Preparation for Winter in the Mountains

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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Making preparations for our primary season here in the Sangre de Cristo mountains at 9,750’ requires a lot of planning and work. We usually have between mid-May and September to make sure we are fully prepared for winter. When we purchased our property it came with a HUD report that indicated our average snow fall per year was 264”. We have found that pretty accurate over the years and the most we have received from a single storm was 6 feet. Receiving 2 – 4 feet in a single storm is not unusual. To live here in the mountains therefore requires substantial preparation and we usually have roughly 4 or 5 months to get prepared especially when we heat our home with a wood stove. On average we burn 9-11 cords of firewood each winter. 

For those who desire to be mountain people and live in the mountains (especially if moving from a lower elevations or a city) it is best to think carefully because mountain living requires considerable work. After 16 years living in the mountains full time we are either coping with winter or utilizing our non-snow season to prepare for winter. Our biggest job is to get our firewood cut, split and stacked. That requires the bulk of our effort in winter preparation. We cut aspen, a low level hard wood, then haul it to where we split/stack the firewood. In past years I have split it with a maul but at the insistence of Carol we purchased a log splitter. We now split most of it with the log splitter but I still like to use the maul on part of it because it is hard to break the habit of doing it by hand. 

Then there are a multitude of other tasks to do prior to the first snow occurring. Any tools or equipment left outside will be covered with several feet of snow so they have to be serviced and put away. Then there is the chimney to clean plus the wood stove. A 30 foot chimney on an A-Frame house is almost straight up and takes some mental fortitude to climb up and sweep it clean. Then we have to remove loose rocks out of the driveway so they are not picked up by the snow thrower and turned into missiles. We also need to put driveway markers up so when the snow gets deep we will know where the driveway and culverts are located. The snow thrower and tractor have to be fully serviced and made ready. Tire chains have to be put on the tractor – wait a minute, didn‘t I just take them off? When we first moved to the mountains we used a 10 HP walk behind self-propelled snow thrower. That worked well but would only handle a depth of 20 inches of snow so if we had more than 20” sometimes I had to go out two or three times during the day/night to keep it cleared. Of course with the wind we would have the additional problem of drifts as well. We then bought a snow thrower that connected to the tractor and that simplified clearing snow but it also requires regular maintenance. We have to make sure we have sufficient snow shovels on hand as we wear out a couple during each winter. 

Then there are the garden boxes where we grow vegetables which need to be made ready for next year’s growing season. The 50% sunlight screen has to be removed and stored. At this elevation the sun is more intense and we need screens to filter that strong sun or our seedlings burn up. We then have to service our transportation vehicles and make sure they are winter ready. Dental and medical appointments need to be accomplished and a day trip to a bulk food store to stock up an ample supply of food for us and the dogs in case we get snowed in for a few days or longer. Then there is the removal of the misting system we use for wildfire protection so it won’t freeze. Bringing in outdoor water hoses and a multitude of projects that I’m sure I do routinely but have forgotten. There is the regular sealing or staining of exterior wood, replacing damaged boards, and accomplishing any improvements needing to be done. Add to the mix all the things that our short summer requires plus getting ready for snow season simply equals a lot of work. Whew, I’m getting tired just listing all the things that need to be done to get ready for winter. As I sit here typing this and the snow is presently falling outside, it is a comfort to know we are ready for winter. These are not things that would need to be done living in a city or more populated area. 

In summary, living in the mountains requires a considerable amount of work to cope with our winters. Some people move to the mountains and attempt to bring all the amenities of city life with them but that just seems out of place here in the mountains. We love our lifestyle and all the hard work that is associated with this lifestyle is just a small part of it. The fresh air and hard work, pure drinking water all keep us healthy and fit. Being self-sufficient brings a certain amount of satisfaction that only those who share similar lifestyles can identify with. I always remind myself of the advantages of our lifestyle when I am shoveling 4 feet of fresh snow which the snow thrower can’t reach. Or when I strap on a set of snow shoes to hike far enough down the road to see if the plows have been out or not. Somehow, I did not see myself doing this at my age (70’s) but I realize now that by choosing this lifestyle that is why I have managed to reach this age. It is a great lifestyle and I’m happy to be looking out to see the snow blowing and being privileged and fit enough to share it with others. Perhaps we will be inspiration or perhaps we will make some people more content with the lifestyle they presently have.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray, their fur friends and mountain living go