It’s early January and so far, Salt Lake and the Wasatch Mountains are verging on the wrong kind of snow records. We’ve been flirting with record low season-to-date snow totals, and before this weekend’s “storm” (5-10 inches, at best), the mountains were shockingly bare. The skiing has been "meh" at best and while early season ice was actually decent, a few especially warm weeks in late December hammered things pretty hard. Where was my winter?! Where were the huge powder dumps, pre-work dawn patrols on the nearest ice? Heck, I was even missing the screaming barfies just a little. And then I started thinking back on previous winters in Salt Lake, all the way back to my first winter here.
My husband Rick and I moved out from Maryland in 2002. At the time, we didn’t ski or ice climb, so we were here for the rock. I had no idea how unusual our first winter would prove to be--and how it must have been very much like the 2011-2012 season unfolding so far. At the time, I was clueless about the fact that it wasn’t normal to be bouldering in Little Cottonwood Canyon in t-shirts on the weekend of the winter Outdoor Retailer show (at least, not without having to cover the boulders in tarps or shovel snow off them first) or that getting out on dry rock in American Fork nearly every weekend was not, in fact, how future winters would unfold.
It’s funny--had that first winter been “typical,” I probably would have spent it complaining about how the rock was always wet and how it was too cold to climb--I had no interest in ice or snow. After almost 10 years of living in this outdoor mecca, I’ve expanded my horizons and now relish winter’s change of pace, with ski tours and days on the ice that leave you tired and fulfilled in completely different ways than the long days of summer rock. With these new loves come new expectations, and so I found myself grumbling about this year’s warm, dry conditions. Then I chatted with a friend who had moved to SLC around the same time I did. Unlike me, he was a skier (well, boarder), and so he remembers clearly just how frustratingly dry and warm our first winter here was. I remembered how much rock I climbed that season, how many incredible days I spent getting to know my new climbing home, and how important that winter was for building my confidence as a climber--finally living someplace where I could climb all.the.time, without having to drive hours and hours, that was the real beginning of my climbing life. Whenever people ask me how long I’ve been climbing, I always say, “well, I first started about 15 years ago, but I really started when we moved to SLC and I got serious about it.” Though now “being serious” means much more than the bolt clipping and bouldering I spent most of my time doing that winter, I wouldn’t be the climber I am today--grumbling about lack of ice and not enough snow for alpine-training tours--without it.
And so Rick and I spent New Year’s Day on the rock, basking in the sun and climbing in t-shirts in LCC. And it was glorious. Just a little reminder that, no matter what the weather’s doing, I’m incredibly lucky to live where I do!