Category Archives: seasons

What Independence Day Means for Travel and Adventure

img_0231-1Every year, we Americans celebrate the founding of our nation on the Fourth of July. This commemorates the day in which the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, officially declaring our intention to separate from the British Empire and form our own Nation, or more accurately at the time, confederation of states.

It is an active day, and often an active weekend for the country as a whole.

IMG_0690

Some use the time off to explore some of the country’s most spectacular places.

IMG_4592

Others use it to visit vacation homes, or have quiet weekends by the lake.

Some also flock into cities, to visit friends, and attend festivals.

img_0242

As is the case with many holidays, I often wonder whether or not this one loses its meaning. Those that know the true meaning of Saint Patrick’s Day, Cinco De Mayo, and Memorial Day will often observe that the way most people celebrate these days is inconsistent with the actual intent of these particular holidays.

What about Independence Day?

IMG_3859

Are these large firework displays appropriate? What are most people thinking about, as they are exploring parks, visiting friends, barbecuing and watching these colorful displays?

How many people are thinking about their own lives vs. the Nation we are celebrating? Or are our minds on regionally specific considerations? For example, in the Rocky Mountains, the Fourth of July is kind of the start of the season for high altitude hikes. After a three-month process of snowmelt in the highest terrain, many trails are finally free of residual snowpack and mud.

img_7262

In fact, there is even a trailhead just south of Rocky Mountain National Park that was named the Fourth of July Trailhead.

IMG_4467

Trails originating from here provide access to a series of high peaks just east of the Continental Divide. This particular section of the Central Rocky Mountains is commonly shadowed from the sun and heavily forested. At places like this the snow melts the slowest in the springtime. This trailhead was given this name because it is generally not recommended for hikers to hike here until the Fourth of July!

What people chose to do on the Fourth of July may have something to do with how people view the United States of America.

There’s a spectrum of people across this country, from those that take extreme pride in being “American”, to those that take a more critical view and may wish we adopted some policies of other nations. Where someone stands on this spectrum may have something to do with whether someone sees July 4th as extremely meaningful, or just as a convenient day to have off in the middle of the summer.

Being who I am, I cannot help but reflect, and come to a conclusion that is a bit more nuanced. One of the virtues that this nation was founded on is individual liberty. Even if we have fallen short of that ideal on certain occasions past and present, it still represents an ideal that we aspire to. Liberty, and self-determination are considered a justifiable end here. There are other places where it is not.

As someone who yearns for adventure, it is easy for me to view, with envy, European countries where vacationing for the entire month of August is common practice, and work weeks tend to be shorter. However, that is not the full picture. There are large areas of the world where most people cannot take vacations at all. There are places where the majority of the population lacks the prosperity and/or individual liberty that makes everything we do here possible.

Reflecting on this, it needs to be understood that we are indeed quite fortunate. This does not mean we should not yearn for more, as, in many ways, we can and should do better. It does mean having everything put into proper perspective. With the right priorities, most Americans at least have the opportunity to have an adventurous life. This is something we all should be grateful for.

An After Work Hike to Royal Arch

IMG_0176 (1).jpg

June is a month with tons of opportunities, if for no other reason than the amount of daylight many places in the Northern Hemisphere receive. The long days and late sunsets make a lot of activities possible for people who work traditional hours. It is only in and around this time of year that those working “normal working hours” (I want to make clear that I in no way advocate traditional working hours), have enough daylight for hikes, as we’ll as many other outdoor activities, on weekdays after work.

 

Royal Arch is a fairly strenuous three and a half mile (round trip) hike that originates at Chautauqua Park in Boulder, Colorado. Located at the Southwest edge of town, these trails are very popular, and Chautauqua Park can be quite busy at certain times of year. Although a high number of people reach this trailhead by bike or on foot (this is Boulder after all), parking is quite limited. One should not expect to find a parking spot in the lot by the trailhead any time conditions are ideal for hiking. This includes both weekend days, as well as on weeknights like this one.

IMG_0134 (1)

For a unique experience, I arrived at the trailhead at roughly 6:45 P.M. This is later than I would recommend arriving for anyone that desires to hike this trail at a moderate pace and finish before it gets dark, even at this time of year.

At this time of the evening, shortly after starting the hike, the sun had already descended behind the mountains to the west. Alpenglow could still be seen, hitting the top of the long flat diagonal rocks that are often referred to as the “Flatirons”.

