Sunday, June 15, 2014

Winter Survival Guide to Colorado

I'm pretty sure I used to like winter, once upon a time. When I was a kid (in Kansas), snowboarding trips out west were a treat I looked forward to all year long. Sledding, snow-fort-building, snowman-making, Christmas, Sinter Klaas, snow days, snuggly days spent indoors with blankets and mugs of hot chocolate and books ... all good things.

Then I moved to a small mountain town at 7,200 feet in Colorado. In theory, this should make me like winter more. People here don't just like winter; they love it. From November to May, my new(ish) home is a snowy paradise, surrounded by the best of the best (a) inbounds skiing/snowboarding terrain at Aspen Mountain, (b) hike-to backcountry bowls outside of nearby Marble, and (c) endless cross-country and snowshoeing trails in every direction. And yet, (a) a season pass to Aspen is prohibitively expensive, (b) the chance of being buried in an avalanche is at odds with my general enthusiasm for being alive and well, and (c) sure, but I still can't help but spend the winter thinking, "When is all this damn snow going to melt?!"

Our back porch, circa December-May.
I blame it on being a trail runner. What's more excruciating than being surrounded by hundreds of miles of gorgeous running trails that are, in fact, only accessible for a few months each year? (First-world problems, but the answer is: not much.) Of course, other trail runners in Colorado have managed to make this situation work for them, swapping their running shoes entirely for skis or snowshoes for six months every year--but, problem is, I really, really like trail running. Like, more than pretty much everything else.

If I never have to post-hole another day in my life, I'll be happy.

Since trail running is relatively non-existent here until May, I find other ways to entertain myself. Hiding out indoors all winter, by the way, is not an option when you live in a mountain town; live in one of the most gorgeous places on earth, and people will no doubt find ways to drag you outside and make you appreciate your good fortune.

All this positions May and June well to be my favorite months. I mean, spring is a terrific season pretty much anywhere you go--but, in the mountains in Colorado, it's the absolute best. I can't overstate my enthusiasm for these warm (but not hot), sunny months of long daylight hours, blooming wildflowers, awakening wildlife, growing gardens, roaring rivers, and (finally!) snow-free trails.

Running with some lovely ladies after work last Thursday. Is it hard to understand why I miss this during the half of year when it's not possible here? Photo by Ann Driggers.
Given my six-month absence from my blog (yikes), here's a look at my life through the past half year, with specific regard to my (emotional/mental) survival techniques for Colorado winters. (Watch how I sneakily transition from strategies of embracing the snow to ones of increasing levels of snow avoidance ... )

Winter Survival Technique #1: Buy a pair of old, beater cross-country skis and get your ass out on the snow before hitting the office. Morning sessions at the local XC trails = heavenly.

Also good for longer excursions ...

... to gorgeous places. Colorado's most photographed mountains, the Maroon Bells, in the background!

Winter Survival Technique #2: Play (or, in my case, watch) broomball. Not talented enough on ice skates for hockey? No problem. Wear your tennis shoes, slap on a helmet and some knee pads and hit the rink for some broomball league play.

Winter Survival Technique #3: Swiss Bobbing. I have no photographic representation of this, but here's what's entailed: Strap some Yaktrax onto your running shoes and a Swiss Bob plastic sled to your back, hike/run up the ski mountain at night under a full moon and in the company of far more hardcore mountain town folk on skis with skins or on fat bikes ... then plop down on your Swiss Bob and sled all the way back down to the bottom. Repeat as needed.

Winter Survival Technique #4: Hot springs soaking--no doubt, one of the most glorious aspects of where we live. No matter that this amazing natural hot springs in the Crystal River is right off the road; it's four miles down the river from my house, so I feel robe and slippers are appropriate attire for visiting. Photo by Annie Murphy.

Winter Survival Technique #5: Put on a silly holiday-themed costume and run the local Jingle Bell race. Photo by Colleen O'Neil.

