I have a love-hate relationship with snow. I long for it all winter, keeping an intimate knowledge of the forecast mentally cataloged, counting every inch as it falls. But by the end of April I’m usually ready for it to be gone. Not melting, but gone, all the way. The sun is out, the grass is growing, the flowers are blooming and I want to get back up into the mountains without the silly skis and uncomfortable boots.
I want to run high in Grand Teton National Park, and ride my bike in the Big Holes, but instead I’m relegated to riding the bike path, and running suicides in the vacant lot behind the skate park.
Last spring I just ignored the white-capped mountains and went for it anyway. We spent a ridiculous amount of our mountain time walking uphill through snow, walking downhill through snow, and my personal favorite, walking with a bike in snow. I came to expect some sort of run-in with snow every time we left the house, and I got really good at running downhill at the edge of control, sliding as I sunk knee deep at every step.
This year we’ve been a little more patient so far. We’ve stuck to lower trails, waited till others have ridden or run our routes and plied them for trip reports. There have been fewer multi-hour snow slogs; they’ve been replaced with quick traverses of the few patches left in the shade at lower elevations.
We’ve still had our run-ins, though. Two weeks ago a bike ride in the Caribous turned to snow two-thirds of the way up. I started pushing my bike without even thinking, falling back into the familiar, terrible rhythm. My riding partners had to remind me that there was no point in pushing forward when we’d be coming back down the same way. It doesn’t matter how good a trail’s descent is, when it’s under a few feet of snow they all suck on a bike.
We bailed, rode mostly dry trail back down, drank beers at the car, and laughed about how much stupid snow walking we’ve done. Last week I left the state for warmer pastures, rode my bike in hills that have never seen snow and came home to a sweltering midsummer feel in the valley. So when we headed out on a long gravel ride, I didn’t think twice about the potential for snowy walking.
I didn’t wise up when we passed the first few patches left in shade, and kept on climbing. I didn’t wise up when I had to dismount and walk around a small patch, I just ignored it, hopped back on and pedaled on up.
I didn’t keep pedaling for long, though. We hit another patch. A real one this time, stretching all the way across the road, continuing on through at least the next turn. I caught a glimpse of the Tetons through the trees. Thick piles of clouds were building behind them, and I realized that what I’d been rationalizing as the beat of grouse wings in the woods had actually been thunder building. That’s when I remembered how I really feel about springtime snow.
We slogged on, pushing our bikes, wishing we had raincoats and praying that the road would clear up. It did, a few hundred yards of joyful pedaling before we slid back into a snowy morass. My new bike shoes hurt to walk in, my ankles were cold and I wished I’d brought more snacks. My water bottle was running dry and the bag of gummy worms in my jersey was seeming awfully small.
A few icy steps longer and I remembered the flip side of springtime snow drifts: It’s hard to run out of water when you’re surrounded by it. I filled my bottle with snow, shook it up, and trudged on. Soon the road cleared for good, the snowmelt-made mud dried out and we dropped into a long descent. As we whistled through the rolling corners, dodging potholes and bouncing through washboard, I sipped from my water bottle, a slightly pine needle-flavored shaved ice.
Lingering springtime snow will always draw out my ire, but at least you can eat it until it melts.