IMG_0138 (1)

Hiking mainly after 7 P.M. also put most of the hike in the shade, as the sun was already behind the mountain peaks to the west. This made the hike more comfortable, as the temperature was in the upper 80s, a normal level for this time of year, before the hike.

Most of the trail is fairly strenuous, with a consistent climb. This changes at Sentinel Pass, which is within about a half a mile of the end of the trail.

Many hikes are said to have “false summits”; places where the trail appears to be reaching a summit, which is usually the final destination of a hike. Sentinel Pass, in a way, is both a false summit and a real summit.

IMG_0156.jpg

It is actually a summit! However, it is not the end of the trail. The trail continues. There is a short but steep descent right after Sentinel Pass. The descent is followed by another steep uphill section, where, after another 15 minutes or so of hiking, Royal Arch is reached.

IMG_0158 (1)IMG_0170 (1)IMG_0178

It ended up taking me just under an hour to reach Royal Arch. For a hike of 1.7 miles with 1600’ of net vertical, and some areas that are quite strenuous, this is a relatively quick pace.

After resting and enjoying the view for a mere 10 minutes at the top, I was still barely able to make it back down to the trailhead before darkness fell upon the area.

IMG_0183 (1).jpg

This is why I would recommend for most people to either arrive earlier (which shouldn’t be an issue for most work schedules), or bring a headlamp. Even in the week following the summer solstice, with some of the latest sunsets of the year, there are limitations to what can be done after working a typical 9-to-5-ish day.

One of life’s major challenges is making the most of whatever opportunities come our way. June, and its lengthy days, represents an opportunity to simply get outside more and get more exposure to sunshine.

For a variety of reasons it appears that the modern digital, sedentary lifestyle is taking its toll on us. It feels as if every five to ten years, some new set of dietary recommendations come out. Either a new set of foods become the secret, magic ticket to a healthier life. Or, some different type of food suddenly becomes the new “boogeyman”, and is suddenly to blame for all these widespread health problems.

I am not a health expert. However, based on my observations and reasoning, it appears that many of our health problems are related to two things; many people being way too sedentary, and, primarily in the United States, some ridiculous portion sizes. There also appears to be some merit behind staying hydrated and getting enough sleep.

Our bodies were meant to move. It’s been shown that sitting for even a couple of hours at a time can actually lead to negative health impacts, including the supply of oxygen being cut off from our brains. The predominant form of employment in 2017 is still 7-10 hours per day sitting in front of a computer. This cannot possibly be good for our minds or our bodies.

There has also been countless articles published recently regarding the connection between happiness and exposure to sunshine. Not only were we not meant to spend well over half of our waking hours seated, we also were not meant to spend nearly as much time indoors.

In our current culture, it is really hard to avoid having to perform a lot of work that requires being seated in front of a computer. Heck, writing this, I am, in fact, seated in front of a computer. This does not mean we cannot seek out and take advantage of opportunities, whenever we can, to be outdoors, be in motion,  and/ or be social (separate topic), as much as we can.

IMG_0187 (1)

On the descent, I spent half the time talking to random people. The other half, I was lost in my own thoughts. I imagined myself in various scenarios, settings I could see myself in, places I would be, people I would talk to, etc. All the scenarios I imagined involved me encouraging others. I encouraged others to believe in themselves, to have confidence, to stand up to naysayers, and to make the most of their lives. Part of that involves taking part in activities that enrich our lives. So, I encourage everyone to take advantage of summer, particularly this first part of summer, and the opportunities it affords us by checking out places like Royal Arch for evening hikes.

 

Greyrock Mountain- An Ideal Hike for May

IMG_9765.jpg

For the majority of people who like to hike on weekends, or in their spare time, hiking anywhere in the American West in the month of May requires two additional considerations.

  1.  There is typically still a residual snowpack at higher elevations.  While this can vary quite a bit from year to year and even day to day, even on a warm, sunny day, those that don’t want to encounter slippery conditions or deep snow covering the trails should generally stick to lower elevations.  In Colorado, that generally means below 9500 feet in elevation.
  2. Although everyone’s body behaves differently, most people still respect the seasonality of the activities they take part in, hiking less frequently in winter than in summer.  Therefore, most people still need to, in some way, work up to the most challenging hikes they will take on later in the summer.

