Travel; The Balance Between Spontaneous and Planned

IMG_3251.jpgOn one end of the spectrum are the planners, the ones that assemble detailed itineraries, and, perhaps not so surprisingly, are typically able to stick to them.

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A well planned trip comes with several advantages. Flights, hotels, and many travel related big-ticket items are typically cheaper when booked several months ahead of time. Putting in the time and effort to plan ahead of time also reduces the chances that some unforeseen complication or circumstance will negatively impact the trip, causing travelers not to get the experience they were hoping for.

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On the other end of the spectrum are the spontaneous, the last minute, the drop everything and go type of experiences. This has its advantages too. Psychological studies have indicated that the satisfaction people have with their experiences is often dependent on how the experience compares with their expectations. The spontaneous trip, the one that comes together last minute can have a strong upside, as there were no expectations. Finding oneself unexpectedly in a new place, trying something new; experiences like these can make people truly feel alive!

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Missing out on this feeling is probably the main drawback to planning travel too intensely. When every activity is regimented, down to the hour (given the fact that there is traffic, weather, etc. regimenting to the minute is a fool’s errand), it is harder to make adjustments for what may occur, or take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. See an interesting billboard for a museum, theme park, or natural bridge? Sorry, there is no unplanned time. Run into an old friend, or make new friends? We can reconnect only if you’re going in this direction as me at this time.

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As is the case with most things in today’s world, there is an optimal “middle ground” that can be reached, and it is not necessarily a compromise between the two extremes. The best “middle ground” solutions often try to achieve the objectives of those on both sides of the issue. The planners want some kind of guarantee that the most important experiences, the original objective of the trip, are actually obtained. The spontaneous want flexibility and the element of surprise.

While I have taken part in experiences that were planned many months in advance and completely regimented.

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As well as ones that were super of the moment.

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My general tactic is in the middle.

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The trip I took to Death Valley six weeks ago was actually originally planned for Zion National Park. Unexpectedly cool and rainy weather prompted us to change the venue to Death Valley, where it would be more pleasant. In this case, it wasn’t necessarily the exact intended experience, but the overall experience of camping, hiking, and being outside in a group of people still came to pass.

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When visiting Copenhagen and Stockholm last fall, we set aside a few “must sees”…

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While leaving a lot of time open for other experiences

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There are a lot of other ways to achieve this optimal combination of guaranteeing experiences while also remaining spontaneous. They are not all as simple as the Southwest Airlines no change fee policy. Some things, like planning alternative activities if the weather is bad, having meals ready on fishing trips in case no fish are caught, or planning for a busted stove on a backpacking trip, take research.

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And, well, in our attention deprived world, doing research can often be a deterrent. It can be a deterrent to being well prepared, but also, perhaps most unfortunately, can be a deterrent to traveling at all. The phenomenon of “analysis paralysis”, where a combination of too many choices, too much information and too many factors to consider leads to no choice being made at all, has become quite the large scale issue this decade.

Luckily, in an age where the internet appears to do nothing but create “analysis paralysis” there are still resources designed to help people sort through the clutter of information available to them.

One option is to hire a travel agent, who knows the ins-and-outs of various destinations, and can help travelers find the best deals and the best experiences. There are some who believe that travel agents are no longer needed in the age of the internet. However, as the Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown has pointed out in many occasions (including the 2017 Travel and Adventure show which I was at), travel agents do help people sift through all of this information.

The other is to find resources online that actually help people consume information rather than find more of it. A great example of this is the side by side comparison of travel insurance options on reviews.com. More generally, reviews.com is one of the few sites that actually aims to reduce the amount of time people spend on the internet (as opposed to many other sites whose goal is to suck you in). The site has reviews that help people make decisions regarding plenty of other products, including others important to travelers and outdoor enthusiasts, like water bottles, vitamins and booking sites.

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There is certainly a time to be completely regimented.

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There is also a time it feels great to do something completely spontaneous.

