Forecast models had been anticipating this storm for over a week; a power-packed incursion of Pacific moisture set to blast its way through a persistent ridge of high pressure arcing over the western United States and distribute a much-needed refresh to the interior mountain ranges from Montana to New Mexico. Hell yes. We’d been watching it closely, compulsively checking the forecast every few hours to see what local area might have the highest payout. In Colorado, by and large, it appeared the southern mountains would bare the brunt of the storm. There was an outside chance that the far northern ranges could top the charts if a forecasted intense band of snow panned out. The folks manning the weather stations said it could approach 30 inches.
Despite what your mother taught you, last minute decision-making does sometimes pay off. With an air of confidence we made the call to book it north, avoiding the Interstate 70 rigmarole and instead passing through sleepy cow towns under overcast skies at the foot of the northern Front Range. We passed the foothills’ threshold and followed the Cache la Poudre River high into the mountains that straddle the Colorado and Wyoming border. I couldn’t help but muse a bit over the subtle and unintended double meaning of the river’s name, given by French fur trappers for a secret supply of gunpowder stashed along the river’s braided channel. Today, though, we were after the area’s other powder cache–the ultra-light, fluffy white kind that falls from the sky and was stacking up higher and deeper in the alpine basin that forms the river’s headwaters.
We arrived at our destination in the midst of a blinding snowstorm to a buried trailhead and forest turned to powder-cloaked minarets. We slapped skins on skis and followed a thin and rapidly fading skin-track into the woods. It was a good day to stay down low, in the trees, off those steep, testy open faces. Besides, the forest gives the blur and whirl of the storm edges and greater definition. From the top of our line where the trees became stunted and the wind howled we took a moment to pause and appraise the moment, one that comes a time or two each winter, to watch the snow falling down around us, before taking the plunge deep into over-the-head heaps of seemingly bottomless “Wyo-rado” powder.