Mud season has its sunny side in ski country |

Mud season has its sunny side in ski country

Scott Willoughby
The Denver Post
Vail, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark FoxA pair of broken ski poles lays in the dirty snow at the Base of Peak 8 Wednesday, serving as a reminder of the ski season is over.

VAIL – While most of the world enjoys the four seasons throughout the year, Colorado is blessed with a fifth. Mud season is in full swing now that the vast majority of the state’s ski areas have shuttered their lift shacks.

And man, does it feel good.

For ski-town residents, there will always be a sentimental sorrow associated with the passing of winter. Most folks who choose to live at elevations upward of 8,000 feet – where real Colorado winter occurs – do so because they appreciate the elements that define such places. By elements, I mean winter. And by winter, I mean snow, and the cold temperatures necessary to see it fall and stick to the ground for roughly six months out of the year.

Yet for all but the most grizzled of snow-country dwellers, appreciation eventually morphs into animosity by the end of the snow season. And by the time the resorts shut down in April, there’s nothing most locals appreciate more than watching the snow melt away to mud. Gooey, gloppy, glorious mud.

It isn’t an actual affinity for wet, brown dirt that gets their ya-yas out, spa types notwithstanding. It’s more of a symbolic thing. Generally speaking, mud season means freedom. Freedom from winter’s grip on the mountains, from the rigid oppression of ski boots and ice scrapers, maybe even from punching the clock for one more day of seasonal employment.

In their place is the promise of longer, warmer days to come, flip-flops by the campfire and hopefully enough time after a hectic winter to relax and check on a vacation somewhere in the dried-out dirt – or sand.

Most longtime mountain locals tend to jump the gun on mud season a little bit these days, packing up bikes and boats and assorted seasonal sundries to head to the dry heat of the desert for long weekends even before the resorts shut down. As spring breakers crush the tiny towns of Summit County, Vail and Steamboat Springs, the locals seek out breathing room away from the slopes with hopes the sunshine will cooperate.

Those who can’t enjoy such an early exit strategy find themselves making a break for it just as soon as opportunity allows – like right now – for a paddling trip in Westwater Canyon or at least an afternoon in the Coors Field Rockpile. Even after the worst winter, Denver doesn’t really see a mud season.

But mud season isn’t all about pulling up your roots and making a run for the sun. Perhaps the greatest appeal to this informal interlude on the calendar arrives in the opportunity to simply take back your town after renting it out to the masses to do with it as they please for the winter. Parking spaces are once again available (and free!), restaurants drop their prices in hopes of attracting you back to now-vacant tables and you might actually recognize the person standing in the short line in front of you at the grocery store.

The cost, of course, is that mud season in the mountains isn’t exactly postcard material most days. There’s still plenty of opportunity for snow and, more likely, rain on plenty of cold, dreary days better suited to steam-cleaning the carpets than hitting the trail for a bike ride.

But in between those dismal days, the sun always comes back out, a little stronger and a little longer than the last time. You might take a stroll down by the river to watch the rapids rise or up the hill to see the first round of wildflowers pop out of a meadow just days before covered in snow. It’s transition time, and about as exciting and dynamic as the outdoor world can be.

So here’s to another mud season and the hope and anticipation it always brings. The skis aren’t put away for good just yet, but the bike has a fresh tune and the boat is about to get wet. All that’s left to do is polish up a few dormant skills. Somehow, they always seem to get a little dusty this time of year.

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