IMG_9733

Tucked away in the Poudre Canyon 15 miles West of Fort Collins, Colorado (which is an hour north of Denver), the Greyrock Trailhead starts at an elevation of roughly 5600 feet.

IMG_9734

The hike to the top of Greyrock Mountain, on the most direct path is 3.1 miles, with an elevation gain right around 2000 feet.  For those who spent their winters either sedentary or on unrelated activities, and maybe have done two or three hikes thus far in the spring, it is strenuous enough to help get the body back into summer mode.  And, topping out at 7600 feet, it remains well below the elevations where residual snowpack and large amounts of mud would still be present on a sunny day in May.

IMG_9731

Of course, many people are aware of these seasonal considerations.  Therefore, the area does get busier than usual, particularly if it is a nice day and/or on the weekend.

Still, there is plenty of quiet to be found on this appropriately named mountain, just not the level of solitude one would expect on, say, a remote backpacking trip.

On the 13th of May 2017, a dry day in which Fort Collins reached a high temperature of 85F (and was preceded by two dry days) nearly all of the trail was dry.  It was only in certain sections, close to streams, where mud would appear.  These sections got interesting, as groups of butterflies, both red and blue, would loop around the sky, periodically congregating in and around areas of standing water.

IMG_9745

The blue butterflies are actually extremely well camouflaged, only showing their color when the wings are flapped open.

IMG_9751

IMG_9755

A closer look at the muddy surface reveals dozens of these butterflies nearly completely blended into the muddy surface, something many hikers don’t even notice!

IMG_9761.jpg

Roughly 2/3 of the way up, the first real scenic overlook is reached.  This is the point just before the two trails merge back together, at an elevation of roughly 7000 feet.

The final 600 feet of ascent looks, well, far more daunting than a typical 600 foot climb.  And, well, it is.  After a short flat area, following the scenic overlook, the trail begins to climb up a series of rocky areas, often referred to as “scrambles” by hikers.

These parts require some strategizing, both on the way up and on the way down.

The final section of the trail is the one area where it is possible to get lost.

On top of rocks, the trail passes by several lakes, where the sound of frogs can be heard, and is marked only by periodic signs 2-3 feet tall and the occasional standard rock pile (referred to as a Cairn).

IMG_9783

The summit is also just kind of a series of rocks, that need to be climbed over to reach the best lookout point.  Being at the top of Greyrock Mountain is somewhat of an unique experience.  In some ways, it feels just like being on top of the world, as noting in the immediate vicinity is at a higher elevation.

IMG_9792.jpg

However, out on the horizon to the West and Southwest reveals mountains whose peaks dwarf this one by over 5,000 feet.

It feels like a metaphor for a certain life situation that nearly every human being will find themselves in at one point.  The mountain has been climbed, a goal has been achieved, and there is reason to celebrate… temporarily.  But, there is still a lot that must be done, and much higher aspirations.  It is finishing a degree and moving on to start a new job.  It is successfully navigating nine months of pregnancy now knowing that it is hard work to raise another human being.  It is knowing that one has achieved as much as is possible in a current endeavor, and that there is something more meaningful, a higher calling, awaiting that requires a pivot, a new strategy, and renewed effort.

 

Hiking in the Front Range in Mid-April

IMG_9073

April can sometimes be a tough month.  It’s a hard month to plan too far ahead of time, as there is such a wide variety of weather conditions that one can experience in many parts of North America.  There have been instances, in April, where places like Nebraska have experienced both a tornado threat and snowfall within the same day!

This is especially true in Colorado.  Over the past five Aprils (2012-2016), Denver has received snowfall of an inch or more 11 times!  At higher elevations, April snowfall can be almost twice as frequent.  Yet, over the same five Aprils, Denver reached temperatures of 80F (26C) or above 6 times, and highs exceeded 70F (21C), on average, 9 days out of 30, or about 30% of the time.

A typical challenge in April is to find hikes at lower elevations as there is often still a significant snowpack higher up.  April 8th’s snowpack exceeded 40 inches at most places above 8000′ in elevation, despite the period of warmer weather April 5-7.

CO_Snowpack_20170408

Looking primarily at start and end elevation, and for a place I have yet to hike, I selected Deer Creek Canyon, a place, oddly enough I can ride my bicycle to in just under 90 minutes.

