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March 9, 2012
This has been a very strange winter, and when the sun came out and it really warmed up last weekend, I have to admit to thinking it was time for it to be over.
Skiing has been quite good but not very interesting most of the season. Too much time on groomed runs. I finally made it into Jupiter Bowl last weekend for the first time. It’s been open, but the early reports were not encouraging. Every round of avalanche control had taken it down to bare ground. It seemed like on the days Jupiter was open and good, I was skiing someplace else, and on the days I was skiing at PCMR, Jupiter was either socked into the clouds or closed.
Last Sunday was a spectacular sunny day, with new soft snow. It was just great to get up there. It just does the soul good to be on top of the mountain, with that expanse of steep terrain stretched out in front of you. It’s what skiing is all about. It’s March, and I’m just getting up there. That’s partly my fault, but it’s wrong. I’ve been on the steep stuff elsewhere, but for my tastes, there is nothing on this side of the mountain that compares with Jupiter. It’s just huge.
Despite the fact that the skiing got interesting, a few days of warm weather have kind of turned my thinking to spring. I was out walking with the dog and heard the redwing blackbirds. That’s always a good sign.
I remember last winter with all that snow and a terrible sense of cabin fever out here in the hinterlands. I remember bumping into a neighbor at the mailboxes and we heard the blackbirds trilling in the woods. At first we didn’t believe it, but there was no mistaking it: the blackbirds were back. She almost started to cry. That endless winter might end after all. It was like we had been rescued from the brink of the Donner Party’s fate.
With a winter as light as this, the return of the blackbirds didn’t seem quite as momentous. There’s a sense of, "Yeah, let’s just get the mud season started and move on." I’ve plowed the road into my house all of six times this winter, and a couple of those were days I had the tractor out for something else and decided to drop the snow blower since I was there already. It’s a sheet of ice now, except in the afternoons when it is Volkswagen-swallowing mud.
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There’s still a month left in the ski season and normally March is a good month for snow and traffic on the hill. Skiing usually is really nice in March, with lots of snow and sun at the same time. This year, the tourist traffic in March has apparently fallen off a cliff. Who knows what the weather will do.
I don’t remember a year when the forecasts have been as flat-out wrong as this year. I’ll go to bed with the National Weather Service website, zeroed in precisely on my house, predicting 5 to 7 inches of snow. I’ll get up early to plow, only to find there was nothing. That’s happened all winter long. So the odds are that, come May, it will snow like it’s never snowed before.
While I still have high hopes for spring skiing, I may be in the minority. On the mountain, there is a sense that they have just thrown in the towel on this year. The staff has been cut back because, theoretically, there are no customers. But on Sunday, the entire world was in line trying to buy a cheeseburger at Mid-Mountain Lodge. After a great morning of hard skiing, the idea of enjoying a long lunch out on the deck for the first time all year was really appealing. The new outdoor grill was closed for the season, and the line to order food extended to the middle of the building, while the line to pay for food extended an equal distance the other direction. We gave up and went home. It’s been that kind of year, but I thought they would be taking their Disney pills and trying to put as good a face on it as they can.
It’s way too early in the season to be winding it down. Counting down the days to closing is OK in April. It’s not so good in March. With the last round of new snow, it feels like the season is just finally getting started. They shouldn’t be taking the pads off the lift towers just yet, even if I am planning to ride my bike instead of ski this weekend.
But once you’ve heard the redwing blackbirds, there’s really no turning back.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column for 25 years.