In “The Waste Land,” one of the most important poems of the twentieth century, T.S. Eliot famously wrote, “April is the cruelest month.” I wonder what he would think of fall in the Rockies—especially September and October. If the weather-sensitive heart of the storied poet could get so weary over the prospect of longer days and blooming meadows, I imagine he might find it glorious to be traveling the high country when every view resonates with the crackling contrast of golden leaves and lingering light set against the backdrop of sentinel peaks all somber gray.
An even more soul-stirring annual rite than Christmas or the Fourth of July, fall provides the absolute best weather for everything outdoors, especially if you love to bike, fish or run. How do I love you Colorado autumn? In honor of Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, the Duke of Denver, let me count seven of my most favorite ways.
There’s Magic in the Air: The tilting axis of the earth really does result in the most startling light of the year. The lengthening shadows and ubiquitous glow create a mix of atmospheric clarity that can absolutely help redefine your sense of soul. And there’s that first cold snap in the evening. And the way you want each stand of sunlight to linger just a little longer.
The Tourists Have Gone Home: Like skiing A-Basin or Breckenridge into early May, the entire breadth of fall feels like “locals day” to me. Schools are back in session, vacation days are burned, and suddenly Coloradoans have a lot more room to roam on I-70, on the river and on the trail.
The Clock is Ticking: Everything takes on a little more drama with the accelerating sunsets of fall. More mist is rising on the water. Trail runs get faster. And one wrong turn in the backcountry can quickly turn an afternoon bike ride or speed hike into an epic experience right away. Oh, and there’s always that chance of early snow!
Football: Yeah, I know it’s not the most “immersive” outdoor activity, but the name of this column is “Elwayville,” after all. With a freaking World Championship Super Bowl ring in the Broncos’ back pocket and Peyton “Old Bones” Manning happily put out to pasture, there’s a little more relaxed sense of watching the new team take shape than ever before. And we can now breath a sigh of relief because Von Miller is ready to go!
Beer: Bavaria invented Oktoberfest (which takes place primarily in September) to honor a royal wedding, and Germans across the world kept the world’s greatest brewfest going for more than two centuries because there really is no better time of year for beer. The crops are in. The wood is all cut. The season passes have been purchased. You’re in your best summer shape. And you live in Colorado, which has steadily built a reputation for brewing world-class beer. Might as well enjoy a pint in the cool mountain air.
Harvest: Speaking of the crops coming in, and as someone with a significant sweet spot for Southern Colorado, this is also the best time of year to pick some Palisade peaches, get your elk tag and stock up on some of the hot green chiles coming up from New Mexico. A steaming bowl of elk green chile stew and a slice of fresh peach pie sounds very good right now.
Ski Season is Right Around the Corner: Or as I call it: “The Real Season.” In September everybody starts finalizing their kit, checking long-range weather forecasts, and getting the snow tires on in anticipation of that first flurry of snowflakes to start to fall. Early season turns can be some of the best—because you’ve waited so long, and also as a little buffer against the panic of trying to score mid-season powder when the crowds return. I’ve heard it’s going to be a great winter. Let the anticipation begin!
Here’s hoping you all enjoy the last of the warm days and make the most of this amazing time of year in the Rocky Mountains. As we make the long turn into winter, be sure and check out this column as well as more than seven years of Elwayville online at ElevationOutdoors.com where you can also share your favorite way to make the most of fall.
—Elevation Outdoors editor-at-large Peter Kray is the author of The God of Skiing. The book has been called “the greatest ski novel of all time.” Don’t believe the hype? You can buy it here: bit.ly/godofskiing