photo by Lydia Stern

Chilly observations

That cold snap that took morning temperatures to about 30 below zero for a couple of weeks? That’s the way it always was in the old days for most of late December and all of January. Highs might tap negative 10 some days. It always thinned out the “local” herd. Now the herd that would have been thinned just takes a trip to the islands. Evolutionary smarts, apparently.

Looking at last year, there were some 40-degree days in January. And a few years ago the snow was so thin up here and the temps so warm in Gunnison we were riding Hartman Rocks (on a regular mountain bike, not a fat bike). I don’t really miss that. It is winter, after all.

photo by Lydia Stern
photo by Lydia Stern

Crested Butte town manager Todd Crossett painted a frostbitten picture of the town workers who had to deal with a broken water main last week. “If you haven’t had to stand in a ditch filled with water when it’s 10 below zero, you’re really missing something,” he told the Town Council Monday night as he added to the accolades of Rodney Due for the workers in the Crested Butte Public Works Department. We throw out accolades as well. It was cold enough just looking down into the ditch standing in the shade. That sounds like absolutely miserable work, so thanks for diving in and keeping the town working when it was crowded and cold.

Weather blogs indicate the monster 2016 El Niño will really kick in to gear in January and we happen to be on the edge of the goods—so it could be good or it could be a whiff. Let us hope for more of what we saw right at Christmas. Soft snow is a blessing and in these dark, cold days of January, we can use all the blessings that come our way.

If nothing else, there is the old pine beetle blessing. While it is not a guaranteed cure-all, cold temperatures have an impact on mountain pine beetle larvae and that ultimately impacts our surrounding forest.

According to a U.S. Forest Service website, “Mountain pine beetles overwinter primarily in their ‘worm’ or ‘grub’ stage (the larvae). During this time, they accumulate alcohols that act as an anti-freeze and provide protection from freezing. The beetles are more susceptible to cold temperatures early in the fall and late spring, when alcohol levels are low, and less susceptible to cold in mid-winter when alcohol levels are highest. Studies show that temperatures from –13º F to –31º F in mid-winter can cause mortality. However, factors such as the stage of development, duration of exposure to cold temperatures, responses to seasonal changes in temperatures, and geographical location will influence potential mortality. So what temperatures, at what time of the year, or for how long will cause extensive insect mortality is not yet well-understood.”

Let’s collectively try to understand that if there is one good thing about super-freezing temperatures, it might be that it keeps our local forests looking healthy.

Not only were Elk Avenue and the resort base area crowded with people from before Christmas to after New Year’s, so were the ice rink and the sledding hill. My office is next door to Big Mine Park and there were people on that hill sledding and under the roof skating every day, no matter the temperatures. Both are good amenities for the community. That doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be upgraded and everything over there shifted all over the town (I don’t agree with that direction), but the sled hill and the rink are used and obviously a lot of fun.

When it finally warmed up a tad and I was able to shake enough of the crud to breathe again, I did get to the Headwall. As a friend noted, “I’ve seen it a lot worse.” Fair enough. It is still one good storm away from being the sweet run it is, but as I say every year, just getting anything “extreme” open, opens the mind and changes the viewpoint of the mountain. It is a mental as well as physical gift and opens a new window to the winter ski world on the resort.

—Mark Reaman

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