Winter Survival Technique #6: Hike and ski/snowboard the bowl at Aspen Highlands. A little hard to see in this photo, since the bowl (on the left side of the photo) is totally blown out, but this is a killer hike up to the avalanche-controlled, tip-top of Aspen Highlands--some of the best inbounds skiing and snowboarding there is, and if you're badass enough (I'm not, by the way) to skin up/hike all the way from the bottom, you don't even need to buy a lift ticket to access this magical place.
Winter Survival Technique #7: Pretend the snow doesn't exist and go running anyway. Pretend that neighborhood streets are trails.

Winter Survival Technique #8: Invite people from Kansas out to visit. There's nothing like a vacationing flatlander to remind you that holy hell, you are a lucky dog and live in an amazing place. Thanks for the ski visit, Dad!

Winter Survival Technique #9: Run away to the desert. There are few winter blues that a little weekend road trip to Moab can't fix. Here (February), I show my enthusiasm for wearing shorts for the time in many months and for not being able to see a speck of snow anywhere. My friend Jeason is excited, too, but maybe not as excited as I am. Hard to tell.

I mean, really, the fact that Arches National Park is a day trip from where I live is pretty special. Annie and I were happy girls, the day after running the Moab's Red Hot 33K.

Duh. :)
Winter Survival Technique #10: Start a local women's trail-running group and run away to the desert. Again.

Winter Survival Technique #11: Use SkyScanner to find the cheapest plane ticket you can to a warm place (say, Costa Rica) with zero chance of May snowstorms. Hop on that plane, go, wear T-shirts, swim, sweat, lie on the beach, be merry.

Winter Survival Technique #12: Take grumpy selfie on mid-June trail run when all you want to do is get up into the high country, but snow's still thwarting your ambitions.

But! If you can survive the winter in Colorado, the rewards are bountiful. Trails and wildflowers are everywhere. Our CSA (community-shared agriculture, i.e. weekly box of produce from a farm down the road) starts up again this week. The grill's been dusted off. On various adventures in the past month, I've seen: a bear, mountain goat, coyote, lynx, elk, deer, snakes and marmots. And, this Saturday, I'll run my first 50-miler of the season down in Colorado's San Juan Mountains! (Which will, ironically, involve copious amounts of snow, thanks to our spectacularly high snowpack this season, which is still abundant at the altitude at which this race takes place.) Wish me luck.

Morning runs before work offer spectacular light and views of Sopris. Photo by Ann Driggers.

More Sopris. Can't help taking photos of her majestic summit. This one from a solo weekend adventure.

Coal Basin trails across the street from our house.

All that snow has to go somewhere. Creeks and rivers are raging this time of year.

Afore-mentioned trail running club's latest excursion to Thomas Lakes last week, below the summit of Mt. Sopris. Photo by Ann Driggers.


  1. So, when can I come visit? :D (In the summer though, I had enough snow in Iceland)

    1. Anytime you want, Lise! My home is your home :)

  2. Haha love it!! You don't mention rando racing. I bet you'd be spectacularly good at that.
    PS. Appreciate the PC. Thanks! :)

    1. Haha, I bet I'd be a disaster at rando racing, but thanks for the vote of confidence :)

      Thank YOU for chronicling our adventures in the mountains!

  3. Love this Yitka, especially the grumpy selfie! I love winter, but I love trail running more than anything as well :) Thank you for all the get-away tips! I will be doing a lot more desert trips next year.

    1. Thanks, Amanda! I didn't do any desert trips my first winter here. Did 2 or 3 trips this past winter. Next year, it will be more still.

      Looking forward to many more runs together this summer!

  4. love! i hear ya but i do not feel sorry for ya!! ;) your life looks very sunny to me ... and YAY FOR HOT SPRINGS DOWN THE ROAD!

  5. PS...any trips out west this summer??? :) PNW?

    1. Haha, I won't try to incur any sympathy points, at least not this time of year :)

      I'm still thinking about trying to come run White River next month ... leaning toward yes on it, but still on the fence, as the timing's a little tricky with some work-related travel shortly thereafter. Will let you know!

  6. And I thought I was being adventurous riding my motorcycle to the east coast for a week :) I wish I was closer to that kind of nature. Maybe someday.