By: Rob Story
Flying into Montrose, Colorado, my aircraft dropped to the ground alongside the last, thin flurries of a dwindling storm. At least 10 inches had fallen, and it took more than a few swipes with the scraper to clear my windshield enough to head home to Telluride.
Driving through Montrose on Highway 550, the Saturday noon traffic was about normal. As pretty and pure as a blanket of freshly fallen snow can be, Montrovians, much like city dwellers everywhere, seemed bent on its destruction. Soon the cars and trucks would render the snow a black, slushy mess. But for now, the churning and chopping was kind of beautiful. Misty white cyclones spun in the busy intersections. Flakes bounced off side-view mirrors like milk droplets taking joyrides from a particularly seismic bowl of Rice Krispies. In front of me, a red pickup made a sweeping left turn; the slough that spilled off its cab painted the rapidly clearing pavement with an exquisite white arc.
Then there was my hood, host to an aberration I still cannot explain: a clump of snow that simply wouldn’t go away. The clump laughed at the bright sun that emerged shortly after Montrose disappeared in the rearview. It didn’t slink off when I punched the speedometer to 70 to pass a dawdling trustafarian in a vintage Land Cruiser. Instead, it seemed to hold up its little snow-clump arms and shout “Wheee!”
The clump was about the size of a meatloaf, which is to say it was as big as a cat. Cats also like to curl up on car engine hoods. But, it should be noted, cats will screech, hiss and flee if a car engine so much as starts. Not my clump. It absorbed the engine’s vibrations like a lover accepts a gentle massage on the nape of the neck.
Attributing human traits to snow is silly. Then again, snow is the only precipitation that stays around long enough to be anthropomorphized, so we’ve done it for years. Snow gods get characterized as angry, quirky and sometimes kind. Snowmen seem jolly, though sometimes abominable. We describe a resort’s snowpack as “grabby” or “icy” or other words that could also apply to a bad prom date.
The more my clump survived sharp turns and howling crosswinds, the more I thought of it as a ski bum: It didn’t have a penny to its name and was prone to scamming free rides. It was disappointing to its parents, who urged it to get on with the melting—like those nice Johnson H2o particles down the street—and flow home to the Pacific where it belonged. And judging by its grip on my hood, it really wanted to go to Telluride and hang out.
Ski bums, whether water-based or carbon-based, struggle to stick around in ski towns. To achieve anything more than a transient life requires a little luck and healthy protection from exposure. The other day, I saw a couple of woods squatters at a picnic table in Town Park. As they shivered over a morose game of gin rummy, their chances of long-term life in Telluride seemed as doomed as that of rime in a south-facing pine.
So many of us want to move to the mountains and stay there, forging permanent bonds with like-minded friends. The fantasy seems attainable sometimes, glowing with life during those wonderful moments when a ragged huddle assembles below an out-of-bounds hike. We lean on our poles and drink it all in—chuckling at our biffs, praising the conditions, and smiling like people who ski during weekdays damn well oughtta smile.
Of course, the cruel mix of low-paying jobs and high-paying rents makes it damn near impossible to hang on in a ski town. Even if you want it as bad as a hunk of frozen water that rides a warm, revving engine for 65 miles, you can still lose your grip.
What about that snow clump? The important news—the happy news—is that it fulfilled its dream of reaching Telluride. After that…well, you’ve all heard of summer, and there’s no need to get explicit with the gory details here.
I suppose I could have saved the clump by freezing it that Saturday. Instead, I stepped outside under an irresistible if heartless sun. I picked up my skis and trudged toward the lifts. When you’re a skier, you’ve got to honor the dream.