Winter is Coming…Hopefully


“Winter is coming.” This simple phrase made popular by the TV show Game of Thrones,is pervasive and overused.You’ll find ithashtagged and quoted on every Instagram post featuring autumn colors, dark skies, or the first white dusting of the season. The saying is also very true. It’s a mantra that every mountain person doesn’t need to be told. We just subconsciously know. The thought is embedded in our minds as soon as that first waft of cool air blows in on a late September breeze. This bellwether sign ignites a sense of panic in us. Not from fear of the impending onslaught of pumpkin spice products, or that Christmas will be vomited into chain stores the first week of October. Rather, our panic stems from an uncontrollable urge to get prepared. But as I write this, true winter is on the doorstep, and I haven’t done jack squat to get ready.

In years past, I’ve been obsessive with getting ready for winter. And I know I’m not the only one. I think this urge is like an internal alarm clock embedded in our DNA. Like a squirrel storing nuts, our ancient ancestors must’ve had honey-do lists a mile long to prepare for the cold and dark months. Animals had to be hunted and fish caught for dried meat. Mammoths killed for their hides to build shelter. Bears skinned for their coats to keep frigid air away from fragile human skin. Never mind what a time-consuming hassle it must have been to pack up your entire community and migrate toward warmer climes to wait out an ice-age winter. I think that instinct has been passed down to us over the eons.

Hell, even as late as the 1980s, winter prep meant survival in my own modern family. I spent my childhood summers stacking split logs in the wood shed to earn my allowance. Growing up in a trailer at 6,600 feet with no furnace, we only had a wood-burning stove to keep us warm. That meant months of splitting, hauling, and piling at least four cords of wood to last a single winter. Oh, and freaking out every time a black widow crawled up my sleeve. I absolutely hated this chore. But looking back, I appreciate what that labor meant. Now, the smell of wood smoke hanging in the air is the scent of a tough job completed.

But these days preparing for winter isn’t about survival. Instead it’s recreational. That ice-age instinct I fancy is no longer used to keep myself warm and alive. Now I use that compulsion to wax my skis or put snow tires on the Subaru. At least I did up until this winter.

It’s not for a lack of things that need to get done. I have stitching coming out of my ski gloves that need mending. My climbing skins must be re-glued. The compressed air tank in my avalanche pack needs refilling. All of my 13 skis, both backcountry and resort, require a tune up. I’m overdue to re-read Bruce Tremper’s book, Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain. And there are so many holes in the seat of my long underwear that it would be criminal of me to not try on several new pairs at REI (though I’ll probably not make a purchase and just re-hang them on the rack for someone else). But I’m not going to do any of those things because I’m not convinced that winter is coming, John Snow be damned.

Global warming, climate change, a plague of sunshine; whatever you want to call it, last winter in Utah was anything but. Ullr did not bless skiers with a powder-horn of plenty. Nay, he went one further and denied us the very thing that many moved to Utah to enjoy. Call me cynical, but last winter’s second-worst on record in terms of snowfall has made me… well… cynical.

So I’m done. This past fall after the leaves changed, cold rain fell, and I found half-eaten candy corn stuck in odd places, I committed to denying the internal clock. No more mountaintop hikes for Ullr supplication. No more burning skis in a pray-for-snow bonfire. No more wasting sacrificial whiskey to appease the snow gods. Hell, you won’t even find me at a ski-movie premiere.

Nope. This year I’m going for a foolhardy reverse-psychology. Autumn sweaters are staying in a bin under the bed. My bald truck tires will stay bald. I’m tossing out gear guides in ski-related magazines without reading them. I’m not even going to rake the leaves in my yard. I figure if I deny the existence of winter, then maybe this time it will actually arrive. Like how it always rains when you wash your car, I’m betting it will snow Armageddon if I choose not to put new batteries in my avalanche beacon.

This spring I’ll know if my experiment worked. If it does, you can thank me for the 700+ inches that should destroy Alta. I’ll be the one on the mountain wearing a shell that’s more duct tape than Gore-Tex, turning slowly on unwaxed skis while nursing frozen fingers. I will suffer the consequences for the greater good.

But after all those promises I’ve made about shunning anything related to winter prep, whether mental or physical, there is one thing I’m not giving up on. Even though it might mean my mountain man-card is in jeopardy of being revoked, there’s no way I’m giving up my pumpkin spice lattes.

Leave a Reply