26 January 2011: Snowfall of epic proportions

Snowfall of epic proportions

Into every life a little snow falls, that is if one lives or travels up here. And of late, a whole lot has and with it come stories of survival and adventure, not of the epic-hero type but of the “it took me 8 hours to get from Vail to Denver” genre, only to be topped by a “oh yeah, I nearly circumvented Colorado by driving in a raging blizzard from Winter Park through Kremmling to get to I-70 because Berthoud Pass was closed.”

Yep, we’ve been enjoying “epic” conditions, and with them tales of “epic” magnitude. I enclose epic in quotation marks because the word has become so overused of late that it is losing its meaning. If this is epic, how would one describe deep champagne powder lasting from October through April should it ever happen?

Fielding questions for four hours straight at Mary Jane about Berthoud Pass being shut down provided me with insight into mindsets of those confronted with adversity. Some were conflicted due to the fact they might miss a flight or a meeting. Others took it in stride and immediately found the silver—or in this case, white—lining: accumulating fresh powder with no lift lines the next day impeding them.

Older younger ones, high school and college level, celebrated most the news that the Pass would likely be closed for at least 24 hours. I pointed out to one father concerned about his son missing a “major test” that in my classroom days I became upset with students who put themselves and their family at risk in order to make it to class simply to take a test, and teachers who thought other, were, well, out of touch with what is ultimately important.

One downer note during that surreal three-day stretch was the news of the young man who got lost while boarding down the Pass only to be found dead along with his dog. It is sad news, but I wonder what prods certain individuals to take foolhardy risks, venturing into a wild storm, under-prepared with a sense of invincibility. Bad endings, it seems, only happen to others, never to me. Highly recommended: Jack London’s short story “To Build a Fire.”

From a ski patroller serving up dark amber at a local pub I learned the profile of the object of a search-and-rescue mission is a 28-year-old male, which I find incredulous given it means that men in their late thirties are as likely to make irrational choices as young men in their late teens. At one point, one wonders, do some realize they are mere mortals and nature is the ultimate non-discriminator?

A friend, German born, commented to me that we Americans handle such situations differently than Europeans. Over there, she says, when someone does something resulting in their demise, the rest of the society does not offer much sympathy. Over here, we immediately send out search-and-rescue teams and greatly inconvenience the larger society as is rumored what happened with CDOT holding off on shooting potential avalanches to open the road for travel for fear of endangering him more.

If the comparative European and American attitudes and CDOT’s conjectured actions are true, they give pause to the stereotype of the rugged individualism of the American male.

I’ve yet to see “127 Hours,” the story of rock climber Aron Ralston who faced the choice of amputating his own hand with a dull knife or dying slowly, so am able to comment on Ralston’s tale only broadly. But his story comes to mind given these events in that out of the blue, life can roll a boulder or trigger an avalanche without warning, which forces us to consider our behavior prior to and during the event.

Without risk, life would be fairly boring, as are those too timid to push themselves beyond the mundane, “experiencing” it in a cocoon, finding security snuggled in a downy bed cover, getting thrills vicariously perhaps by watching so-called reality TV programs such as “Lost.” That isn’t the case for those who choose to view an unexpected, albeit inconvenient predicament not as “being stuck” but as a gift.

In time, the Pass will be opened with traffic flowing maddeningly unimpeded. Those that choose to celebrate being stuck rather than grouse about it not only will cherish that memory but will also tell tales, slightly or even greatly embellished that rank along side those told by Odysseus.

After all, he tells only of out-smarting Cyclops, resisting the Sirens, and traversing the Land of the Dead, which are nothing relative to bounding through a forest of pine in deep powder on a day one was supposed to be at work or in school. On that thought, maybe this season can legitimately be called epic…for some.

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