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Ski with love this snowy season in Vail, and be careful clearing snow, driving and going O.B.

February 10, 2020, 1:51 pm
The boys and I visiting Wayne Williams in Fraser on Feb. 1.

What an incredible snow event this weekend in the Vail Valley. Three feet have fallen since last Monday at Beaver Creek, and Vail has seen nearly 4 feet (44 inches to be precise) in that span.

But let’s be clear, from Thursday night on this was not your typical, light, dry, fluffy Rocky Mountain powder. Things got weirdly warm overnight and the winds started to howl – a combination that nearly brought Vail to its knees on Friday morning.

I was lucky enough to be at a first tracks event (lifts crank up an hour or so early) for the amazing Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley crew (please support their critical work) at Beaver Creek on Friday morning, and I was initially a little bummed because the Beav’ only reported 6 new while Vail was reporting 17 inches. And the high winds shut down all the upper lifts at the Beav’.

But, of course, the same was true at Vail – a mountain that skis very differently without the Back Bowls and Blue Sky open. Plus, everybody and their dog (and kids because Eagle County Schools called a rare snow day Friday) headed to Vail for some of that 17 inches of pow.

However, as mentioned, it wasn’t exactly champagne. It was more like wind-blown custard. Then, with the bowls finally open and Denverites getting a clearer shot after avy work shut down I-70 on Friday, the hordes truly descended on Saturday, with lift lines up to an hour in the back.

I avoided that and instead headed up late Sunday after everyone had returned to the eastbound parking lot that was I-70 and it was uncrowded, still snowing (with another 5 on the Sunday morning report) and way easier to ski, although Blue Sky still wasn’t open.

While it’s great to have all this additional snowpack (my driveway and back could use a break though), last week’s weather was weird. I’ve been here since 1991 and experienced strange snow events – Pineapple Express storms from the tropics, for instance — but rarely have I seen so much warmth and moisture in two consecutive seasons.

Last spring, I wrote for the Colorado Springs Gazette about climate change altering our snowpack with more mid-season rain and heavier dumps landing on an unstable base. That led to a record avalanche cycle last spring, and we just saw another slide onto I-70 out of this storm. Think long and hard (and consult CAIC) before heading into the backcountry right now.

The high moisture content of this last storm also made the roads particularly slick and unpredictable, with lots of accidents, stuck vehicles and road closures. And there are several more storms in the short- and longer-term forecasts for Colorado’s high country, according to Opensnow.com.

One other factor is we have a lot of snow-loaded roofs right now, including mine in EagleVail. Call in the professionals before you try to get up there and shovel some of that off or get rid or ice dams on your own – something I’ve been doing all season.

It’s just not worth it, because the results can be catastrophic. You can fall, or you can release all of that snow above you and get swept. Trained workers with climbing harnesses, ropes and ice axes are well worth the expense this time of year.

I remain deeply saddened for the Shiffrin family and so heartened by the outpouring of love coming into the Vail Daily and on my own website here at RealVail.com. Many people have wanted to know exactly the nature of the accident that claimed the life or Jeff Shiffrin the weekend before last, and social media and other sources have speculated it was a snow-clearing accident on their roof.

I’m glad no journalists have been pushing to confirm those rumors and that the media have respected the request from the Shiffrins for privacy, but I for one will not be going out on my roof anymore this season as a result, and all of us mountain-dwellers should take that to heart.

I never met Jeff but interviewed his daughter a few times, and, in all my years of talking to top athletes at multiple Winter Olympics and in a wide range of other sports, have never encountered an athlete so respectful of the media, so passionate about her sport and so generally nice to everyone from fans to the workers who toil, often for free, to put on international events.

Jeff must have been an amazing guy to raise such a wonderful daughter. If you haven’t already, please read Chris Freud’s heartfelt letter to the Shiffrins in the Vail Daily, and this beautiful profile in The New York Times.

The Shiffrins will be having a private service but asked for donations to the U.S. Ski Team at donations.usskiandsnowboard.org and the Alzheimer’s Association at alz.org instead of flowers.

Also go onto Mikaela’s Twitter feed for some beautiful words and perspective from a grieving daughter. “This sport we are so passionate about — this sport our father/husband was so passionate about — is an incredible source of healing and the mountains offer overwhelming solace during this devastating time,” Shiffrin’s team tweeted on Sunday.  

The weekend of Jeff’s death I was in Grand County for my son’s high school Nordic race, and between the morning classic and the afternoon skate we drove to my dad’s burial place at the Fraser Cemetery right across from the tubing hill (he was a passionate skier and judge there for more than 30 years before succumbing to Non Hodgkin Lymphoma), and nearly six years after his death I still miss him a lot.

You just want to be able to call and ask a question, get some historical perspective on a world gone seemingly mad, or just talk sports. He was an avid sports fan with a massive memorabilia collection that contained the signatures he wrote away for or got in person at events or signings over many decades.

And in that collection were signatures I got him from Lindsey Vonn to Bode Miller to Tommy Moe. Unfortunately, I never landed him a Mikaela signature, but he would have loved one, and even more than that he would have enjoyed meeting her and seeing that one of the greatest of all time in her sport is also one of the most humble and down to earth.

It doesn’t matter what happens the rest of the season, but I suspect Mikaela will be back soon and racing twice as hard for her dad. Over this past weekend, Italy’s Federica Brignone closed the gap in the overall chase to 145 points. Mikaela is still in the lead as she goes for an American record fourth straight.

Next up is Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, for a giant slalom on Saturday, Feb. 15, and a slalom, Sunday, Feb. 16. Then there are only four regular-season events before World Cup Finals in Cortina, Italy, March 16-22.

Mikaela has a lot of that Bode Miller fire in her, talking at length about the most detailed technical aspects of her sport. She also has a flair for the dramatic, and a competitive fire that burns through great adversity. Miller also suffered great personal loss during and after his career, and he has survived it all to cement his legacy as the greatest American man on skis.

Mikaela is well on her way to becoming the greatest woman in the world on skis — and so much of that clearly came from her dad, Jeff, and continues to come from her mom, Eileen, who also made sure she’s a great person. Heed Mikaela’s advice the rest of the season and ski and live life with great love.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is the editor and co-founder of RealVail.com and has had his awarding-winning work (see About Us) published in more than 75 newspapers and magazines around the world, including 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), the Anchorage Daily Press (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Boulder Daily Camera, the Casper Star Tribune (Wyoming), the Chicago Tribune, Colorado Central Magazine, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Newsline, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Cortez Journal, the Craig Daily Press, the Curry Coastal Pilot (Oregon), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Del Norte Triplicate (California), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Gazette, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, Explore Big Sky (Mont.), the Fort Morgan Times (Colorado), the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), the Kingman Daily Miner (Arizona), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the Las Vegas Sun, the Leadville Herald-Democrat, the London Daily Mirror, the Moab Times Independent (Utah), the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), the Montrose Daily Press, The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, the Rio Blanco Herald Times (Colorado), Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), the Salt Lake Tribune, SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Sky-Hi News, the Steamboat Pilot & Today, the Sterling Journal Advocate (Colorado), the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Health Magazine, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail, Westword (Denver), Writers on the Range and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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