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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.
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.
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.
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.
Story and photography by Dean Krakel.
This story first appeared in
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