Telluride Reaps the Benefits of El Nino’s Early Snow

It’s not hard for Telluride locals to find a reason to celebrate. Just say Bluegrass, The Ride Festival, or ski season and smiles appear and spirits soar. There are few who can deny that Telluride is the land of hedonists. But, if you really want to see this town dance, just say “powder day,” stand back, and let the party begin.

Powder is to Telluride as Mardi Gras is to New Orleans, New Year’s Eve is to Times Square, and clubbing is to Miami. It’s why people live here and why people come here. It’s why, when you go to a local business at 8 am when there is 8 inches of new snow, the store is locked and the sign says, “Powder Morning, Be Back at 11:00.” It’s the town’s therapy, workout, and cocktail hour rolled into one.

In a normal year, the true full-blown powder day happens once every few weeks. It’s occasion to get a sitter, show up late to work (or not at all), close the store, and blow off all responsibility. However, this year, in December and January, it was the norm.

It snowed and snowed and never stopped. Those who followed the prescribed powder day protocol weren’t missing days, but weeks of work, neglecting to pay bills, and leaving phone calls unanswered from the previous night’s escapades. Snow banks towered over the streets, school was called off, and the mountain and all who skied it were stoked. Powder became the norm in Telluride and many people got addicted.

In the first week of December 5 inches fell, the second another 10’, then 15’, then 47’. The town was ecstatic. Strangers bought each other beers, kids gave up their seats for the elderly on the bus, cats and dogs slept together. Then came January and the same thing. Nine inches, 21 inches, 12 inches, then 17.

It was El Nino, the year to ski endless untracked powder and hear old timers liken it to that winter back in ‘94. Powder was so common that people actually went to work when it snowed because they knew the next day it was just going to snow some more.

Since February the big storms have subsided, but the early season massive dumps have provided a deep cold base that is preserving the early season snow and making the smaller subsequent storms seem a whole lot bigger.

With the March sun, skiers are replacing the new school technical gear worn in the early storms for old school Obermeyer sweaters and vintage down vests. They’ve traded their goggles for their shades. But they’re still showing up every day, to ski the snow that covers the mountain and continues to fall — that same snow that will be the center of the stories that will be told years from now about that epic El Nino season in the winter of ’16.