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In most experiences, it is wonderful to try to find a way to make our travel plans both guarantee the experiences that prompted us to make the trip, while also being flexible enough to adjust for the conditions and take advantage of opportunities. This is, in my humble opinion, the proper balance between being planned and being spontaneous.

Colorado Continues to Surprise Me

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Life, at times, can be trying, with a lot of ups and downs, surprises, and endeavors that do not go as planned. Of course, not all surprises are bad. Sometimes luck is on our side, and many of us unfortunately fail to truly appreciate when it is. However, we all certainly have times when we are just on the wrong side of circumstance, and feel like nothing is going right.

When doing what feels like all the right things repeatedly fails to produce any results. When it feels like all sorts of people trying to take advantage of us. When the wrong, most inept and mean spirited people seem to be getting ahead, while those that don’t deserve it are suffering. And, perhaps the most frustrating of all, when no logical explanation can be found as to why nothing is going the way it should be!

At these times, it is helpful to get a little distance between oneself and whatever situation is causing stress.  It provides a bit of much needed emotional rest, and taking a step back, and looking at a situation from afar, or from a different perspective, can often produce clarity.

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In one of those situations myself, I decided to head to Mount Falcon Park.

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Mount Falcon Park is only about a 40 minute drive from downtown Denver, near a smaller town called Morrison. Traveling to fun and sometimes far away destinations is very important to me. However, it is also important to remember that taking a little bit of time to step away from a frustrating situation to gain a new perspective doesn’t require traveling great distances, and does not have to wait until a major trip is feasible. For most people, there is a place, a retreat of sorts, somewhere relatively close. A place that is possible to just pick up and go to on a whim, as opposed to having to plan ahead, save money and travel significant distances.

Of course, one thing that always needs to be accounted for is the weather. April can be a very volatile time in a lot of places. Here in Colorado, it is quite common to have snowfall one day, and warm pleasant weather the next. There is no way to around having to think about the weather, and if a retreat involves an outdoor experience, it can be delayed by the weather.

The hike itself is fairly straightforward. It felt good to be exercising the body and walking through the dense pine trees that one encounters here in Colorado when they reach elevations above about 6500 feet.

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The main trail a the park is called the Castle Trail. Originating at the trailhead, near 6200 feet in elevation, it winds most of the 3 mile trip, up to the peak of Mount Falcon, at 7851′. Trying to get my mind off of disappointments related to day-to-day life, I thought nothing of the fact that this trail was called the Castle Trail. After all, trail names don’t always translate into real life experiences. I recall backpacking two summers ago along a trail called Rincon La Vaca. I did not see a single cow (vaca = cow)!

First, I was surprised to see a sheltered picnic area.

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This isn’t something typically encountered close to the top of a front range day-hike.

Then, I encountered Walker’s Home, or, well, the ruins of it.

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The ruins of this castle made me feel as if I were in Rome, or some other ancient city where the ruins of historically significant structures are being preserved for cultural reasons.

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Sings even informed visitors to keep out the fenced off remains of the building for preservation, just as they do at other historical sites.

The strange this is, unlike many other historical sites, this building is only 109 years old. In most cities, significantly older buildings can be found, with no historical fanfare, as they have just been in continued residential or commercial use for several centuries. The primary reason this building lay in ruins is because it was struck by lightning in 1918, leading Mr. Walker to abandon his plan of using this structure as a summer retreat for the President of the United States.

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I did not expect an experience akin to visiting an archeological site. I did not expect to read about someone who appeared to be a multi-talented entrepreneur in the late 19th and early 20th century. I certainly did not expect to be pondering where presidents Woodrow Wilson, Waren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge would be expecting to spend their summers.

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Just like the ups and downs in the day-to-day weather, particularly in the springtime, and  the shadows produced by the mountains in the late afternoon, Colorado continues to surprise me. Travel to foreign lands and exotic far away places remains a very important part of my life. However, experiences like this provide us all a reminder to appreciate what is close to home as well.

