Deep Tuesday – A Wolf Creek Ski legend
By Norm Vance with Jay Gallagher
Once upon a time in a land far far above the plains and valleys of mother earth there was an amazing snowfall that few people ever experience. The land, Wolf Creek Pass, has long been known for the earliest and best powder snow and for “the most snow in Colorado.” It can get very cold at the crest of the Continental Divide and when a moist cloud moves overhead, tiny flakes condense and drift down as powder snow. On a quiet Tuesday night, some years ago, such conditions occurred and a snow fell of most unusual proportions.
The snow was discovered early in the morning by the first shift of the Wolf Creek Ski Patrol. One of these was Jay Gallagher and he related the following story:
Jay was inline to measure and monitor the snow before the patrol used explosives to remove possible avalanches. He measured the snow for water content. It came out at 7/10s of an inch of water. Then the calculation began. “HUMmmm,” Jay realized, the snow was less than four percent water. That meant it was ninety-six percent AIR! “Wow,” Thought Jay, “This is one light powder storm — and it is still snowing.” It was DEEP and getting DEEPER!
The patrol went to the top and began blasting avalanche paths. They were amazed to find the explosives went off and nothing happened. Craters were blown in the powder but it was too light to avalanche!
That was enough for Jay, and he made a ski cut across one of the slopes. The fluffy snow rose up his chest, into his face and over his head. This was not just “face shots” like skiers often get at Wolf Creek, it was continuous and choking and blinding. One of Jay’s partners came down and hollered, mostly out of fear, while gasping for breath, “I couldn’t see, this is unbelievable!”
They hurried down for another lift to the top and ran into another patrol team. They were covered with snow, dumbfounded, speechless and caught in the sheer ecstasy of the moment. When they could speak they yelled, “CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?”
Across the face of the ski area no one could get to the bottom without choking, coughing and spitting snow. Finally Jay and the team met at the bottom where the ski instructors and local “powder hounds” were gathered. “How is it?” They asked. The patrol team just looked at each other and giggled. One exclaimed, “You better have a snorkel.”
The chairlift rides that Tuesday were as exciting as the runs, watching people coming down completely submerged in snow, stopping, choking and screaming. They looked like fast snow gophers!
Jay figured out the ski instructions for the day; skip the trees and stay with the open bowls and faces, pull a neck gaiter up over your nose, look down for obstacles and realize you are not going to see anything until you’re at the bottom.
Jay was ready, he took some long breaths and “dove in.” He saw nothing but white for the entire run and heard shouts from skiers above on the lift, “My God, look at that.”
There was an additional foot on the gauge by noon and the atmosphere was ecstatic, there was a shared and continuous adrenalin rush on the mountain that day. Everyone agreed it was the powder day of all powder days.
Toward the end of the day Jay was riding up with a local “powder junkie” and inquired how long he had been skiing. The junky said, “Twenty-four years.” Jay asked him how many days he had like this one. The Junkie thought and very seriously stated, “One.”
Jay agreed, it was the best day of his life also.