It was a surprising, but welcome sight on Saturday, above Florida Road near the roundabout. A skier. No, several skiers, carving turns and spraying snow across the slope at Chapman Hill.
The snow is machine-made, no more than a foot to 16 inches deep, but it can be seen as more than that. In that strip of snow, there is hope as well.
Hope that as we officially enter winter, the bone-dry weather pattern will break. Hope that our surroundings will soon match the calendar with a healthy cover of snow.
Slow starts to snowfall have led to heavy January snows before. Remember 2008, when over three feet of snow fell on Durango in January, with nearly two feet more during the first days of February? And don’t forget that March tends to bring more snow to the mountains than any other month.
There is time, plenty of time, for snowpack to accumulate.
But the bare ground extending from the New Mexico state line to the peaks of the La Platas is visual confirmation of the La Niña condition, the ocean-atmosphere phenomenon known for bringing above-average precipitation to the northern Midwest and northern Rockies, while leaving the southern band of the country, and especially the southern Rockies, high and dry.
She can be cruel, La Niña. In some southern regions, in decades past, La Niña was actually known as “El Viejo,” the old man. It paints a more fitting description: Dry and dusty, thrifty to the point of miserly with moisture, El Viejo seems more fittingly mean.
Or maybe he is just a version of the modern-day American snowbird: tired from his years of shoveling snow, he is done with winter, ready to park his motorhome somewhere south of Phoenix and stay warm until the calendar says spring.
There is, of course, an upside to a dry winter for those who would rather hike or ride than ski. With the exception of seasonal wildlife closures, area trails are open, and even better, mud-free. And there have been other creative ways to celebrate the lack of snow. Ice skating and outdoor hockey games on frozen and snow-free Andrews Lake, for example.
But it can be painful, this lack of snow. A source of insomnia for seasonal ski area employees, and for water managers who would much rather worry about too much water filling their reservoirs in May than not filling them at all.
We applaud the efforts being made despite the lack of help from nature. Kudos to the snowmaking crews at Chapman Hill and Purgatory, and to Purgatory’s move to open Lift 7 for night skiing and boarding while Ski Hesperus remains closed. Wolf Creek is open, too, on natural snow, making the best of this dry season so far.
There is a hope, too, in the forecast, with snow predicted for Durango overnight and into the morning. Probably not enough to make for a “White Christmas,” but anything, especially in the mountains, would be a welcome gift.
With prayers said, snowtires installed, bonfires to Ullr – Norse god of snowfall – stacked and fired, what else can be done?
How about a twist on a Christmas wish: We ask for peace on earth, good will to all …and a good old-fashioned three-day snowstorm for Southwest Colorado and the San Juans.