Where are the snows
of yesteryear?

That's the question that 15th century French poet, François Villon asked in his most famous poem: "Où sont les neiges d'antan?" Haven't we all asked that question, especially after a couple of dry or dryish seasons? And who hasn't lived through a couple of dry seasons, praying for snow?...

My wife Linde and I moved to Colorado back in the autumn of 1976, to Telluride. A romantic move to be sure. It seemed all the more romantic walking down the streets of that little mining town struggling to become a ski town, watching big white flakes in the glow of old -fashioned street lights on a cold November night. The first snowfall of the season. And very nearly the last. That year the ski area opened for one week in December, then closed again. Opened for one more week in January, and closed again. And finally, the Telluride ski area reopened for three more weeks in late spring. No one in that small town, in our small ski school, was prepared for such a snowless winter. It was a Rocky Mountain drought year, coupled with a High Plains drought... We shook our heads in disbelief and consoled ourselves with the thought that next year it would have to snow. It did. But after that, I never took a good ski/snow season for granted again....

Seasons come and seasons go. I ask myself if I can really trust my memories of the snows of seasons past.... Walking down to the village parking lot in Bear Valley, California, after an all-night storm, looking for my little car and finally finding only the radio antenna sticking up out of a drift... Late spring days in the High Sierra, a week after most ski areas had closed, and still ten and twelve-foot snow banks on the sides of Highway 4. Or that season at Squaw Valley when it snowed for 30 days straight, when my roommates and I would duck our heads to pass under the telephone wires as we walked home to our rental house on Sandy Way after (yet another) day of powder skiing and powder teaching.

The snows of yesteryear. Half memory, half fact. A Swiss friend, a young vintner growing Pinot Noir grapes under snowy peaks above the Rhône valley, once told me: “for a farmer, the only bad weather is weather that stays the same.” My wife says the same thing goes for photographers. And I know that it’s true for skiers. We need storms, big storms, and we need clearing skies, and fresh cold alpine sunshine. We need it all. But it all starts with snow. Ends with snow.

This year, here in Colorado, skiers are enjoying a remarkable mixed bag of conditions. Vail is boasting record snow depths... Steamboat too. But below a line running roughly east and west through Monarch Pass, Colorado is experiencing a near drought. Wolf Creek Pass, that little ski area famous for the consistently deepest snow in Colorado has very thin snow cover, but Monarch, just a hundred miles north, is buried in fresh white. Meanwhile East Coast skiers have waited patiently for months for winter to really start. Go figure. Can we say what a normal winter is any more? Could we ever?

But the truth is that in the end we accept each winter, good, bad or indifferent, with scarcely suppressed glee. The best winter is this winter. The best run is this run. The best turn is the last one, or the next one...but it is happening right now. And the answer to that old, old question: Where are the snows of yesteryear? It’s easy. They are still falling.



  midwinter 2006  
photo above: powder skiing on Aspen's Ajax mountain which is currently enjoying the best snow in a decade.
photo © Burnham Arndt


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