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Winter 2018

The 2017-18 snow season is over.

I have heard many suggest that it never really started.

For those of us who logged serious time in the mountains over the past seven months, this winter was a magical gift. Albeit a complex and less snowy experience than we're used to in the San Juan Mountains.


Still riding the stoke of a historic 16-17, my outlook was positive when we received our first snowfall up high in October. I was guiding a trip in Chicago Basin and we got smoked with a foot of fresh above 12k. Was this Autumn dump a preview of what was to come?

Facts and Stats

* October 31 Senator Beck Basin received roughly 5″ of snow accumulation

* October was the fourth warmest/driest in CSAS records


The Halloween storm dropped 7+ inches across the range. Novemeber first found me up on RMP, making first tracks and gouging my base on a barely supportive pack overlaying marginally covered scree. Oh Boy!

But then nothing. Nothing for the entire month. I squelched my excitement and subsequent disappointment with Thanksgiving mountain biking and fishing excursions. Winter would come and we'd give thanks.

Facts and Stats

* Only two Nov precip events recorded by CAIC staff

* Both events are non-storms as determined by CSAS

* 17% of average precipitation for the month of November

* 17/18 early season is the slowest start to winter & the driest Nov. in CSAS records.

* Colorado (AZ, NM, and UT) experienced the warmest/driest November on record


The calendar said winter. Reality said late fall. December proved more grim than the previous two months combined. I was anxious about rent and bills as I watched courses and clients cancel due to the lack of snow. All I wanted for christmas was a little white stuff. Santa is a make believe bitch who failed to deliver.

Facts and Stats

* Warmest/Driest December on record

* “The folks at Telluride ski resort haven’t seen a drier December in 34 years.”

* Cumulative precip since 10/1 at RMP is 3.2” (Hx Average for 12/31 at RMP 12.9”)

* No Snow Storms-Hx by 12/31, CSAS has issued ~9 Storm Reports.


A new year, a new hope! At least that's what I told myself.

La Nina and Heartbreak ridge conspired in keeping precipitation away from the San Juans. I was angry and antsy. I picked fights with naysayers. I kept mountain biking.

Finally, winter began in earnest. The natives were restless and people were jazzed to finally get their turns. Someone was going to get hurt.

Near misses lead to calamities.

Scarcity led to a fatality.

The backcountry can be sinister.

This was an evil season.

Facts and Stats


A time to heal. For both people and pack. Patience and wide margins became my internal mantra. We felt the love with a series of storms. Soul turns and smiles were had. I put the bike away.


The writing had been on the wall since January. Even if it dumped everyday through spring, the lack of precip and our anemic snowpack clearly defined our drought conditions. It kept snowing ( a bit) But dust and rain heralded the start of the melt.

I embraced the tiniest of windows that cracked daylight on steep lines off the tall peaks. It was a magical ten days.


It snowed most weekends in April. A springtime storm correlated with the start of Splitfest. Sometimes you get lucky. I experienced a couple late season powder days. Those unforgettable turns serve to reframe my ugly memories of this season.

Late Season

It's hard to explain what it's like watching snow melt so dramatically. Daily, the pack seems to diminish by a few inches. Wet slides rip to the ground, erasing all evidence of the winter that never was. I scrambled for every last turn above 13k. I made the most of our abbreviated ski mountaineering season.

Crunching the Numbers

In retrospect, although the data indicates a less than stellar winter, it wasn't the worst season ever. I checked off my list of objectives, taught a shit ton of courses, guided many clients and stayed healthy and uninjured over the past 200+ days. I've still got a couple off-piste missions to go, but winter is pretty much over for me. I'll ride through May but the call of elk, bass and bike cannot be ignored. In a typical year, I shoot for 100 days on snow in the San Juan backcountry. We'll be punching out with ~65 this year. Not bad but definitely not enough.

Did I get my fix? I did. Me and my junky friends hit it as hard as we could. I giggle and tear up thinking of those special moments I've had since November. And then my addiction makes me shake and fiend for more. We'll see you out there next year.

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