November in Gothic

On the second to last day of October I came across a set of bear tracks. My friend Richard and I had set out from Gothic on bikes and were six miles up valley when the snow became too deep to ride. The tracks appeared in the snow, large and clawed. Unmistakable. We followed them for over half a mile up the road until they meandered up the hillside. Strange, I thought, that the bear should be wandering up in elevation, into deepening snow. Surely it was focused foremost on food, in the midst of building the last of its fat layer before hibernating. What it hoped to find in the snow I know not.

Bear tracks are good reminder that there are animals out there that can kill you. Photo by Richard.

Now that November has come and gone, snow covers much of the land. I have seen no more bear tracks, but those of the fox, snowshoe hare and weasel are present wherever I go. Grass and old flower stalks poke through the snow, and the river is all but iced over. My olive oil freezes at night.

Like the bear, I had to make preparations for winter. Stacking wood and stocking my freezer were first on the list, and then came mounting my skis. I chose a pair of “cross-country downhill” skis, with 3-pin telemark bindings. I decided to use my dad’s old leather telemark boots because I figured if I was going to be a hermit in the mountains I might as well be an old-school hermit (beard still to come). These skis are significantly wider and have way more sidecut than classic nordic skis. They also have metal edges. This improves turning capabilities in deep, off-track snow. However, they also have a double camber and fish scales on the kick-zone, which makes them extremely efficient on flat and rolling terrain. All this adds up to the perfect tool for exploring the rolling, wooded terrain around Gothic (I’ve even made a couple videos of my outings, which you can watch here). These aren’t my only pair of skis, though–I also have two AT setups, one for general touring and one for racing. When in Rome, right?

Power tools and skis are a dangerous combination. I messed up on the first ski and had to drill it twice.


Gothic: site of The Rocky Mountain Ski Laboratory


My skis made easy work of a 14 mile outing to Schofield Park, Gothic’s gateway to the Maroon Bells and Aspen.


Someone’s cabin at the far end of Schofield Park. I wonder how much use it sees in winter? Maybe I’ll pay them a visit with chocolate chip cookies.


Cruising back down Gothic Road from Schofield Pass. Snow has the wondrous effect of making mountains appear larger, or at least more dramatic.


Another task that required completion before the snow became too deep was taking down the town’s barb-wire fence. During the summer and fall, Gothic is neighbor to a large herd of cattle. In order to preserve the integrity of our research we must keep them out of the townsite. Too much snow can destroy the fence, however, so it must be taken down for winter. This job was surprisingly enjoyable because its simplicity left the mind free to appreciate the newly snow-covered landscape. Plus, I had the company of my fellow caretakers, Alex and Kristi, who had just arrived a couple days before.

‘Gothic Fencing,’ chapter 1: I meet my long lost tree.


‘Gothic Fencing,’ chapter 2: The Fence is not just a fence. It is a journey, and the Path is often shrouded by doubt. Here, Kristi seeks heavenly guidance by making snow angels.


In the final chapter of ‘Gothic Fencing’ the caretakers brave nearly a foot of new snow.


Was our de-fencing premature?? Shortly after finishing the fence, a mysterious group of cows came into Gothic from up-valley, driven down by the snow. Thankfully, Alex and Kristi succeeded in herding them out after my attempt failed.


With our fence duties complete, we went on a cold and snowy fishing trip. My usual spots were close to being completely frozen over, and ice build-up on our lines made casting difficult. Needless to say, no fish were caught.


The rest of November passed quickly. With enough snow to ski and plenty of sci-fi page turners, boredom was, and still is, nonexistent. Also, I spent a week and a half in Boulder visiting friends and family for Thanksgiving. Oddly, it snowed more in Boulder than it did in Gothic while I was gone. I made a couple snowy runs up Green Mountain, and after a week away from running I was pleasantly surprised by a PR to the summit of Mount Sanitas.

Looking towards the Front Range from the summit of Green Mt in Boulder, CO


The shadow of Mt Sanitas over “NoBo,” Northern Boulder


I’m back in Gothic now, and things aren’t a whole lot different than when I left. Since so little snow fell in my absence, the road remains open–much to my dismay. I’m ready to be snowed in! I can’t complain though. There is still enough powder on shady slopes up valley to put a grin of pure joy on my face. That’s all I can ask for.

My first backyard powder laps of the season with Kristi (pictured) and Alex were rock-free and surprisingly good, despite running over lots of old grass and flower stalks.


The southeast side of Mt Baldy, which is the next mountain up-valley from Gothic. Baldy has been the site of several early season avalanches, both natural and human triggered, mostly on northern aspects.


Alpenglow on Gothic Mt, as seen during a short dawn patrol above town. Cold, but worth it.


Never gets old.


Skimo season is here! Get the gear you need, or better yet the gear your loved ones need, from SkimoCo, a small business based in Salt Lake City that is devoted to getting you up the mountain faster (so you can ski more powder).

Category: Adventures, Travel, & WritingSkiing


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