The following story is drawn from Steamboat Springs resident, Eugene Buchanan‘s latest work Tales From A Mountain Town. The book is a laugh-out-loud collection of short stories, musings, and essays by someone who’s called the Rockies home for 25+ years.
Call Me Urban Sluff
“Excuse me, do you know where I can find any dorky lines?”
The man rolling down his car window while dropping his daughter off at Strawberry Park Elementary is a friend, but it doesn’t dampen the dorkiness I feel from the question. It’s become my scarlet letter, and one of which I’m not particularly proud. What, exactly, constitutes a dorky line? That’s a question that comes later in the day from a ski patrol friend. Though you won’t find them in any guidebook, the answer, in a nutshell, is threefold: high visibility tracks, easy accessibility and a maximum 15 turns.
They’re those lines around town that no one else in their
right mind thinks of, largely because they’re too…dorky.
Some are next to buildings, others thread their way down to softball fields. Some tally 10 turns, others only five after bushwhacking through scrub oak. They’ve even earned such names as the Hamburglar Couloir and Big and
Little Gulp. Examples include the gradual slope below the Grand Summit, the north-facing steps at the rodeo grounds, even the power line
coming off Emerald that crosses the skate-skiing tracks.
Buy the complete collection: Tales From A Mountain Town [Musings From 25 Years Of Living In The Colorado Rockies]
What they all share is accessibility and visibility. Townies can see the tracks returning home from work, joggers can see them from the bike path and parents can ogle them when returning from day care. They’re the type, say, that you might see from your workplace window and decide to bag at lunch. And, unfortunately, they’re the type that can hypothetically cause your name to be broadcast to media outlets across the country, invoking long-lost friends to post FaceBook messages linking to an AP story alongside the statement, “Looks like Eug is still getting after it.”
It all started innocently enough one Thursday afternoon when I got a call from snowboard buddy Johnny St. John at work at the Little Red House on Oak Street. “Want to go bag a few dorky lines during lunch?”he asked. If ever there was a bountiful snowfall year to pursue them this was it, with a record November and near-record December and January.
Next thing you know, we’re trudging up the east face of the North Emerald Couloir, with base camp support vehicles stationed 40 vertical feet below the arête-flanked summit. We even came up with an acronym to support our mission: DORKs (Dads On ReKon). Warm temperatures had annihilated the snowpack, but not before we descended the peak’s precipitous northwest ridge. Adrenaline-addled, we then went for the crown jewel: the
Double Z face, akin to Ed Viesturs bagging two 8,000-meter peaks, Lhotse and Everest, on the same expedition.
We glassed it from the road, scouted our line—including a mandatory air off a rock-lined cornice—and then ascended once again, without even any supplemental oxygen. We planned our ski and skied our plan.
Everything went fine until my third turn—which happened to be about halfway down—and the slope let loose. Though I’ve seen bigger sloughs in my sugar bowl, the slope fractured into a Mini Me of an avalanche, wiping out our tracks. While we had planned to dine on the Double Z deck after work, toasting our sinuous curves, our itinerary vanished with the snow now lying in a debris pile at the slope’s bottom. That would have been the end of it, our dorky line dying in peace, were it not for a local reporter who caught wind of our exploits and ran a stop-the-presses piece on page two of the paper the next day. “Buchanan and St. John have formed a midday habit of looking for a little powder during the lunch hour,” the piece read.
“They ski on small slopes they describe as ‘dorky lines.’ As they came over the ridge and around a small fir tree, the slope let loose. Neither of them were caught or injured in the slide, which broke away below them and slid about 60 feet down the western edge of the Howelsen Hill area. Wet-slab avalanches are most likely to occur during warm weather when the snowpack doesn’t freeze hard during the night. It creates instability between the layers of snow, and the lower layer no longer is able to support the layer above…”
He might not have taken twenty-seven color eight-by-ten photographs with circles and arrows on them as happened to Arlo Guthrie in Alice’s Restaurant, but he did call in an avalanche expert who rated the slide a one on a scale of five, and even secured a second source from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. “The fracture line was not smooth,” the story read, “indicating cohesion among the grains of snow was low.”
Our infamy would have stayed confined to town had the same reporter not posted it to the wire. Denver’s Channel 4 and 9 News picked it up the next day, and the Associated Press distributed it across the country. “Urban Avalanche!” the headlines blared, reciting testimony from the avalanche expert. Then Brian Harvey’s Pirate and Yesterday newspaper parodied the piece, showing a photo of a snowboarder upside-down in a trash dumpster after riding “dorky lines off downtown rooftops into trash bins.”They called me BlueJean Youcannon and expounded upon how the landing-zone dumpsters had become dense and unstable. As with Steve Martin finally making the phone book in The Jerk, I like to think that you’ve made it in life when you get parodied in a paper. But chagrin comes with such celebrity.
You field embarrassing questions when dropping your daughter off at school; live with demeaning nicknames like Urban Sluff, which a Howelsen Hill ski patrol still calls me to this day; and you get on your college buddies’ radars again, not from a notice in an alumni magazine about getting your PhD but from skiing a sophomoric ski line. Of course, even dorkdom has a silver lining.
“Look at it this way,” said a friend after watching the results from the Olympics in Torino. “At least you satisfied the Steamboat media vacuum from the Olympics.”
By Eugene Buchanan