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Bob Berwyn

Brown Rice, Tofu and Deep Powder

When I moved to Taos for a three-season stint back in the early 1980s, I was on a quest. I had just spent a couple of years living at a lighthouse 20 miles south of San Francisco helping run a youth hostel. It was a great gig, but far from the mountains — too far. As I plotted my escape from the Bay Area, I scoured all the ski literature I could find and narrowed my choices down to Jackson Hole and Taos. I was looking for steep and deep. I was looking for a place with some ski culture, because I wanted to be surrounded by people for whom skiing was more than just a diversion or holiday pastime. I road-tripped to northern New Mexico in my $600 beater van, a puke-green 1975 Ford Econoline that just kept on rolling through the golden aspens of late summer, delivering me safely to the ski valley parking lot just as the summer musicians were packing up their tubas and cellos. Nobody bothered me there, and I blissfully hiked for days in the Wheeler Peak Wilderness Area to get in shape for the season.

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Steady Snows Easing Drought?

Along with pleasing skiers and snowboarders, Colorado’s wet winter may help ease dry conditions in the Upper Colorado River Basin, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent reported recently. After dire-sounding predictions for a dry La Niña winter, Mother Nature turned the tables and has delivered plentiful snow. Ranchers and farmers on the West Slope are looking hopefully toward the irrigation season, feeling confident about water supplies.Snowpack levels across most of the state are about 120 percent of normal, which doesn’t sound like a huge bonus. But some newspapers say this wet winter (if it continues) could be a drought-buster. I can’t say for sure if that’s true, and I know that, by some standardized measures, at least parts of the Colorado River Basin have been experiencing mild drought conditions during recent years. But the way the story is being reported shows the problem with the fundamental mindset of people living in an arid region.

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The Bunny Hill Boogie

It’s the third day of a recent road trip to Taos and Leigh shuffles to the window as we wake up from a deep sleep in our snug Kandahar condo. “It looks like about two or three inches, babe,” she says after squinting through the blinds, eyeballing the snow on the railing of the deck. I grunt and burrow deeper under the fluffy blanket, relieved that I haven’t missed anything. But there’s a little part of me that knows better. It’s still. Still and gray. It’s one of those winter mornings when the world stands still, completely quiet, ready to receive. We snuggle and drift back into dreams for a while, but suddenly I know I need to double check the informal snow report with a more thorough reconnaissance. This was the same storm that pounded Southern California a few days previously, and I feel the intensity of the low pressure system deep in my bones.

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Cheap Dollar Draws European Skiers

Winter rolls on in the Colorado Rockies, with a seemingly relentless series of storms providing a dose of fresh powder every few days. Nearly every ski resort in the state is reporting at least a 50-inch base, and some of the most favored areas in the southern mountains are hovering around the 100-inch mark. Wolf Creek leads the pack with 140 inches, while Silverton Mountain claims a 130-inch base. Conditions couldn’t be better for what appears to be a mini-invasion of skiers and snowboarders from overseas. The Vail Daily’s Ed Stoner reported recently that foreign visitors have increased 23 percent over last year at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone. The buzz is that the weak dollar is the big draw for Europeans, who are getting more for their money by flying across the Atlantic. Check out the Vail Daily story on overseas visits here.

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Avy Warning in Northern Colorado

The CAIC issued an avalanche warning for the Summit County and Vail zones, and for the Front Range mountains (from Winter Park north), as well as for the Steamboat and Flat Tops zones on Friday, Feb. 8. The warning remains in effect through 6 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 9. Both natural and triggered releases are probable on steeper slopes, and slides in the new snow layer (up to 12 inches) can easily step down into older slabs, resulting in big and dangerous slides. The CAIC is recommending against travel on slopes 30 degrees or steeper. The slide danger in those areas is posted as high.

