The big, slippery problem with snow
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Snow fell and fell, and flew sideways, the whole weekend in Crested Butte. Lifts closed for high winds; vehicles disappeared within smooth white elephant-sized pods. White walls piled high on either side of the streets, hiding buildings from view. At the transit center, workers talked about the three tour buses that had gone off the road. One worker recalled a snowstorm 20 years ago, when playing children jumped out of second-floor windows, and a boy almost smothered. Three weeks before this, 84 inches had fallen.
Mike exulted at being in the mountains in a huge storm; I dreaded the return drive. In this banner, heavenly year of snow, the only reason I have wished for cessation is to clear the roads.
Having approached via the Black Canyon, we took the longer way home, through swirling, piling flurries blowing across the road, amid the twisting canyons to Montrose. We forged up McClure Pass after hearing it was open; we should have gone around clear to Grand Junction.
Hours later we would hear that McClure had gotten 26 inches. The fat flakes waved and raged, in columns; the road beneath our headlights was thick and uniform with deep white.
At times we saw ghosts of the tracks left by our friends Lori and Kim, traveling 10 minutes ahead. More often, we could barely see beyond the hood of our truck.
With the boys in the back, Roy, 11, asleep, we were alone, remote. Mike, who has lived in Colorado for 30 years, said, “I have never seen it snow like this.”
Flakes spun crazily at the windshield, sickening against the blackness, from two directions.
Once Mike said, disbelieving, “I can’t even tell if we’re moving.”
We crested the Pass, worrying now about avalanches, in blasting winds.
“What’ll we do if there’s an avalanche in the road?” Teddy, 14, asked.
Mike said, “Turn around and go back, I guess.”
Finally reaching home, we called other friends who’d returned variously from the same ski race, to check on each other.
Belinda said the drive was her worst in 25 years, that she’d actually stopped her car, gotten out, and felt the road with her feet.
“That drive,” said a friend, Steve, “set a new benchmark. In misery.”
Until I got home, that is.
Three days later, I drove upvalley, five seat-belted kids in the car, in the snow for ski-practice carpool. I told the boys I probably wouldn’t talk: “I need to concentrate.” Heavy on my mind was the dreadful accident near El Jebel two days before. I hunkered down in my lane, intending to be slow and steady, both hands clamped on the wheel.
A car passed me on the left, and just as it pulled ahead, started sliding, and possibly hit the snow-padded center guardrail. The rear fishtailed in a spray of snow. Then the car swung around and shot sideways, headfirst, toward our lane.
It all happened so fast I find it hard to remember all the frames. In a strange mixture of counterintuition and instinct, I sped up, which was the last thing I wanted to do, hoping not to slide, and got out of the way.
Roy, sitting behind me, looked down at the car’s hood as it receded, somehow missing our tail.
Then the car was behind me again, all of us with sledge-hammering hearts, and the kids were telling me to call the police.
I said no, automatically slowing down, considering what had just transpired. And then the driver suddenly buzzed out from behind me again, darting across the humps of show between lanes. I leaned on the horn, and she raised a hand in acknowledgment.
Teddy worried, “Mom, if you’d had an accident, the other parents would blame you!”
I said no, that people understand that sometimes you’re not doing anything wrong, and they knew I was cautious.
Tanner, 11, said loyally, “I’d tell them it wasn’t your fault!” He paused. “If I was alive.”
Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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