IMG_9087.jpg

And, much to my surprise the trailhead is actually located at Colorado’s Center of Population (according to the 2000 census).

IMG_9065 (1)

The quickest route from the trailhead to the top of Mount Plymouth is roughly 2.4 miles.  With an elevation gain of about 1200 feet, this particular hike would definitely fall into the “moderate” category for difficulty.

The other surprise was encountering not just a random structure, but an entire subdivision, roughly half a mile into the hike (taking the shortest route).

IMG_9067IMG_9066

The people who live here seem to have the life!  The houses are quite large, they have a spectacular view of some pretty interesting looking red rocks and rolling hills, and easy access to hiking trails.  Oh, and they live pretty much at Colorado’s center of population.  For a while, we discussed what it would be like to live in a place like this, and whether or not we would enjoy it.  Being fairly close to Denver, I bet these homes are quite expensive.  Yet, moving to a place like this would still entail giving up some urban conveniences.

 

I had hoped to avoid snowpack and mud, and for the most part we did.  Starting the hike at about 9:45 A.M., at least 2/3 of the hike was in the sun, and those parts of the trail were dry.  Toward the top, some ares with a little bit of mud, and even a bit of slush could be found in shaded areas.  Parts of the area had received close to a foot of snow several days prior, which, despite warmth thereafter, had not completely melted in areas above roughly 6800′ that are shaded from the sun most of the day.

Whether it be on the way up to the top of Plymouth Mountain, or on the return trip to the trailhead, I would certainly recommend following the remaining part of the loop on the Plymouth Trail.

IMG_9078IMG_9096

It was in this section of the loop where we found the best views of Denver’s skyline, and found some more interesting rocks to climb on.

We also veered off the main Plymouth Trail to follow The Meadowlark trail for the final 1.5 miles down to the trailhead.  This trail traverses through forests of short trees with minimal foliage.  I have encountered these trees before, always at roughly this elevation near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  It is a unique experience, to be surrounded by trees in all directions, but to still be nearly completely exposed to the sun.  I wonder what conditions make these particular trees grow here.

IMG_9082

And, rather than going by the subdivision again, this trail cuts a bit farther north.  In several places, the trail overlooks the canyon that was carved out by Deer Creek.  I have previously ridden this road on a bicycle.  From the vantage point of the road, it’s hard to to truly appreciate the extent to which the rugged terrain had been carved out by a relatively small creek.

IMG_9084

 

After a period of inactivity, it felt really good just to be outdoors and active, feeling the sun for hours on end, and smelling the rocks, trees, and dirt.  As a culture, we likely spend way too much time indoors and sedentary.  Something about it just feels a bit unnatural to me- always has.  The entire duration of the hike, I just felt grateful for Colorado, the opportunities and access to so many amazing places like this.

I often tell people who are looking to visit Colorado not to come in April, as well other parts of the year are more exciting.  But, one thing I realized is that, this particular hike, mostly in the sun, with a maximum elevation of 7274′, would likely be very hot in the middle of the summer.  I can only imagine what it would be like with temperatures exceeding 90F (32C).

Many of us reserve the summer months, particularly June through September, for activities that require more travel, more planning, and more certainty.  In April, it is less worthwhile to plan more major activities, as conditions are so variable.  Thus, April is the ideal time for activities that are closer to home and more moderate in nature.  It is a time to embrace some amount of uncertainty, and think on the fly.

In pervious years, I became frustrated with Colorado in April, contemplating leaving for this period of time that is uncertain and commonly fails to deliver.  But, with uncertainty comes the excitement of the unknown, and the possibilities for new opportunities.  In life, we need a balance, between the planned and the unplanned, between familiar and the unfamiliar, and between the distant and the local.  April, and the changing of the seasons in general, ensures that we continue to calibrate this balance.

Winter’s MidPoint (in the Central Rockies)

img_8525

Although we talk quite frequently about “seasons”, the concept of a season is actually far more abstract in nature than the manner in which it is typically discussed.  Consider this: while the most frequent discussions of seasons refers to a portion of the calendar year, a “season” can also mean a series of sporting events, TV shows, or plays, or even a chapter in someone’s life.  I’ve personally been involved in “seasons” that have lasted as short as three weeks, as well as “seasons” that persisted longer than a decade!