 

 

Death Valley: The Largest National Park

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It is hard to truly describe what makes Death Valley such a wonderful and unique place. It is probably best known as the location of the lowest point in North America, Badwater Basin, located 282 feet below sea level.

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Land below sea level generally only exists in places with hot, dry climates, as otherwise, the low lying terrain would fill up with water. Death Valley certainly is dry! It receives less than 2 inches of rainfall per year. By contrast, Minneapolis, a city that would be considered neither dry nor wet, averages around 30 inches per year (including winter snowfall).

Badwater Basin, like much of Death Valley National Park, is a large scale version of everything one would imagine dryness to be.

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The entire basin, which stretches out longer than expected, is covered with salt, deposited in a honeycomb-like structure, creating a scene that appears to be out of some kind of documentary about deforestation or climate change.

Of course, not the entire park is below sea level.

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In fact, its highest point, Telescope Peak, is over 11,000 feet above sea level, and despite the dry and hot climate of the valley below it, is covered in snow, and impassible without ice gear towards the end of March. Interestingly enough, while March may be an ideal time of year to visit Badwater Basin, Furnace Creek and some of the low elevations of the park, the higher terrain makes the park actually worth visiting in the summer too (with the right hydration precautions taken of course).

At the park’s lower elevations, near and even a little bit below sea level, the hikes are a bit milder, and significantly different from a typical hike in the mountains. Shorter hikes (1 to 3 miles each way) to places like Sidewinder Canyon…

and Mosaic Canyon…

have trails that cut through the rocks, through little “slots”, and along wide flat trails that appear to have been carved out by runoff from the flash floods that occasionally occur in the park.

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Death Valley is certainly a place with some unique weather patterns, and some unique weather hazards. When most outdoor activities are planning, the weather hazards most likely to be considered are related to temperature and precipitation. Extremely hot weather is Death Valley’s most obvious weather hazard. Visiting in March, or at some other point during the cooler part of the year, definitely helps visitors avoid these extremes.

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With wide open spaces, no trees, and complicated terrain, some crazy winds can occur in Death Valley, whipping up and and dust from the dry ground below it, covering any and all things!

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Storms will pass through the complicated terrain, often first producing some interesting looking clouds.

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Then, often times, while producing decent amounts of precipitation in the higher mountains terrain, in the valley below they will mostly just manifest as strong and gusty winds.

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These winds can even be hazardous to campers, breaking tents, bending poles, and complicating campfires.

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Other than the extremes, in elevation, temperature and dryness, the rest of the park feels kind of a bit like a National Park sampler pack.

There are hikes that take visitors to amazing views of the park, but the park is not all about hiking (like Rocky Mountain National Park).

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The natural bridge is most certainly an “arch”, but Death Valley does not have the concentration of arches found at Arches National Park.

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There are a few fantastic sand dunes here, but not as many as there are at Great Sand Dunes National Park.

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The park has some other unique natural features, such as the “Devil’s Golf Course”, but isn’t the constant barrage of unique features that is Yellowstone.

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One can even spot the occasional desert wildlife here.

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Those that are into numbers already know what makes Death Valley unique; elevation, temperature, dryness. Those who are more into experiences find themselves also loving the park, but in a manner that becomes harder to articulate. Often, it is just said that the place is “beautiful”, or “amazing”.

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Maybe nothing more needs to be said. After all, sometimes these commonly used descriptor words, although light on specifics, along with photographs, really do tell the story. Nature, like artwork, is open to interpretation, at the behest of the beholder.

However, when covering mile after endless mile across the park, it is hard not to observe how expansive and wide open the park feels, as a result of how dry the air is.

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Maybe that is the reason Death Valley is also the largest U.S. national park in outside of Alaska.

