A normal winter at last
February 5, 2016
Snow. It just keeps coming. Sometimes it’s a significant storm, and more often it comes in little bits — an inch here, three inches there — but enough that it begins to matter if you ignore it. The forecasters have been typically off the mark when it comes to predicting how much will come, with storms that were supposed to be an inch or two dropping eight, and storms they claim are worth 20 inches producing next to nothing. They claim it’s science, but it doesn’t look like it.
It’s snowing often enough that plowing has become a chore. In the last couple of winters, I plowed so rarely that I had to keep the big snowplow tractor on a battery charger. This year, I feel like I’m living in it. Some days I’ve had to plow twice a day, and it probably could have used a third if I had really been on it. The decision to spend the money to buy a tractor with a cab, a heated cab, has been in doubt for the last few years. It now looks like the best decision ever.
I was talking with a neighbor the other day. He and I both have lots of internal roads to keep open. Access roads to barns and sheds, a road to the hay stack, driveways to houses, and so on. A quarter mile here, a hundred yards there. They quickly add up. We were commiserating about spending too much time plowing, and not enough time skiing. Somewhere in the conversation, it came up that we have both been watching the snow totals carefully. Big as this winter seems, it is right at "normal" for the last 25 years.
It’s stacked up as high as my front-end loader can stack it. The piles on both sides of the driveways, where they meet the highway, are so big that the view is completely obstructed. There are mailboxes buried in there, somewhere, holding urgent and soggy mail that may not be accessible until spring. Within a month, I will need a wider road or a skinnier propane delivery truck.
Roofs. It’s been years since I’ve had to shovel the roofs. There are a dozen or so outbuildings on the ranch. When the dairy cows lived in the big shed, they generated enough heat that the snow melted off the roof. The dairy cows left 50 years ago, and now the snow builds up. The building was badly engineered when new, and time has not been kind to it. Maybe this year the snow will knock it over so I can quit maintaining something that serves no purpose. But there are other roofs that need to be cleared.
The avalanche safety people talk about layers in the snowpack, and you see them when clearing the roof. Each storm is identifiable in clearly defined geologic layers, as obvious as the different stripes of sandstone in Canyonlands. It comes off in big chunks if you hit the right layer, and won’t move at all if you are chipping away at the wrong one.
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The barns have metal roofs and will clear themselves, until the piles of snow on the ground build up to the level of the eaves and block the roofs from sliding. Then it stays put, and the kids snowboard off the roof before helping shovel it clear.
A neighbor’s house had a pile of snow the size of a Subaru on the roof. Snow from an upper roof slid to a lower one, but stuck there instead of sliding on down to the ground. It was perched dangerously over the front porch, packed hard as concrete. When it came off and crashed to the ground, it shook my house a hundred yards away. A railing underneath it is reduced to toothpicks.
Skiing. The skiing has been incredible. I’ll come home thinking that I had surely enjoyed the best day of the season, only to repeat it the next day and think that day might have been even better. I’m skiing places I haven’t ventured into for a couple of years. Coverage was always an issue last year. Now it’s just a question of finding places that aren’t all tracked out. I’m getting a little snobby about it. Not worth going out today, with only 4 inches of new. I skied a lot last winter on that depressing hardpack. It was something to do, better than working. This year, I’m falling in love with skiing all over again. I’m seeing the beauty of snow blowing off a cornice in the bright sun, or the row of skiers in bright colors against a gray sky, hiking up Pinyon Ridge to Jupiter Peak. And the joy of floating down the slope.
Normal is good.
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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