Sometimes Mother Nature can be just a hair fickle. Just ask the skiers and riders in Steamboat Springs, Colo., who had the rug yanked out from under them on opening day.
After a three-day dump topped the mountain with 28 inches of snow, getting everyone’s hopes up for one of the best opening days ever, a layer of “freezing rain” crusted it over just hours before to the consistency of crème brulee.
“We were struck by an unusual weather phenomenon transforming the snow into a thick crust layer,” admits resort spokesperson Loryn Kasten. “To combat it, resort crews ski packed and used grooming equipment to bust through the crust and churn up the snow.”
It wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t such a surprise, the Great Glaze decimating the snowpack in a single downpour to end the three-day storm. It was like the Broncos in last year’s Super Bowl; all sorts of built-up expectations, only to flop flat on their faces. Which is exactly what happened to unsuspecting skiers as soon as they attempted their first turn on the half-inch-think crust. It’s as if someone pointed a giant spray gun at Routt County and shellacked the entire snowpack into a gleaming sheen.
It wasn’t the worse opening day ever, just the whackiest. Where low snow years serve up a lone ribbon of death, this year the whole mountain was that ribbon. It left locals shaking their heads as to how so much snow could go to crap overnight and what they did to Ullr to deserve it. Overnight, the entire mountain went from blower pow, light enough for the resort to send CNN a video clip of Billy Kidd skiing chest deep, to crustier than Donald Sterling. Those lucky enough to skin the mountain before Elsa’s frozen wand had their tracks enshrined for all to see. It’s the likely the longest fresh tracks will ever last on the mountain, because no one dares cross them.
It was as bad as anyone’s ever seen it in over 30 years. “I was lucky to get out alive,” said one skier who naively ventured off-piste. “Even simply traversing was hairball.” That said, the early season conditions are still boasting stellar coverage, and locals and businesses are not worried about the coming season being anything but banner.
The crust also had patrollers in conniptions wondering how to deal with pent-up-powder-fever-meets-instant-curveball-by-Mother-Nature. While mostly isolated to Routt County, the layer could spell long-term repercussions for the snowpack as well.
As if tree clumps landing with an audible clank and then shattered into shards didn’t raise a red flag, sheets of fractured ice following skiers downhill did. A set of tracks down the face was nothing more than a series of open quotation marks, penetrating through every five feet before ending in a massive crater. The shellacking made even the man-made snow seem soft; it was the great equalizer, bringing every skier down to the same ass-over-teakettle level.
While the goading gleam dared skiers to attempt it, most were wise and stayed away, letting the resort boot-, ski- and machine-pack it into submission like fighting a wildfire. And while the spoiling red tide still reeks of the Grinch, the mountain’s groomers are actually skiing great for so early in the season. But locals, meanwhile, are still bitter about the day that got away.