Why I Love the American West

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Eight o’clock rolls around. Along a wide open highway in Utah, bolts of lightning off in the distance illuminate the sky. Gentle rain taps on my vehicle. Yet, straight above, stars can be seen dotting the night sky in a manner that instills wonder into the hearts and minds of all who are paying attention to what is around them.

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I wonder too. The lights of the car in front of me provide tiny clues as to what is actually there, but reveal preciously little. The rest is left to the imagination of all who travel at night on an unfamiliar highway.

I imagine a scene that could be out of a movie. A ranch house with a gigantic yard and one of those large swirly structures that starts twirling in the wind, like the one in the movie Twister. Miles and miles of endless open range with a mountain range that can be seen off in the distance. A 9-year old boy with his younger sister looking out the window, with a sense of wonder, at the storm rolling through a typically dry place. Dogs barking at tumbleweeds. A community of people alone together in a dry, isolated place.

I typically would not chose to travel at night, especially in a place like this. Utah is a place of abundant natural beauty, always shifting with the season.

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In March, the spring sun at mid-day shines bright upon the white snow on the mountain tops, brown forests and red rocks below.

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The reddish looking glow, revealed by the headlights at night, gave but a small indication of what Utah actually looks like in the middle of March. Some combination of memory, imagination, and reasoning would lead anyone to conclude that the land was not dull, flat, barren, but how many would have imagined the cut out canyons, the rock structures, salt washes, and many viewpoints of unique natural features.

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The other thing lost in my imaginative narrative about the family on the ranch in the storm is the fact that, with the exception of the occasional small town, there are no people here at all. Sure, there are the people who are driving along the interstate overlooking the various features. Five miles in either direction, there are no farms, ranches, or even people, just rocks, sagebrush, and wildlife. Had my imagination been more accurate, it would have been a story about moose, bighorn sheep, or perhaps a family of black bears getting in an argument about when to wake up from winter hibernation.

Still, there is something to be said about leaving some things up to the imagination. Much of what we experience today; movies, art, and even technology, began in someone’s imagination. While some people are naturally imaginative all the time, and some people only resort to their imagination quite rarely, not having all the facts can help trigger people imagine more. This makes it ironic that some of our present day technology, born of imagination, actually causes some people to engage their imaginative abilities less!

My imagined scene, of a family in a ranch house near Green River, UT was not nearly as spectacular as what actually is Central Utah’s unique landscapes. However, that will not always be the case. Sometimes our imagined world is, in fact, better than the actual reality we are experiencing. And, sometimes, there is something beautiful about being given but a small hint and riddle to solve regarding what is in front of you.

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Sometimes, it is good to have the opportunity to travel at night.

 

 

Whistler Blackcomb: Chasing the Snow

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Changes in weather patterns can bring risks, or even hardship, but can also bring opportunities. 2017-2018, in some ways, can be thought of as a peculiar winter in Western North America. Storms kept impacting the same region over and over again. Some areas received over twice their normal precipitation, while others received less than half.

Weather cannot be controlled, and, probably shouldn’t be. It is possible, however, to make adjustments to make the most of the weather. While this was not a stellar snow year (compared to average) in places like California, Colorado, and Utah, conditions made this season a perfect time to visit North America’s largest ski resort: Whistler-Blackcomb. Located 120 km (75 miles) north of Vancouver, Whistler-Blackcomb is the 11th largest ski resort in the world.

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As is the case with many of the other largest ski resorts in the world, Whistler-Blackcomb is the result of a merger between two mountains. Once competitors, the two mountains merged 20 years ago. To connect the two adjacent resorts, they built the Peak to Peak Gondola. This 11 minute ride brings skiers/boarders between the midpoint (and fairly high on the mountain) of one mountain and the other. It covers a distance of 2.73 miles (4.4 km) over a deep valley that separates the resorts. At its midpoint, it is 1430 feet (436 m) off the ground!

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Just getting to Whistler-Blackcomb, before even reaching the mountain, is an amazing experience! The drive from Vancouver International Airport takes about two hours along highway 99 through the heart of Vancover.

