Mountain Mumbles

Kids participate in races during Mud Day in Westland, Michigan. The annual event, which is sponsored by the Wayne County Parks Department, takes place in a giant mud pit, giving children the opportunity to get down and dirty.

Last week I rode my bike on dry gravel roads in shorts and a T-shirt. Birds sang, and I imagined that I saw leafy buds on the trees in the yard, sprouts of green from the flower beds. Then it rained, and then snowed, and then rained again, and then did both at the same time for quite a while. In fact it’s still snowing as I write this. And I remembered that it’s April in the Tetons and the first few hints of spring are just bait that the weather gods put out there, trying to lure unsuspecting innocents into shedding a few layers and putting their insulated jackets into storage.

Restaurants and businesses around town delicately refer to this time of year as the “offseason.” Others call it “mudseason,” and most outdoorsy people I know call it some combination of profane adjectives that’s not appropriate for newspaper consumption.

Until this year I understood the angst, but I didn’t really sympathize with it that much. Growing up we had much longer offseasons, months at a time where there wasn’t anything available to ski and everything was too wet to ride bikes. At the time that was convenient; mudseason lined up well with school finals so decreased recreation time helped my grades.

I know plenty of people who just skip town during the offseason. Most of them head to the desert, or home to visit family, and a fair number take off for warmer climes. Their social media photos transition seamlessly from ski shots to beach photos to biking and running, without any time wasted in this slushy purgatory. I did that the first few years I lived here. I’d ski closing day, pack my bags and head west in search of more skiing. I chased bigger ski missions in Washington and Oregon before heading back to the Tetons, tuning up my bike, and trying to get into pedal shape.

For a lot of people that sort of vacation just isn’t possible. Not everyone’s work schedule is determined by the changing tides of resort room occupancy and lift tickets sold. Luckily, though, this part of the world isn’t so bad, even in the thick of mudseason. A lot of that is thanks to its central location. Once the allure of skiing local mountains has been tarnished by a grime of slushy snow and expired sunscreen, there’s a plethora of other options. While a full-on vacation might be out of the cards, it’s remarkable how many worthwhile attractions lie within a weekend trip from home.

This weekend, for instance, we headed west to central Idaho. We piled into the truck after work on Friday, drove three hours west through Mackay, Idaho, pulled onto a dirt road, and drove until the road ran out and we hit the Lost River Range. Four hours after clocking out we were toasting Ullr around a campfire lit with a smoky disco ball. After a somewhat restless night of sleep on the heavily sloped campground we shouldered skis and headed up to ski Super Gully, the sort of aesthetic line I’m used to seeing from the highway and wishing I could stop to ski as I speed off to ski something farther from home.

I’m not sure what it is about driving a little ways that makes skiing and climbing a line so much more worth it than doing something closer to home, but in the case of Super Gully, that short drive really paid off. You’d have had to pay me to hike that much vert in Grand Teton National Park this weekend, but I was happy to lace up my approach shoes and bushwhack uphill with all my ski gear on my back, as long as the closest town had a restaurant featuring the signature seasoning of Arco’s Atomic Pickle.

The climb up Super Gully was beautiful, steep, winding through rock towers, with soft snow that was easy to break trail in. The ski down was less excellent. Hard at the top, terrifyingly soft at the bottom, with a brief section in the middle that was actually enjoyable. As we hoisted skis and boots back onto our backs for the downhill bushwhack back to the truck we congratulated ourselves on avoiding the mudseason blues. Down in Mackay we downed margaritas while we discussed how to escape the next weekend of mudseason.

According to social media a fair number of my friends had taken off to warmer climes, complete with white sand beaches and crisp blue waves.

I don’t care. We’ve got weekend escapes aplenty here, and a margarita earned skiing is just as sweet as one ordered from the beachside bartender.

Cy Whitling writes every other week on living and playing in the mountains. Contact him via

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