When I was growing up in Steamboat there always came a time of year where the skiing in town came to an end. Usually this was not really the end of skiing as the crust skiing on Rabbit Ears pass was still very enjoyable. Those trips up to and around on the pass in the spring became one of the highlights of my ski year. I have written a number of times last year on CaringBridge about those days. I remember the icy morning air as we would be meeting other skiers to carpool up. The very early light as the sun crept up in the east, the light sort of drifting over the edge of the valley, felt like the world waking up from a the long nap of winter. I remember the moist feeling of the normally dry Colorado air as the frozen form of water was morphing into liquid to start it’s trip towards one ocean or the other depending on which side of the pass we chose. I can visualize the sparkling glimmer of a million ice jewels reflecting the low morning light as we would glide effortlessly almost through the open meadows. I recall the smell of the Pine as we would wind our way through the glades towards further meadows. I can still remember the hundreds of different loops we devised through the rolling plateau that was Rabbit ears pass.
Almost two years ago about this time was the last time I got to go to Steamboat. We had gone for the end of the ski season which was a little later than normal. Most people go to downhill ski and that year was exceptionally poor for snow. Yet, I was thrilled because the snow for crust skiing on the pass was still wonderful. About that time I had just got a GPS app on the phone and although the coverage was a little spotty, Brooke and I were able to retrace and track some of the loops I recalled from my youth. One mourning we had done a loop from the west summit which took us up over a few ridges and dropped back down into a large meadow in an area called Fox curve, I believe, and looped back up over Bruce’s trail and back along the meadows on the side of the road to the summit. We were coming up out of the gully below Bruces trail and headed out into a large flat meadow which stretched up to the West Summit parking lot. In the distance I could see a couple of figures leaving a car parked on the side of the road at a little pull out. It didn’t take me long to realize as we drew a bit nearer that it was Greg Burkholder.
Greg is an fantastic guy to run into. He realized it was me also and in true Greg style he wore a giant smile. He roared a deep laugh and said “I thought that was a mirage, who else would be up here earlier than me and I just couldn’t believe that this Matt Dudley materializing out of nowhere!” He gave me a big hug and dove right into asking questions and giving me details on all of the guys we used to ski with together when I was younger. When I was growing up he was a young ex-bike racer turned skier who couldn’t figure out how to coach, work and ski on his own. I am not sure he was ever officially one of my coaches but he was always around and always entertaining. We did some amazing trips together to races, crust skiing, running, camping, and training around town. It was great to see him in that most rejuvenating early morning setting we had so often enjoyed together. Even after years of not seeing each other it was still the love of what we were doing that kept us close in mindset.
I miss a lot of things about Steamboat. I really miss that sense of coming into the valley be it blanketed in white or bursting with summer green. I miss the closeness of the mountains, the way the sun dances down the valley in the evening, the smell of rain in the dry air, my brothers and all the fun we had, but I really miss all the people who made Steamboat what it is. Not the hoards of people who moved into town for a year or two although I am sure they were very interesting and part of what keeps Steamboat so fresh. I miss the people who make that commitment to stay there because of the wonderful lifestyle it offers and struggle to just hang on to it. I love where I live now but I do occasionally crave the idea of returning to that bubble.
I haven’t been able to get back to Steamboat since I was run over by Leukemia. I really hope that I get to journey back there for a few more early morning crust ski trips. I think our nordic ski season is rapidly finishing here in AK. I heard though that there is still snow up on Rabbit ears and although I don’t foresee myself actually ending up there this season I think I will plan on dreaming of coming up out of one of the many small creeks, running into some of those old friends, and going for another loop before the sun warms the snow a bit to far. I still have a lot I need to do in life, some will be firsts but some activities I just need to do again because I just can’t get enough.
Head Up, Heart Strong. I need a cure.