There is no limited access highway that connects Vancouver International Airport to downtown. This adds time to the journey, making what should take little more than 90 minutes take closer to two hours. However, it is interesting for visitors to actually see the city. Vancouver is quite dense, with a very urban feel (as opposed to some sunbelt cities that feel more suburban in nature). The two things that stand out the most about the city are..

  1. Despite the fact that rains, on average, 161 days out of the year (notice the rain in these photos), cycling appears to be extremely popular, with bike lanes and bike shops everywhere!
  2. Literally, every nationality of food can be found in downtown Vancouver: Portuguese, Peruvian, Malaysian, you name it, it’s there!

This is followed by a drive along highway 99, also known as the “Sea to Sky” highway.

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The drive itself is quite exquisite and unique. The road winds northward, adjacent to a bay, from which tree covered islands pop out periodically on the left. On the right, the coastal cliffs are quite dramatic, and periodically rocky.

If caught while the sun is shinning, which is common in the summer but quite rare in winter, the views of the mountains can be quite amazing!

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The mountain itself is spectacular, and steep! With a 5,280 foot vertical drop, it is surpassed, in North America, only by Revelstoke Mountain, a significantly smaller resort. For comparison, Vail has a vertical drop of 3,450 feet, and there are plenty of ski resorts whose vertical drops are only a little over 2,000 feet that are talked about quite positively (Grand Targhee, Alta, Stowe, etc.).

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Ski trails at Whistler Blackcomb can be steep and long. However, there are trails of all kinds here, as to be expected.

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Highlights include the top of Whistler Peak.

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Finding a place to make fresh tracks in the snow.

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And, of course, the Dave Murray Downhill, where the downhill competition took place for the 2010 Olympic games.

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These experiences can commonly be hampered, however, by the weather. In particular, on a typical day, layers of clouds often form somewhere about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way up the mountain.

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Many skiers and boarders chose to stay either above or below this layer of clouds. Traversing through this layer of clouds is a unique, albeit stressful, experience.

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As is the case when driving through dense fog, it requires moving slowly, and it is very easy for groups of people to lose each other in this thick set of clouds. Let’s just say, there is a reason this picture was taken on the lift ride up and not while skiing down the hill.

 

Whistler Blackcomb is in bear country, and they appear proud of it! On the Peak-to-Peak gondola, the information signs, in addition to pointing out its the length, speed, and height, of the gondola ride, mentions the fact that the forest it traverses over is home to over 60 bears.

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A major part of any ski trip experience is the town, where travelers go for food, amenities, shops, and other forms of entertainment. Not all ski towns are equal, as some provide a more active and others a quieter ski experience. Whistler’s experience is definitely middle of the road with respect to the quiet and cosy vs. active and loud experience. However, there is some variance here too.

There are two parts to Whistler village, an upper village and a lower village. Both connect to the mountain via gondolas. The main village is a bit larger and more active than the upper village, with a variety of food options and even several clubs.

Outside the village, there are plenty of ski-in/ski-out resorts, which is quite convinent. As is typical of any ski town, lodging can be expensive, and finding a place to stay at the price range most people are looking for can be a challenge.

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There are some out there that wish to never have the weather, or some other kind of external event change their plans. Its an unwelcome inconvenience to have to research something new, make a different plan, spend money, and have to travel when not expected. However, sometimes these changes in plans, whether forced by weather or a different external factor, are the driver for creating new, different, and sometimes life-changing experiences.

Some would say this has been a peculiar winter, but, on a larger scale, there has always been variance in weather patterns. The average temperature is not the temperature experienced every day and the average precipitation is not the amount of precipitation experienced every year. It is normal to differ from the average, from year to year. These variations may be getting close to causing danger in some places in the West this year, but that is also fairly typical.

Whether people traveled north to experience better snow to ski on, or traveled south to get some sun, the variation in weather patterns this year, while inconveniencing many, also created its fair share of memories.