Even when referencing a “season” in its most common manner, to reference a portion a year, there is significant variance in how it manifests.  For a lot of people “seasons” means winter, spring, summer, and fall.  However, there are parts of the world where the year is far more accurately broken out into a wet season and a dry season.  Others even create seasonal references based on specific considerations, such as “mud season” or “typhoon season”.  In a way, every group of people has developed their own way to reference seasons, based on their lifestyle, location, and interests.

IMG_8504.jpg

While some groups of people have defined specific dates for the start and end of each season, for most, a season is more of a feeling.  There are plenty of years, where, on a day like March 25th, someone in Minnesota may feel as if it is still winter for them while someone in South Carolina may feel firmly into the Spring season.  Likewise, year to year variance has made November in Colorado feel like winter in some years, but feel like early autumn in others.

For winter as a season, just like a season for a sports team, or a chapter in one’s life, it matters less when the technical mid-point is defined.  It is more significant to reference a middle section, or a “hey-day”.  This is the period of time after most people have fully adjusted to the season, but before the end is in sight.

img_8529

In the Central Rockies, this is the time after most skiers and boarders have worked out their early season jitters, (and the resorts have gotten pretty much all of their trails open, which usually takes until January) but before spring becomes eminent.

img_8503

It is at this point in the season, where, I believe, skiing actually becomes more fun!  First of all, snow conditions get better.

IMG_8499.jpg

As winter progresses, the snow pack gets deeper and more consistent.  It becomes far less likely to find bare spots, which often form in the areas where skiers and boarders make turns around trees, or in open areas where wind can blow a lot of snow around.

IMG_2923.jpg

Also, as winter progresses, temperatures begin to warm (making it more pleasant), and the sun stays out a bit longer.  There are plenty of places in the Central Rockies, like Vail, where, according to local CO-OP data, December is actually the coldest month of the year.

IMG_8327.jpg

With mountains blocking the afternoon sun, in December, many of the ski trails become completely shaded sometime around 2:30 P.M.  By the final weekend in January, the sunset is about 45 minutes later, and the sun angle is higher, adding roughly an additional hour before the trails become completely shaded.

This is the start of the best of the best, the best time to ski at some of the best ski resorts in the world.  The trails are all open, the sun is shining upon us, skiers and boarders are doing their best skiing and riding of their lives, and towns are celebrating with additional winter fun.

When a “season” is a positive one, like a fun ski season, a good music or sports career, or even a very positive experience at a University or a job, there really is nothing like that period of time in the middle.  Everything starts to feel right.  We begin to move about our days and activities with a greater efficiency, and, in some cases make a lot of progress in a short period of time.  Memories are being created, and, in most cases, we are making gains in the all important battle for our own individuality and/or sense of self worth.  We’re at our best!

IMG_8540.jpg

But, alas it cannot last forever.  The happiest and the saddest, the most reassuring yet the most unnerving thing about the world is the fact that all things have a beginning and an ending.  Even the greatest of experiences must come to an end, as, well, continuing to do the same thing will eventually lead to stagnation, and a creeping feeling of dissatisfaction.  The only thing we can do in periods like this is be greatful that the “season” we are currently in is an enjoyable and/or rewarding one, and do our best to make the next one positive as well.

Pure Instinct

Day-to-day life over the past month or so had left me kind of burnt out.  I was inexplicably feeling exhausted.  I was not at my best- which I truly hate.  I’d realized weeks ago I would eventually need a day to disconnect.  We all need that every once in a while.  I figured out that I would not want to hear everybody’s recap of the election (regardless of the result), and Wednesday’s weather was forecasted to be unseasonably warm.

IMG_7976.jpg

So, I took Wednesday off, got in my car and just started to drive.  I had no plan, no idea as to where I would be headed when I left.  I purposely refrained from making a plan.  I didn’t look into options, or pre-meditate in any sort of way.  I wanted to try something different than what we all typically do when we travel.  I wanted to lean simply on my instinct, and just let it determine where I should go as I go.  Everywhere I went, every decision I made regarding when and where to turn, I made on the fly, just based on what felt right.

I went west out of Denver, following highway 6 through Golden, than 93 north, and 72 west towards Nederland.  I continuously resisted the urge to pull out my map book, or my phone, or turn to any other source of information to achieve a welcome break from one of the things that may be exhausting all of us in the mid-2010s.  This is the process of gathering information.  In this era, often gather way too much of it, agonizing over it, to the point where we delay actually making the decision, sometimes far too long!

