By Rachel Walker
I just got back from an eight day vacation to Alaska where I planned to shred some of the steepest, most challenging lines of my life in the Chugach range. I would be delivered to the tops of these lines via helicopter, follow a guide down, past crevasses and bergschrund, and then get picked up and whisked back to the top.
It was going to be epic. This was a once-in-a-lifetime heli-skiing trip, planned and budgeted for in my fortieth year. It was a gift to myself and a girl’s getaway; I went with my good friend Maggie, who also turned forty this year and who was my roommate in Jackson Hole about 15 years ago.
And then climate change happened. At least that’s my explanation for the record rainfall that was followed by record high temperatures. This combination created extreme avalanche conditions so dire that we could not ski. It simply was too dangerous.
While we were waiting out the storms in Cordova, Alaska, I kept getting snow reports from all the resorts in my backyard here in Colorado. Eight inches at Winter Park (for days in a row). Nearly a foot in Aspen. Even more in the southwestern part of the state.
After a relatively dry February, the storm track in Colorado came on in force in March, and I left the state as the snow arrived yet again.
What was the point of torturing myself with the daily snow reports for mountains I couldn’t ski, due being socked in a rain cloud in Alaska?
It was a good reminder that Colorado is home to some of the best skiing in the world. In fact, just as I viewed my trip to Alaska as a once in a lifetime, so do many pilgrims see their spring journey to Colorado’s Rockies (and many of them stay… but that’s a topic for another post).
The positive snow reports also gave me hope. As skunked as I got in Alaska, I knew there would be goods to ski when I got home. This is terrific, as I invested nothing short of a small fortune getting my boots fit, buying powder skis and splurging on a cute ski jacket (what can I say? I’m 40 and vain).
In just a few days, my family plans to pile in the car and hightail it to Winter Park, where more than 300 inches of snow has fallen this year. We’re going to take a “staycation”: four days to connect as a family, have one final ski huzzah of the season, hot tub, swim, happy hour, and everything else that’s wonderful about immersing ourselves in the mountains.
I’m so grateful that’s an option, so glad that Colorado keeps delivering, over and over.
Sure, it would have been lovely to return from Alaska with several steep descents under my belt. Everyone up there told me that when the conditions are good, the skiing is “life-altering.” I don’t doubt it. And I do love me a ride in a helicopter.
But I also love consistency and predictability, and Colorado’s mountains have those in spades.