Alta Backcountry

The Quiet Snow of Spring

It’s the night of May 3rd, less than 50 days till the summer solstice, and it’s 27° F and lightly snowing lightly. It’s a bit ridiculous, but at the same time not unusual. May is the third snowiest month of the year here and that snow tends to come in bunches in the beginning. For newcomers, it’s a rude awakening to life in the high mountains, and the old-timers tend to laugh and tell stories from 30 years ago of May snows so deep they covered small children, the only thing taller than the actual snow depth being the tales themselves. No matter – fiction is generally more interesting than reality.

We decided to take advantage of the winter-like conditions today (it was 70° two days ago) and go on a nordic tour. Nordic ski touring is one of our favorite mid-winter avalanche and crowd avoidance activities. But come May, we’ve usually traded in nordic gear for alpine touring skis, as the temperatures invariably warm with the long days and waxing becomes a hassle.

It’s been a wet spring here in the northern Colorado Rocky Mountains, and we’ve been fortunate to have lots of crisp, snowy and foggy days. As the years progress, I find I like spring more and more, the stillness, the cocoon-like feel of the deep fog. It’s the least stressful time of year. In summer, everybody is racing around trying to pack in big runs, hikes and bike rides in the brief, energized warm season. Autumn, because it’s so fleeting and beautiful, creates a certain “fear of missing out” surge, and there is a tendency to overdo it. And in winter, there is the pressure of the powder day, of first tracks, and sometimes it all gets a little exhausting. But in the spring, there is no pressure.

In the spring, nobody is racing to be the first person to trudge through the mud, or break trail thru 10-inches of heavy slop. Those are both things most people don’t want to do, but there is a humbling beauty to it that I enjoy. The people go away and the animals come out in droves, and the mountains never feel more rich or wilder as a result. It’s a brief season, and the cold and damp that we’ve enjoyed lately extends it even further.

We find ourselves talking a lot about the next step, the next place. And without exception, our criteria are simple: a place with less people that is even wilder than this one. Somewhere where adventures in the mountains aren’t a named thing or a Strava goal, somewhere with no scene, somewhere with big wilderness with lots of things in the woods that can eat you, but at the same time keep you attentive and alive.

But on this day, as the snow fell and the fog hung low over Happy Valley, we are content. The skiing was good, albeit a little tricky with a heavy concrete layer just below the fluffier top. May is posing as January, but the wetter, spring-like snow that requires more force to punch thru tells the real truth. Winter will lose the fight, but it’s still landing a solid punch, like a scrappy old boxer getting beat up but fighting hard thru 12-rounds.

It was a good spring day in the mountains.

2 Replies to “The Quiet Snow of Spring”

  1. It is impossible to express how much I love this line: “the old-timers tend to laugh and tell stories from 30 years ago of May snows so deep they covered small children, the only thing taller than the actual snow depth being the tales themselves.” Carry on living in the moment, bringing us with you. In the midst of my day, you provided a moment of pure peace. Thank you!

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