The First Time I Brought a Jacket to Las Vegas

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This is the third time I am writing about a trip to Las Vegas in the past two years, and my 7th visit overall. Oddly enough, all six of my previous trips took place in either August or September. It may be a coincidence, but people do generally travel more frequently in summertime, and, strangely enough, I have never visited Vegas alone.

Despite the fact that I am not opposed to solo travel, it would never occur to me to visit Vegas alone. When I think of places I travel to alone, I tend to think of long contemplative hikes or bike rides, definitely not Las Vegas.

What is odd is that, while Vegas feels more like a group activity than any other destination, I can think of few other places where it is easier for someone to entertain themselves. The shows, the games, and general sensory overload all around make it nearly impossible to imagine boredom.

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One thing every traveler knows is that it is possible to return to a place one has already visited and still get a completely different experience. This is especially true if it is a different season or under different circumstances. Vegas, in early February, during the middle of the week, is just not as crowded as it is on a weekend in the summer.

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This translates into both conveniences and inconveniences. Yes, it was a lot easier to walk around the strip. There were considerably less crowds to navigate. There were even considerably less people out there promoting things like limousines to strip clubs and shows. However, the downside was that I learned that there is indeed a time when I can walk into a casino in Las Vegas and not see a single open BlackJack table.

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That time is 8:45 A.M. on a Tuesday morning in the month of February.

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It was also necessary to walk to another resort to find an open pool.

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In some ways, it was the same Vegas experience I had always remembered; Gambling. Buffets. Staying up really late. And the random entertainment that appears out of nowhere.

In other ways it was different.

I learned that the Flamingo Hotel, which is the original Las Vegas hotel, actually has live flamingos there!

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Walking through this exhibit was an interesting experience. It was the first time I had ever seen a significant number of children anywhere in the City of Las Vegas! Families and drunk people in the same place just always feels odd to me.

It is also interesting to observe how quickly any particular place can change. My last visit to Las Vegas was a mere six months ago! Yet, I noticed for the first time a pedestrian mall, with shops and restaurants, like In-N-Out Burger, between the Linq and Harrahs in the middle of the strip.

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Freemont Street, the original Vegas dating back to the middle part of the 20th Century, seems to be undergoing some sort of major revival, with concerts, street performers, and a good number of people walking around on a Tuesday night!

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Even the table games seemed to have increased in stakes!

With the world, and particularly cities in a constant state of flux, as long as we do not have a mechanism to travel through time, one can never travel to the EXACT same place already visited. Something will always be different.

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Given the kinds of experiences I typically write about on this blog, and the types of topics I regularly discuss, it may come as surprising to some that I love Las Vegas. I always talk about getting outdoors, staying healthy, and avoiding the dangers of materialism. Las Vegas, at its core, is the antithesis of all this.

I just love to observe how Las Vegas has this power to transform people. Some would say for the better, others would say for the worse, and both would have a valid point. Feeling like a different person, as I do every time I come to Vegas, can be thought of as a form of escapism. However, I feel that it is not about escapism at all.

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At some point in time, we have all heard someone say “I need to go find myself”, as if the “self” is something that somehow gets lost and needs to be located just like a set of keys or a glove. While I may be getting hung up on semantics here, I honestly believe that nobody ever fully loses themselves. They may be afraid to be their true selves, or be in a setting that brings out only one component of their more complicated selves. This is when it is good to find a different environment for a while, which Las Vegas most certainly is for nearly all people.

Las Vegas has a strange way of demonstrating that all accepted societal norms are malleable and negotiable, but end up as what they are for a reason. Las Vegas does not accept norms such as not drinking on a weekday and going to bed by a certain time. However, there are other norms that develop in Vegas based on that setting. It is expected that nobody splits 10s at a blackjack table, and, at said tables I’d be shocked to see male dancers.

