Winter In The Rockies

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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 If you are planning to move full time to the mountains you certainly need to be prepared for the winters.  Winters are over 6 months long and can be brutal or just plain harsh depending on where you live in the mountains. The northern or southern mountain ranges and the elevation can dictate the volume of snow you have to cope with.  We live at 9,750′ elevation and our particular area averages 264 inches of snow per winter. That means sometimes we receive more (last year 346 inches) and some years less.  The heaviest single snow storm we have endured was last winter at 72 inches.  It is not uncommon to receive one or two single storms that provide 3-4 feet.  It normally does not get any colder than -20 degrees and that doesn’t usually last long. The greatest obstacle is the wind which does blow often in the winter and any snow already on the ground can drift pretty fast and high.  

Our particular area is a covenant community and our association does own a grader and front end loader.  Prior to this year we contracted snow removal out to an independent contractor.  The longest we have ever been snow bound has been 8 days but that is rare.  A normal snow storm of 1-2 feet deep and we are generally plowed out the same day.  

The wind may blow and the temperature is cold; however it is not uncomfortable to be outside in those conditions.  We have very little humidity and Colorado is a semi-arid state, therefore making it an outside winter paradise where you don’t feel the full impact of the cold.  You still need to layer your clothes and apply sunscreen to  protect yourself from the elements but it is not uncommon to be outside all day without ever being uncomfortable.

All that snow does require work however; it has to be pushed back and moved. We started out with a walk behind snow thrower but after two winters we realized a small Kubota tractor with a snow thrower attachment made better sense. It clears a 4 foot wide swath and I ride and don’t walk behind the snow thrower. It also throws the snow 20 feet back which means we don’t end up with 12-15 foot high piles on each side of the driveway. Even with a motorized snow thrower there are still hours of shoveling to be done.  We both participate in shoveling to  make the task easier. There are steps, deck, around the house to be shoveled out as well as our vehicles.  The snow thrower will only get to the more open areas and the rest has to be shoveled by hand.  We also need to keep our back yard shoveled for the dogs to utilize and a path to the wood shed.  

Some hints that may be helpful are the use of fiberglass boundary markers so you don’t hit hidden obstacles along your driveway or go off into an area where you may get the tractor stuck. Once those drop off areas and obstacles are covered with snow it is hard to tell where safe boundaries are located. Markers help you stay safe. Also you can’t always clear snow when the wind is calm and a pair of snow goggles is invaluable. A good pair of water proof and insulated gloves will pay for themselves in one season. If you plan on living in the mountains don’t skimp on equipment. Hit the frozen ground or worse yet hit a rock in frozen ground and it will put a crack in a light weight snow shovel or dent an aluminum shovel. It is also wise to have a four wheel drive vehicle with tires designed for snow. Keep staples on hand because that normal run to the store may take several days. Have your dental work and medical visits scheduled for the summer as even in an emergency you may not be able to get out. Be sure you are healthy because pushing your way through chest deep snow can cause some stress on your body. Some of these hints may sound elementary but it never amazes me to see people have to learn the hard way. One last hint is be sure you consume plenty of fluids, preferably water. You can dehydrate very quickly at high elevation. Last but not least be ready for the unexpected.  It always seems to happen when you least expect it. Heavy snow or strong winds will blow over trees in the winter so have your chainsaw ready to go at all times. What shouldn’t go wrong can go wrong and plumbers, electricians, suppliers are reluctant to strap on snow shoes to reach you. The more self- reliant you are the better your ability to cope with problems.   

So there are just some of the things you need to consider before you pack up and move to the mountains.  Living as we do can be very rewarding but being prepared is the key to living happily in the mountains. We have seen many people try to cope with high elevation living in the winter and then quit half way through the winter and head back for the city.  It is hard work but the beauty, crisp air and winter recreation all make it worth the work. 

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and mountain living go to: