I stand on the edge of the wilderness as the late afternoon glow hits the peaks. Clouds hug the tops of the mountains, signaling the incoming storm. The wind is cold, and the snow blows across the peaks in delicate wisps. It has felt like a long winter, with weekly storms and, more recently, lots of wind. Durango Weather Guy calls it “snow fatigue” but in moments like these, deep into winter, the snow and its beauty are undeniable and not to be forgotten when the next blizzard hits.
As the Snow Ambassador for San Juan Mountains Association this winter, I’ve watched hundreds of people take off into the hills around Andrew’s Lake. For some, it is their first time out in the backcountry in winter and others have lost count. But no matter their level of experience, they are just happy to be outside. Since visitation to the San Juans doesn’t stop during these snowy days, neither does SJMA’s outreach and education efforts. My role is to provide visitors with forest and backcountry information from winter recreation opportunities to daily CAIC avalanche forecasts. Most people are just wondering where to go, some are interested in what I’m doing, but most people, especially outside of the parking lot, are just looking for some quietude or a chance to catch up with a companion.
I hear the word “playground” used a lot to describe the mountains and the word “playing” to describe our connection to these places, but I think in many ways those words degrade the importance of this land and of our responsibility in protecting it. This isn’t a playground, but the lifeblood to the Four Corners. Without the snow to fill the headwaters of our rivers, we, as a species, wouldn’t be able to survive here. After all, the water that fills our cup and keeps our gardens alive comes from high in these peaks.
It’s easy to become apathetic these days but when I ask myself what else I can do to help the aching planet, the only answer is to show people the beauty of these mountains. We all together have to be stewards of the land, this is not just my job, but it’s everyone’s who steps out into these mountains.
I’ve crisscrossed the San Juans many times by foot: long ridgelines, big peaks, even bigger fields of wildflowers and hundreds of miles of untracked snow across the wilderness; and have developed a relationship with the topography akin to the closest friendship. Through the highs and lows of life the mountains continue to inspire and motivate me to keep moving forward. This land gives me so much and in an effort to not just take from it, I hope I can give back by helping people find their own relationship with this landscape.
And back to all the snow this season, if you too are experiencing snow fatigue right now just remember that the spring skiing, river season and wildflowers come July will be incredible. The snow will keep us afloat for another summer as our climate changes and our weather systems vary greatly. A reminder to myself that we are lucky to have such regular storms and they will surely blossom into a magical summer.
Hannah Green is the Snow Ambassador for San Juan Mountains Association.