Jeff Hammer: Of snow and cold

Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.

It’s nice to have significant snow on the ground this early in the winter for a variety of reasons. The past several years have not been stellar snowpack years. Last year, if I recall correctly, we didn’t receive significant snow until the spring, which kind of makes the winter seem less like winter in Wyoming and more like winter somewhere else… like New Mexico, for example.

There’s nothing wrong with New Mexico. I have visited that state several times and will again. But I like being in New Mexico in April, when the average daily temperatures are a little more mild than Wyoming. I don’t want New Mexico’s April weather during a Wyoming December. In April, it’s nice to have a little more moderate weather because Wyoming can still be frigid, and by then, I’m tired of frigid. I should correct myself: Wyoming in April can be brutally cold one day and warm the next, which tends to create an uncomfortable phenomenon, at least for me: mud…I dislike the stuff. 

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In April, mud is a little harder to find in New Mexico, and for that reason, that state and those on its border attract folks like me who like to hike without packing the unnecessary burden of a few pounds of extra weight in the form of water impregnated dirt taking a free ride on my hiking shoes.

So the snow we have now is much appreciated, and I’m sure not just by me. Apparently, all the folks my wife and I have encountered at the groomed ski trails at the Lander Golf Course in December have also liked the snow, given that the parking lot has been nearly full each time we have been there. In addition to skiers, families of sledders also put the golf course to good use so far this winter. It’s heartening to witness folks getting outside and enjoying the precipitation of a more solid variety instead of being glued to a screen of some sort. 

 For the past two years, I think we skied at the golf course a total of two days, and even on those two days the skiing conditions were far from ideal, but I was still thankful for the opportunity to ski close to town, regardless.

I read somewhere that this is the first year since 2019, because of the lack of significant snowfall, that the high school Nordic ski season has started on schedule. Many of us are grateful for that. Those hard working athletes deserve a long and rigorous season of competition.

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Because of lack of snow over the past two years, we have been skiing at the Beaver Creek Ski Trails, which have been incredible when the golf course has been unavailable. For having a choice between both of those venues this winter, I feel incredibly lucky.

Another positive of having at least an average amount of snow is that it must be shoveled or blown, which leads to the likelihood that I will have an opportunity to visit with my immediate neighbors on the same day. The following scenario has played out for every single snowfall this winter: the snow accumulates over the night, and like clockwork we are all out shoveling or blowing our sidewalks and driveways a few minutes before the sun’s rays breach the eastern horizon.

We visit about the recent snowfall, of course, but then sometimes the conversation branches off into other topics. On one such morning, I mentioned to John, our neighbor to the immediate north, of my experience of encountering a pack of three dogs running free the night before at 11:00 as I was walking home from my substitute custodial shift at the high school. The dogs ran away from me, but he reinforced the continuing possibility of encountering one or more pooches with nefarious intent. 

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He then related an episode he witnessed of a pack of dogs attacking a walker in broad daylight in front of his former residence in Riverton a few years ago. The dogs were relentless in their aggressiveness, even as the man continuously struck them with a walking stick. Only after John intervened did the dogs run back to a nearby yard from which they had escaped.

He then gave me some cautionary advice: carry a big stick and/or pepper spray. I’ve never felt the need to be so protected, but maybe his advice is spot on. I’m just not sure of the reaction I’ll receive from the front office ladies at the high school when I’m buzzed in while carrying a weapon of canine instruction.

My guess is that the dogs I encountered also have an owner, or maybe several owners, who are a little too lax about caring for their pets, which reminds me of that radio public service announcement from many years past: “It’s 10:00 at night. Do you know where your children are?”

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During the same session of snow removal, J.J., my neighbor to the south of me, lamented about wanting to go to Jamaica as we met on the sidewalk in front of our homes. He and his wife had made a practice of doing so during previous winters before Covid changed everything. I can’t say as I blame him for his feelings, given the recent cold we’ve experienced.

My wife and I had recently returned from Central America, and I must admit, 80 degrees felt pretty darn good, especially after the most recent snowfall and brutally cold weather. Just this morning (December 22, my wife’s and my anniversary, by the way; 38 years and counting), Hudson woke up to -47 degrees, and the National Weather Service indicated that Lander’s temperature was -28 degrees. 

When the temperature is less than -20 degrees, my outside thermometer gives me the message that it’s “offline,” which seems to me to be a euphemism for telling me that it’s too damn cold for me to be outside. As a rule, I don’t accept advice from inanimate objects (except when Siri is guiding me through city traffic or when I’m driving through unknown territory), but this morning, I made an exception. When the inside display of my thermometer read -17 degrees outside, I decided to venture outside and clean up my sidewalks and driveway of the more-than-forecasted snowfall from the day before.

That was where I met J.J., who was blowing snow in front of our house and appeared nearly unrecognizable sporting a fresh coating of blown snow from head to toe. Two eyes peered out of a snow-plastered face, and when we met to talk, the conversation was short, because of the need to keep moving. However, watching his ice-laden mustache, which is much more full and robust than mine, perform some interesting and unexpected moves as he was talking, did provide a small amount of entertainment, for which I was appreciative. 

When I returned back inside to thaw out my frozen fingers and my own icy mustache, I opened an email from the Lander Nordic Ski Association which advised me not to ski on the golf course today for two reasons. 

The first, of course, is that skiing at -17 degrees is a health hazard, and I wondered who would be tough (or dumb) enough to want to slap on the slats just so they could permanently damage their lungs. 

The second reason for not skiing turned out to be much more practical. Even though the trails had been rolled twice, the snow needed an opportunity to set (stiffen) up properly. When that happens, the trails can then be groomed with a perfect corduroy for skate skiing and a classic track can be properly laid.

All those talented folks tasked with the responsibility of grooming trails at both the golf course and at Beaver Creek do a fantastic job of providing ski trails over which hundreds of residents and visitors alike enjoy countless hours of skiing pleasure. Their work is nothing short of amazing.

I’m sure local ranchers also appreciate the snow (maybe the cold not so much), as a bountiful snowpack is necessary for adequate hay production and for the growth of summer forage on government leased land. 

In addition to ranchers, we Wyomingites who recreate on public land, and those of us who are granted the privilege of access to private land, should also be thankful for the abundant snow. That is, if the snow and cold don’t cause a terrible winter kill scenario. Hopefully, there will be plenty of forage for all the wild critters we love to watch and those we pursue during hunting season.

Even though this column is written before Christmas, it will not be published until the Wednesday after that date, when the weather forecasters predict that the daytime temperatures will have increased about 50 degrees from Thursday’s -17 below. What a relief that will be.

However, I will hopefully be in sunny Arizona then, having already watched one bowl game in Phoenix, where the daytime temperatures are predicted to be in the mid 60’s, and looking forward to watching another bowl game in Tucson three days later. 

What will make this short venture to the Sonoran desert particularly enjoyable will be the opportunity to spend precious time with our two daughters, just as I hope all readers out there in County 10 land have the opportunity to spend time with friends and family. 

May your Christmas season be just as sweet.

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