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ALMONT — Every autumn I get anxious that the snow won’t arrive. Watching the early storms come and go, and the mountain peaks turn white above our valley floor, I worry that this will be the year the winter miracle ends. This will be the year the snow doesn’t come. 

Growing up in Colorado, I took winter for granted. Now, I think about drought. How dependent we are on snow to replenish lakes, rivers, streams, recharge the water table, nourish the plants and animals and diminish the wildfire danger. Without snow, not only would life not be worth living, it would be impossible. 

So far so good. In the five years that I’ve lived in the tiny resort community of Almont, halfway between Gunnison and Crested Butte, snow has never failed to arrive, smothering us in a quiet white hush.

Tracks show where people have skied or walked through the snow with a large snow-covered mountain in the background.
The sun sets into a winter night in Washington Gulch near Crested Butte. (Photos by Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Snow engulfs a truck so only the left tail light is seen.
A pickup truck parked along a street in Crested Butte sits buried under snow.

A woman shovels her driveway, adding snow to a pile that's already above her head.
Chelsea Madden shovels out space for a trash can at the end of her driveway in Crested Butte.

The Gunnison Valley has been especially blessed. Winter came early and wave after wave of storms has kept refreshing the bounty. Crested Butte Mountain Resort has received almost 190 inches of snow so far this year. Snow totals have surpassed the 300-inch mark in the mountains northwest and southeast of town.

It’s only the beginning of February and snowpack in the Gunnison River basin is already at 143% of normal. Federal water managers now think the runoff will replenish Blue Mesa Reservoir enough that after meeting its obligations to keep water levels up in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, it will be 53% full at the end of the year, rather than ending at far less than half as it did in 2022.

Snow covers Blue Mesa Reservoir.
Blue Mesa Reservoir stretches to the horizon, a frozen and snowy desert. Depleted to less than half its capacity by releases of water to buoy Lake Mead and Powell, runoff from deep snow will refill the reservoir and leave it in better condition this fall even after downstream obligations are met.
A giant pile of snow dwarfs a car, which itself has lots of snow on top.
Snow removed from the main skier parking lot at Crested Butte Mountain Resort creates an icy mountain above a parked car.
A woman walks through a path that has snow stacked high on both sides.
A visitor walks between snowbanks along Sixth Street in Crested Butte.

For a lover of snow, Gunnison country is exactly the right place. I like the winters here. Well, not the below zero stuff so much, although a good frigid slap of reality from severe cold is always a bracing way to start the day. I like that a trip to the Almont post office usually means seeing big horn sheep and a trip to town means seeing herds of elk and deer sheltering in the river bottoms along the highway and sometimes a bald eagle or two.

A sense of togetherness surfaces among the people who stay here, shoveling sidewalks and driveways, raking roofs, scraping windshields, dealing with icy roads and blowing whiteouts. I like the wild mood swings winter brings to the mountains, the stark monochromatic landscapes, the piles of snow everywhere.

Long icicles hang off the side of a building.
Icicles drip from the Almont post office on a morning when it was minus 14 degrees. Almont, a tiny resort community known for its trout fishing, sits at the mouth of Taylor Canyon near where the East and Taylor rivers join to form the Gunnison River. Because it sits in the shade of the canyon, the temperature in Almont is often colder than in the neighboring towns of Gunnison and Crested Butte.

People walk down a scenic street with wreaths still decorating the lamp posts.
Visitors walk down snowy Elk Avenue in Crested Butte.

A snow plow shoots piles of snow back off the street.
A snowplow clears deep ridges of snow from Gothic Avenue in Crested Butte.

A man uses a shovel to make a clearing in the snow, which is up to his waist.
Fernando Gomez shovels snow from the driveway to his home in Crested Butte.

People are cheerier in the winter, friendlier, more helpful, bursting with the frosty exuberance that comes from being outside on skis, skates, sleds, fat bikes and snowshoes. People here don’t shelter from the storm, they revel in it. Folks feeding cattle or working construction, even the people who have to be out in the snow and cold seem to like it, and accept it as part of the deal of living in the valley.

Winter. May it never end. But ask me how I feel about things in May, when the rest of Colorado is walking around in flip-flops and we’re still digging out. 

Two men use shovels to clear a roof.
The snow removal crew with Miguel Gonzalez’s construction company shovel and chisel deep snow off the roof of Mountain Spirits Liquor in Crested Butte. Construction companies often become snow removal companies during periods of heavy snowfall.

A person walks down a stair case.
A visitor walks down a snow banked staircase at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. The heavy snow makes street and sidewalk maintenance a daily challenge.

A woman smiles while behind a burrito stand.
Amy Eaton, owner of Burrito Bike, visits with a customer in minus 23 degree temperatures at the Four Stop in Crested Butte.

A semi-frozen river.
Subzero temperatures turn the Gunnison River to ice as the sunrises near Gunnison.

Story and photography by Dean Krakel.

This story first appeared in
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Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @dkrakel