Whit’s End: Goodbye to snow sports, hello to a social spring | PostIndependent.com

Whit’s End: Goodbye to snow sports, hello to a social spring

“We arrive on the snow and ice in company and end in finding ourselves alone.”

I bet that’s a familiar scene for many in Garfield County and its surroundings. Throughout the winter, friends and I would coordinate schedules as we turned our attention to the slopes. The night before we would discuss departure times. Would we eat breakfast individually or at one home? Should we take one car or two? Come morning, we’d slurp down cups of coffee and pull on layers, steeling ourselves for a day in a frozen winter wonderland.

Even on days when the group swelled to six or more people, I didn’t mind. I knew this introvert would soon find all the space she needed on the mountain.

New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik uttered those words as he spoke about sports during a recent Aspen Words talk. His 2011 book “Winter: Five Windows on the Season” explores the season’s recreation, among other things, and Gopnik spoke at length about liberation found in solitude.

It seems appropriate for a season when so much of nature is quiet, turned back inward before the vibrant rebirth that accompanies spring. Races bring people together, and hockey relies on team effort. But so much of winter sporting is necessarily individual. We hurtle down mountains on small boards, and a healthy distance reduces the likelihood of calamity.

My friends and I would meet at the lodge for midday communion, pausing the adventure to scarf down a hot dog and quaff a beer. Then we would break off again, some returning to the lifts in pairs and others, including me, often opting for a solo route.

I again reflected on this seasonal hand-off during a visit to Rifle Mountain Park. Rifle Climbing Guides owner Joda Hankins and a client, Brooke Lockard, invited me to join one of their sport climbing sessions. Although the calendar indicated a change of season, the weather hadn’t quite caught up; our climb was punctuated by chilly gusts of wind and icy rain.

Even so, the sport couldn’t be more different from sailing solo down a slope. Lockard scaled the limestone wall with Hankins shouting encouragement and advice from below. Sport climbing requires the climber to rely on the belayer below. The two are in constant communication, whether verbally or through the rope that connects them.

For weeks I’ve mourned the April 1 conclusion of Sunlight Mountain Resort’s winter season. Skiing is the most enjoyable activity I’ve experienced and one of the top reasons I live in Colorado. But there’s so much joy to be found in the warming days and interactions with the people around me, whether that’s while climbing an intimidating wall of rock or hiking a mountain path.

Whatever the sport, whatever the season, Gopnik described the appeal beautifully: “We throw our bodies to the wind and find our souls outdoors.”

Carla Jean Whitley has been told repeatedly that people move here for the winter and stay for the summer. She’s ready to see that firsthand. Contact her at cj@postindependent.com.

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