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Super-Bowling at Vail

It’s just about kickoff time for the Big Game. But we are nowhere near a television as Dylan lets himself fall to the snow at the bottom of Vail’s Vista Bahn. “I can feel my heart beating in my lips, dad,” he says with a big grin, lying prone, rosy-cheeked with frosted blond hair peaking out from under his helmet and over his goggles. We’ve just finished an extensive tour of Colorado’s biggest ski hill, delving three mountains deep into some of the finest powder we’ve skied all year. The snow has been piling up for weeks, 31 inches in the last seven days, and after skiing fresh lines nearly all day, we’ve decided to hoist our own private epic flag, tying a ragged red bandana to the car antenna for the drive home.

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Sunday: The Calm Before the Storm

Sunday dawns warm and sunny at Taos Ski Valley, but the big storm that pounded Southern California is headed our way. Leigh and I are eager to make some turns before the clouds roll in, so after picking up our tickets we load up and head for the top of the mountain. Looking down from the chair, the bumps on Al’s Run seem big as ever. But the snow looks soft and I’m anxious to try this classic line on my new school tele boards, a pair of mid-fat G3 Barons that just barely reach up the middle of my forehead. After all, the last time I skied Al’s was about 1985. I was on a pair of double-cambered Rossi 215s with wire-bail bindings that seemed to fail one way or another on every second turn. I beat myself up big-time on this terrain, often cart-wheeling into spectacular face plants to guffaws from the chairlift passengers above. I’m older now, but a bit smarter, too. I have a few more tricks in my bag and I know that I can let the skis do the work for me. That’s the beauty of modern gear and technique.

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Taos Abuzz Over Snowboarding

Driving toward Taos from the north evokes a sense of familiarity that’s comforting and a little confounding at the same time. It’s been more than eight years since I last passed through the area, and that was just for a short one-day ski trip. It’s been more than 20 years since I lived here, but watching the skyline of the Sangre de Cristos unfold in the windshield feels like an instant replay. In just a few seconds, an entire slice of my life flashes vividly through my mind: Sleeping in my van in the ski area parking lot and picking wild mushrooms; the old adobe on Kit Carson Road, where magpies chased my cat up a tree and left him stranded, circling and cackling with glee; days spent learning how to tele on a pair of double-cambered 215s, cartwheeling head-first down steep Taos chutes… But I’m not here to re-live old memories. I’ve come to make new ones, and with Taos in the midst of an epic season, that should be easy. An 88-inch base, has enabled Taos to open terrain that hasn’t been skiable in years, including some burly lines on the far end of the West Basin Ridge that could make a grown man cry.

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Search for Powder Leads to Taos

Even with great early season snow in my Summit County stomping grounds, a skier’s heart can get to yearning around mid-winter. So after a couple of weeks of self-induced headaches (don’t ask), it’s time to hit the road. Leigh and I pack up late Friday afternoon, bound for Taos Ski Valley. First stop is at Cottonwood Hot Springs, near Buena Vista, where we soak in the hottest pool as a fat, orange and nearly full moon climbs razor-sharp into the icy sky above the Upper Arkansas Valley. The temperature is around zero, and with the wind gusting up to 30 miles per hour, getting out of the rock-lined tub is a frosty adventure. Our bed is soft as a cloud. After a two-hour soak, sleep comes easy.

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Colorado Ski Visits Drop

Skier visits in Colorado ticked down a bit from last year during the first few months of the season, according to a Jan. 17 story in the Aspen Times. Releasing its first seasonal update on skier numbers, Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA) reported that its 26 member resorts tallied about 2.8 million skier visits between Oct. 10 and Dec. 31, a 12.5 percent drop from last season. A dry and warm November, along with an early Thanksgiving holiday, were the key reasons for the decline, according to CSCUSA officials. This year’s numbers for the first part of the season are more in line with a typical year, according to the state’s ski resort trade group. Last year, Colorado saw prodigious snowfall in October, setting the stage for a record-breaking early season in terms of skier days. This year, the big dumps came in December, with well above-normal snow totals at some resorts. But those storms may also have hampered travel to the mountains.

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