Sunday, January 12, 2003
Steamboat Springs What do skiing and visquine have in common? Read on and I'll connect the dots for you.
I'm sure many of you will agree that the past weekend was a fine example of why we all live in Steamboat Springs. Does it get much better than this?
I began the weekend hanging out on Howelsen Hill.
A gang of us headed up onto the cross country trails Saturday to pull a little snow out of the sagebrush and deposit it in piles on the trails, where it will do us some good.
Some of you might conclude that our activities mean we've had inadequate snow this winter.
Of course, that is not the case.
But the snowcat used to groom the new trails on the east flank of Howelsen had scalped a couple of spots, and we wanted to make them perfect.
We accomplished the chore with shovels and big snow scoops. During a break in the action, Bob Dapper asked, "So, what will you write about in your Monday column this week?"
"I really don't have any idea," I replied. "Heck, it's only Saturday."
I had one particularly nasty idea in mind for the column, but Dapper and I agreed that would be out of character.
Fortunately, Dapper had a replacement in mind.
"Does what we're doing today remind you of 1976 at all?" he asked.
I smiled at him and nodded my head.
But I have a confession to make Dapper.
I wasn't here in 1976.
I've only heard the legends about "Project Move-It."
In the fall of 1976 I had returned to the University of Wisconsin after ski bumming in Steamboat during the winter of 1975-76.
I took some post-graduate courses in advanced typing that autumn, but I'd also sent a check off to the Steamboat Ski Area to cover the cost of a season pass for the coming season.
When the snow didn't arrive that winter, neither did I.
The winter of 1976-77 turned out to produce a snow drought of epic proportions.
I asked for my cash back and the ski area quickly complied.
In the meantime, more stalwart Yampa Valley folk were actually doing something about the lack of snow on the ski trails of Mount Werner.
Sureva Towler, ski historian extraordinaire, tells it much better than I ever could in her book, "The History of Skiing at Steamboat Springs," but you're stuck with me.
Towler recalls that only 15 of the 28 ski areas in Colorado were open for business on Nov. 27, 1976, when Steamboat Ski Area management unveiled "Project Move-It."
The Yampa Valley had a little snow but not nearly enough to really ski on.
And remember, this was five years before Steamboat installed its first snowmaking guns.
So, the plan was to mount a three-day onslaught by a shovel brigade to move snow out of the trees and onto the actual ski runs.
A trail called "Central Park" in those days, and now known as Rudi's Run, was targeted.
Towler writes that 425 people turned out and hauled snow to the slopes in everything from trash bags to dump trucks.
Up on Central Park, they stretched a long roll of visquine from the trees at the edge of the run, out into the middle of the slope.
Snow was shoveled onto the plastic tarp and gravity transported it onto the middle of the trail. It worked pretty well and Steamboat was open for business.
In spite of those heroic efforts, the ski area actually had to temporarily cease operations at the end of the skiing day on Feb. 13, 1977.
That's bad P.R.
The snow finally began to fall and the ski area reopened with a 24-inch base on March 5.
It was too late to salvage the ski season, but people who survived that un-winter tell me about the many ways in which the community came together.
Steamboat built new lifts and hosted the Special Olympics the very next winter.
We may shovel snow onto cross country ski trails again in the future, but Steamboat will never have another winter like that of 1976-77.
I often think how my life might have been different had it snowed heavily in late November and early December of 1976.
Instead of taking that newspaper job in Wisconsin, I would have come out to Steamboat to ski that winter, and eventually begun a career in real estate.
And if that had happened, I wouldn't have gone to work for the Steamboat Pilot.
And that would have meant that I would never have written this column.
Of course, that chain of events would have had the result that you would be doing something far more productive with your time at this very moment.
What are you waiting for?