A tale of two winters
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April 14, 2017
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It's hard for me to remember a winter as two-faced as this.
At the ski resorts, it was a season of euphoria with day after day of great powder skiing. The quality of the skiing this year was only slightly damaged by a couple of weeks of unusual rain and over-warm temperatures. Even the bad days were good days. It seemed like both PC and Deer Valley were plagued by lift malfunctions, iced cables, power outages and mechanical breakdowns. It didn't really matter because if a lift was down, there was still good skiing somewhere else. Friends were almost giddy over the ski season, and as things began to wind down, they confessed to being so spoiled that a day of merely average skiing wasn't enough to get them out.
As joyous as things were in the ski world, conditions were just as bleak at home. The same storms that delivered all that powder produced a siege mentality at home, with the internal roads on the ranch getting narrower and narrower. At home, this winter was defined by shoveling the roofs of all the outbuildings several times. Most years, a couple of them might need it once. Despite the effort, which involved a lot of conscripted family members with teenage children, we still had a roof collapse under the snow load.
All in, I have nearly a mile of internal roads to keep open at the ranch. The road to my house obviously matters. There are two old farmhouses with tenants in them. They expect to be able to get out to go to work in the morning. So those have always had first priority.
When it didn’t snow, a tree would blow over and block the road. Leaving home often involved a chainsaw. I looked at Arizona property on line.
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The road to the abandoned dairy barn doesn't need to get plowed with any urgency. My sisters don't use the old family house much in the winter, so their road can wait. The fuel tank with the supply of diesel for the tractor is behind my cousin's house, and he usually gets around to plowing that, even though he doesn't live there permanently. So most of the roads can normally sit there covered with snow until I plow them on my schedule.
This year was different. The tractor has its limits. The snow was coming so fast and furious that I couldn't leave the low priority roads unplowed because another foot could come that night, and then the tractor couldn't get through it all. So it all became top priority. I was up at 5 to plow roads to empty buildings so I could go ski, then after skiing I got to plow the second shift. It piled up higher than the blower could move it, so I spent hours with the front end loader trying to push things back. When it didn't snow, a tree would blow over and block the road. Leaving home often involved a chainsaw. I looked at Arizona property on line.
My aunt used to describe winters like this as being "one broken hydraulic hose away from the Donner Party." While there were no wolves at the door, there were mountain lion tracks in the front yard on a pretty regular basis. So the dog stayed inside and chewed on only the good furniture.
And then there would be a day of incredible powder skiing, or a surprising shot of spring corn snow, followed by too much Deer Valley lunch with good conversation over a second dessert. The warmth of a day of athletic skiing and aerobic feasting chilled quickly as I started up the canyon to my house. Kamas Valley melted back to bare ground a couple of times. Woodland held the snow, but didn't look too desperate. It was pretty much business as usual until the last mile to my house. The canyon narrows, it curves and makes a little more shade, gains a couple of hundred feet, and the snow just packed in. It's still not gone from my yard.
With each predicted storm, my friends were speculating on how much new snow the resorts would get. In my neighborhood, the speculation was whether the barn would collapse or avalanche. Everybody is worried about how high the river will get this spring. There's no better definition of ambivalence than a skier living in a floodplain.
But the season is over now. Nothing left to do but put the ski gear away and worry about the river flowing through the kitchen. The snow made the season, but the employees at the resorts made it safe and accessible. Here's a big thanks to all the lifties, patrollers (who don't feel remotely sorry for me getting up at 5 — that's lunch time for them), mechanics, groomers, cooks and everybody else who made this a great ski season. I hope you all have a great summer.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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