For the past two springs I’ve done this thing where I leave the Tetons for a week to two, right around the end of April and the beginning of May. And while I hate leaving this area I’ve been surprised at what a boon these trips have been.
That’s not just because they offer a respite from the tedium of mud season — the awkward interlude between bike and ski season that some call “spring” — but mainly because it accentuates the rather aggressive shift of seasons that occurs here.
Case in point: I left on a Friday, spent a week in Oregon, and returned the next Thursday. The week before I left the Tetons it snowed every day, culminating in one of the deeper days I skied on Teton Pass this year. We toured, made the most of the lengthening days and daylight savings, and were on skis till almost 8 p.m., breaking trail through deep, fresh snow. At the end of April. The last time I drove the pass, headed to the airport, I was worried I might need chains. The trailer law was in effect, and traffic was slow and slippery. I hunched over the wheel, peering through the patch of windshield my defrost had cleared, and wore a puffy jacket onto the plane.
Fast forward a week, and I’m returning to the Tetons. As we flew north I was shocked at how much brown and green flashed in the hills. I was met by a warm breeze on the tarmac, and I shed my coat waiting for a ride back to my car in town. I checked the calendar: Yep, I’d been gone less than a week. It seemed a little surreal. Had I really just skied that snow a week ago? I mean, it had been, what, less than 144 hours. And here I was, wearing shorts and sandals, worried about a sunburn.
I picked up my car and headed back over the pass, remembering the sliding trucks and icy skids of my last trip. This time I rolled past Phillips Ridge with my windows down and my sweatshirt off, tempted to crank the air conditioning. As I cruised down sun-baked asphalt the snowy, stressful drive a week before seemed almost implausible, remembered only in the additional snow on the plow piles.
When I got home my ski boots were still a little damp in the toes. I’d left them in a rush without drying them, and the snow and sweat of that day on the pass still lingered. My skins were still hanging up, a testament to the weather of a week ago.
I looked at the last load of laundry I’d done before leaving: long underwear, insulating layers, ski socks, sweatshirts. My bedroom floor was still a mess of down and Gore-Tex, a sharp contrast to the birdsong coming through the open window. I pulled out shorts, T-shirts, even an ambitious swimming suit. If summer was here I was going to embrace it wholeheartedly.
That weekend I went on a run. As I wound up into the mountains we passed budding trees, the grass was almost painfully green, and the meadows were filling with flowers. It took us a long time to find snow, patches hidden in dark, sunless woods, and at the edges of clearings, shaded by thick trees. The dirty splotches of snow at higher elevations, more brown and gray than white, were tenuous reminders of winter, a far cry from the fresh blanket that engulfed town the day I’d left.
I pulled my boots and poles out of the car for the last time, hung my season pass by my desk and put my snow pants on a hanger. Then I dug for bike gear, swapped my long wool ski socks to short light ones, traded long underwear for a chamois, and a light jersey for my hard shell.
I don’t love leaving the Tetons, for a lot of reasons, but the one big perk of heading out for a while in the spring is that sometimes you get lucky and nature hits the “skip” button from winter to summer. So I’ll revel in the sun while I can, knowing full well that we’re sure to have a few more snowy days before true summer hits.