Last week was my first on snow after 19 straight months of summer. Three weeks ago, I packed up my childhood bedroom in Golden, Colorado and drove all the relevant belongings down to Telluride. But this journey didn’t begin three weeks ago. My research started almost two years ago with a visit to the resort on a pass comped by the ski patrol — a three-foot powder weekend. One more late-May visit on a cycling tour (the Telluride Ride) and I was sold. This past July, I started turning stones and discovered a bizarre fact: remote though it is, it’s incredibly difficult to find affordable, convenient housing in the Telluride area. The car-less vagrant I was, I jumped on the housing search post-haste. With luck I managed to find a three-walled loft bedroom despite the crisis and signed a lease in August; it was finally time to make good on the ski winter I’d been promising myself since I was 13.
I grew up in the mountains. My dad taught me how to snowboard as soon as we moved to Colorado from Cincinnati in third grade; it wasn’t long before he had to switch back to his native telemarks to keep up with me. In high school, I earned my OEC credential and became a volunteer alpine patroller, in no small part for the comp passes it would earn me at Copper and Loveland.
The source of my passion for the mountains is tricky to pin down but I suspect that it may stem from a unique fact about my childhood: I grew up in a home without a TV. My siblings and I found ourselves with an extra hour or two per day, of which I spent outdoors. In turn, my sense of adventure and self-reliance flourished. I loved the idea of being able to survive without relying on too much support. These ideals spawned a deep love for human-powered adventure and a lifelong relationship with the wilderness in its many forms began.
Every winter weekend through high school I’d be up at seven for a bowl of steel-cut oats, crawl into the bed of my dad’s pick-up and snooze up Floyd Hill and through Idaho Springs. He’d roust me with a knock just in time to slip into my layers and boots as we pulled into the Loveland parking lot. The lifts whisked us up to the sparkling alpine landscape where we could enjoy the high country with the usual risks mitigated. The feeling of freedom I got when we’d ride a gusty Lift 9 on a powder day up to the Continental Divide and free-fall in perfect control back down to the base folded a love for the sport into my developing constitution.
Then I got the hare-brained idea to go to college in New England. I’ve ridden less than 30 days in the past eight years. The telemark skis I got for my 18th birthday have mostly collected dust in the basement — my snowboard too. I traded the Rockies for the world: I spent my time exploring the globe for school, work, and pleasure.
Exactly a year ago. I was floating somewhere in the mid-Atlantic headed for St. Lucia from Spain. My father spent the middle 2000s caring for my ailing grandfather as Alzheimer’s disease corrupted his aging mind. Through the experience he reflected on how he intended to live his life and began to research what he should do with the money my mom and he had meticulously saved by keeping our family vacations domestic and relatively inexpensive. They finally decided on a chance to explore Europe aboard a sailboat for a few years then bring her home. It would be the ultimate exercise in self-reliance.
As his crew, I had the incredible privilege of exploring foreign coastlines — first we sailed Norway, the Baltic, and across Bay of Biscay via the British Isles. Then we plunged into the Mediterranean, through the Balearics, Malta, and all the way into southern Croatia: the Dalmatian coast. Last autumn we moved the boat back out and down to the Canaries, where we prepared and provisioned for our first ocean crossing. The voyage earned us the opportunity to explore the Windward and Leeward islands of the Caribbean — Mustique to the Bahamas. Yet in that nearly picture perfect tropical chain of semi-submerged mountains there was only one thing that could tug me out of the moment: Colorado was having its best winter in years. So I assessed my priorities and decided to keep my word to my pubescent self at the next available opportunity.
I had always intended to come home. This fall, wanderlust slaked for the time being, the moment was finally ripe for an extended spell in the mountains.
Driving into the box canyon up the San Miguel River on November 12, something seemed wrong — where was all the snow? It felt like September. The San Juans were bare, the forecast was in the 50s. Maybe I’d made the wrong choice? Maybe this relationship I remembered from my youth wasn’t so rosy? After all, I had only flirted with the high country, fleeing back down to the comforts of the city every time a dusky alpenglow would kiss the peaks. With time I tend to glaze over inadequacies, focusing on the positives. Perhaps I’d slathered on a little too much glaze? Commitment was never my strong suit, maybe this time was no different. I unloaded the car and set to settling in, trying to quell my doubts.
On the 14th fortune shifted. The snow started falling and didn’t stop. 60 inches fell in the past three weeks— Telluride’s snowiest November in a decade. By the time my sister and I loaded Lift 4 on opening day the coverage was sturdy on the groomers and the excitement in the life line was palpable. On Day 3 they opened the Apex Lift, serving a few ravines with double black terrain…open in November? It was bony to be sure, but that’s why I have a rock board — the foot-deep turns I got in the trees on Zulu Queen were well worth a few scratches. I proved to myself that the fire is still there, the coal folded into my constitution is still burning for the alpine winter.
I’m easing into this lifestyle. For the first time in my life, I’m actively trying to live intentionally. With any relationship, challenges arise. But I know beneath the frothing and uncertain surface that I am where I should be. My excitement is only being stoked: stories of road-side hot springs in Rico, the prospect of backcountry expeditions near Silverton, beautiful lines to be climbed, telemarks to be mastered, a newly-acquired snow kite to try out on Lizard Head Pass. I’m too comfortable with moving from place to place, living a non-committal lifestyle. There will always be trade-offs and compromises. I’m ready to make those sacrifices and to see just what they might earn me — a community, an active lifestyle, and a deepening sense of self-reliance.
Telluride, here I am.
To keep up with John Robison IV, be sure to Like him on Facebook.