Along the way, I experienced this strange hyper-emotional calm.  I began to tear up.  I was breathing heavy.  But, it felt really good.  It felt as if for the past couple of months, emotions were one by one filling up inside my head, bouncing around like molecules until they gradually started to reach a critical mass, where there was no longer room for them to move around.  They had just become jammed .  And, now, with whatever barrier that was keeping them inside removed, I was suddenly free to just let them out, and let them all out at once.

IMG_7983.jpg

As I continued along this windy path, this strange hyper-emotional calm became accompanied by a feeling of optimism.  I felt like I knew I was in the right place, doing the right things, and making progress toward where I wanted to be.  I’d freed myself from all the data, all the second guessing that gradually erodes away at our confidence.  I knew that, both that day, and in life, I was moving in the right direction even when I didn’t see the destination.

For a while, I had no idea as to why I was experiencing burnout.  The term typically conjures up images of someone working long hours into the night, neglecting their friends, their families, and other areas of their lives.  Burnout is people working 70+ hour  weeks, which I most certainly had not been for the duration of 2016.  So, why was I burned out?  Why did I feel drained so often?

Having searched for answers regarding this, through reading, conversation, and observing people, I came to a series of important realizations about burnout, which run contrary to the image of long nights with pots of coffee.

It’s not the amount of work that burns us out.

Workload can contribute, but more important is how we feel while we are doing our work.

The primary source of burnout is feeling as if we are being phony, or fake.

Pretending to be someone else, for whatever reason we do it, is exhausting.  It is not sustainable.  The only way to be is our true selves.  That is what our instincts tell us to do.

Negative energy in all forms leads to burnout.

One of the nastiest forms is fear, trying to prevent some sort of bad outcome such as loss of job or status.  When we act out of fear, or anger, hate, etc., everything we do is significantly more draining.

One of the most exhausting things we do is try to prove ourselves.

I’ve seen plenty of instances where someone is working long hours, but is not burned out because they are doing what they love and they feel confident while doing it.

img_7989

My instinct even took me down a random dirt road, something I otherwise never would have done if it were not my previously specified destination.

img_7990

I ended up at a place called Rainbow Lakes, part of the Indian Peak Wilderness.

img_7996

I hiked roughly 2.5 miles, getting to the treeline, which was surprisingly nearly snow free!  This is definitely not encouraging for fans of winter sports.

img_7997

As, well, as can often be the case in our lives as a whole, the change of season that winter sports fans are waiting for is simply not happening yet.  This hike, on Wednesday Nov. 9th, felt shockingly similar to the way it would have felt in the middle of the summer.

img_7998

Just over the ridge, I got myself to a place that was extremely inspiring.  Unfortunately, I did not get a photo, as, well, my phone died.  It was a sign that what I needed to do was disconnect, and, once again, connect to my own thoughts.  Just for good measure, though, here’s a pic I found of the exact place where I sat.

rainbowlakes_20161109

I actually stared at that one little gap in the rock straight ahead.

Our subconscious thoughts do take into account recent information, even as our conscious minds look for more info and don’t know what to make of it.  My subconscious mind, my instinct, though, processed all of this; the election, interactions with people, my own feelings, and summed it up neatly in one sentence, a sentence that simply popped into my head…

The age of deference is over

Make what you want of that.

I also came to another revelation regarding a matter that is more specific to my life.  I had been thinking a lot about the concept of acceptance.  It is why we are always trying to prove ourselves, and often exhausting ourselves.  Afternoon exhaustion, dissatisfaction, lack of inspiration, all of these concepts are inter-related.

We want to be accepted, and can only be accepted as who we are.

But, for each person individually, myself included…

If we want to be accepted as who we genuinely are, we must do so for others as well.

We’re all looking for acceptance, but if we make it easier on each other, as well as ourselves, we might all have a bit more energy leftover for other things.

The previous night’s election, regardless of how any of us feel about it, is yet another example where sometimes more information, more data, is not better.  The best models, based on every piece of data available, made predictions that were quite flawed.  My instinct, many months back, came to a more accurate conclusion about what was to occur.

In an era where we have access to unlimited information, and are often bombarded by it, sometimes we need to realize that less is more.  I, for sure, will, going forth, make a better effort to rely less on data and more on instinct.  After all, it brought me to Rainbow Lakes, without even so much as looking at my atlas, or my Google Maps App.