Nearly all people have at least one behavior or interest that surprises people because, on the surface, it does not jive with their other interests. However, there is always a common thread, which often can be found by digging deeper. Whether we are getting to know ourselves, or trying to understand someone else, determining the common thread between these seemingly unrelated interests can help us all reach a deeper understanding.

This is January

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A week after New Years, Dillon Reservoir, which sits at a little over 9,000 ft (or about 2750m) in elevation is still partially open (as in not ice covered). Little to no snow is to be seen on the hills that surround the lake. By this time of year, they typically display a bright white color of undisturbed snow. The very persona of the region is different, particularly on a cloudy afternoon such as this one. It doesn’t really feel like winter. Yet, it is hard to attribute this scene to any other season of the year.

It is still hard to wrap the mind around the fact that at almost the exact same time last year, Central Colorado was getting pummeled, with feet and feet of snow.

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This isn’t a complete climate catastrophe. There are still people hitting the slopes.

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But, the conditions are less than ideal. Half the trails remain closed. Some of the ones that are open have sketchy parts, where it is common to encounter rocks, branches, and blades of grass. Also, disappointingly, some of the best places for skiing, in wide open areas where it is easier for snow to blow off the mountain, are simply unnavigable.

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Visual reflections of the warm and dry start to winter show up all over Colorado. The open plains in places like the San Louis Valley, and even South Park (elevation near 10,000 feet) appear all but snow free. The snowpacks on the higher peaks appear shallow and inconsistent.

Colorado isn’t the only place experiencing a completely different winter from last year. After a relatively mild winter last year, the Midwestern and Eastern states experienced a complete turnaround at the end of 2017 into the start of 2018.

Chicago experienced a record tying 12 day span where temperatures did not exceed 20F (-6C).

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While cold temperatures crippled a typically vibrant city, on the other side of the lake, the continuous flow of cold air over Lake Michigan produced steady and large amounts of Lake Effect Snow.

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Accumulating snowfall occurred as far south as Florida, for the first time since 1989!

A lot of people who planned ski trips to the Rocky Mountains, or trips to the Southeast to escape the cold are disappointed. Some may speculate as to why, and wonder if this is part of some troubling long-term trend.

While it is completely understandable why someone would see bare ground at 11,000 feet above sea level in January and be concerned, it is important to remember that this is just one place, at one point in time. Last year those same places were getting pummeled with snow. Also, at that same point in time, it was snowing in places like Tallahassee and Charleston, cities where it snows less than once a decade!

What many are experiencing, when comparing how this winter has begun, with last winter, is variance, in a somewhat extreme form.

“Normal” weather, if there is such a thing, is often the result of large-scale weather patterns that vary and progress. This leads to experiences like two rainy days in a week, periodic snow in the mountains, or temperatures ranging between 15 degrees below and 15 degrees above the long-term average. Essentially, what people expect.

The start of 2018 is an example of a period of time when the weather pattern had become persistent. These are the times when extremes are experienced. The persistent pattern at the start of 2018 kept most of the west warm and dry while driving cold air, straight from the arctic right into the eastern half of the continent.

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Likewise, one year ago, there was also a persistent pattern – one that looked quite different, and produced different extremes. One year ago, a strong jet off the Pacific Ocean formed, transporting large amounts of moisture straight into California, Utah, and Colorado. These storms played a large role in ending a long-term drought in California.

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None of this is to dismiss the adverse effects of either extreme weather events or long-term trends in temperature or precipitation. If the mountain tops of Colorado remain dry, it could have an adverse effect on the water supply in many place in the west, and could also indicate high fire potential next summer. Likewise, a changing climate is something that needs to be dealt with. However, it should be dealt with in a manner that is appropriate, which means considering data on a larger scale, and multiple perspectives before taking action.

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While outdoors, experiencing conditions both normal abnormal, the only thing that can be done is to dress appropriately, try to ski around those rocks and branches, and pause to take in the experience while it is happening.