.com, www.mountainproject.com, to understand current conditions and upcoming storms and weather systems. With the expectation of a big powder dump, I put my tools up for a few days, grab my skis and seek out the biggest pow stashes Steamboat throws at me. Lucky for me, when snow accumulation is marginal, generally, fun climbing can be discovered all over the Rockies. Weather and conditions can seem to be a more finicky mistress when recreating in the mountains during the winter months; climbers must be concerned with freeze-thaw patterns and ice conditions, backcountry skiers must obsessively observe weather conditions and avalanche potential, Nordic skiers have to carefully observe snow conditions and air temperature to maximize wax effectiveness. These sites are just a few tools I utilize to maximize my recreating opportunities; Thank Jah I live in the age of spell check and the inter-webs, I am so thankful for the access and availability of information, we’re so accustomed to in the age of the smart phone. It gives me an increased level of admiration for those pioneers of the Rocky Mountain winters, cheers to you 10th Mountain Division!
I felt the need to discuss this not as a calling for a panic about the future of the planet, although we should always keep that in mind. Rather, to remind us all of how lucky we are to live in such a time and place where we still enjoy huge dumps of the best snow in the world, we have quivers of skis that are bigger and more diverse then ever (your pow ski, daily driver, A.T. set up, carving ski, park ski, skate ski, dog walking ski; yes, there are many people around the ‘boat that have all of these and more). Appreciate where we are, where we have come from and be aware of where we are going. Make sure to show your support for those organizations that serve as primary proprietors of winter; Colorado Avalanche Information Center, Protect Our Winters, 10th Mountain Division, Weather Underground, to name a few. Support these organizations, get out and experience the Rocky Mountain winters first hand, from snowshoeing to ice climbing, skate skiing to backcountry skiing. Keep on recreating, never stop living life or exploring new experiences.