 

Looking Forward to Winter

img_1651

No season is the subject of speculation quite the way winter is.  Sure, people anticipate all four seasons, planning activities such as vacations, sporting events, and outdoor activities around each one.  But, there is something about the way winter is anticipated, as experiences can vary year to year in winter more than in any other season.  Every October, speculation begins to intensify.  Fear and dread clearly radiate from the voices of some, while excitement and anticipation come from others.  Most likely, this depends on one’s location, as well as preferred activities.

I spent a lot of years in the Midwest, and completely sympathize with those who dread winter, and hope for nothing more than to have their pain be as minimal as possible for the season.  Here in Colorado, on the other hand, enthusiasts of outdoor snow sports, mostly skiing and snowboarding, anticipate winter with great excitement, typically hoping that the coming season’s snowfall and snowpacks will be at least in line with seasonal averages, if not more.

As an Epic Pass skier who lives in Denver, my ideal winter would be one with plenty of snow in the mountains, particularly the resorts I ski near the I-70 corridor, but generally milder east of the mountains, where Denver is.  And, given this year’s setup, I may actually get this kind of winter that I want!

I have received quite a few questions, both from people local to Colorado, and those considering traveling here to ski in the mountains, regarding what kind of winter to expect.  Now that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has released its outlook for the season, there is no better time to give my own take on how winter 2016-17 is looking.

First, I should note that, the NOAA forecast, as well as other forecasts already made for the winter season primarily focus on one phenomenon: La Nina.  This, of course is the inverse of El Nino.  So, while El Nino winters tend to be wet to the south and dry to the north, La Nina winters will tend to be the opposite.

winter_lanina

This is reflected in NOAA’s graphical precipitation outlook for the winter.

noaa_winter2016_precip

However, this year’s La Nina is likely to be a weak one.  Both El Nino and La Nina can be strong, moderate, or weak, and the predictive power of the phenomenon is limited in cases when the anomalies are weak.  In these cases, I find it useful to look at other patterns that are beginning to emerge when speculating about long-range weather patterns.

Anomalies in Sea Surface Temperatures are the most commonly used data point when predicting weather long term.  This is because the ocean retains much more heat than land or air, making it more likely that the current pattern will persist for longer.  Ocean temperatures can also have a major impact on atmospheric circulation, as is evidenced by the El Nino phenomenon itself.

When looking at current SST anomalies, three patterns emerge as having the potential to impact the weather Colorado and the rest of Western North America will experience this winter.

2016_1026_WinterOutlook.png

First is the weak La Nina, whose impact would be more precipitation for the Northwest, but less for the Southwest.

Second is the abnormal warmth off the East Coast of North America.  This pattern emerged at the end of a summer that was hotter and drier than normal across much of the Northeast, a pattern that generally has continued, although they are currently experiencing a cold snap.  This warm anomaly, if it persists, would mostly likely lead to frequent northwesterly flow over Western North America, as the predominant pattern in winter is one called a wave #3 pattern.  This means three ridges and three troughs over the globe, a ridge to our west and a trough to our east.

The final temperature anomaly that appears to be in a crucial area are the warm anomalies off the coast of Alaska.  These warm temperatures could strengthen a phenomenon known as the “Aleutian Low”, which would act to steer wet weather into the Pacific Northwest.  Under this scenario, Colorado and the interior west will likely be drier.

All three phenomenon point to, although not with too much confidence, more frequent northwesterly flow across the state.  This pattern tends to be dry in Colorado overall, but, as pointed out by Joel Gratz, is a favorable wind direction for upslope storms at ski resorts along the I-70 corridor, including Vail, Copper Mountain, and Breckenridge.

With La Nina being weak, and the other two SST warm anomalies (see map above) being in close proximity to areas of cool anomalies, there is low predictive power to this seasonal forecast.  Any scenario is still possible.  However, signs are pointing, generally, towards a dry winter for much of the west, particularly the Southwest, and a wet winter in the Northwest.  Locally, in Colorado, the most likely scenario is a mixed bag for the ski resorts, with the storms that do occur favoring the corridor of popular resorts near I-70 1-2 hours west of Denver.

IMG_5124.jpg

And a warm and dry winter on the East side of the Continental Divide.

IMG_5454.jpg

(Note: the two photos above are from the previous winter season)