There are some things you can always count on during January in Steamboat: cowboysTexans and Elvis. The hoots, hollers and impromptu photo shoots make it clear that everyone is pretty psyched to see the King ripping up the slopes for his annual birthday ski once again.

Also, it’s heaven in Steamboat today! The top half of the mountain is floating  above a blanket of mid-mountain clouds. A couple inches of creamy new snow have made everything super soft.  Turns along the side of Sideburn and lower Rainbow are as yummy as it gets. Meanwhile, the trees are encrusted with fresh crystals and the view into a deep blue sky hovering over pure white clouds is one of the most epic I’ve ever witnessed. The light is pure magic today.

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The heavenly Yampa Valley from Sideburn.

And did I mention the sparkly rainbows that are  popping in and out of wispy clouds and dwindling moisture up there? I’m not sure this camera phone does it justice, but the emergence of unicorns wouldn’t have surprised me at this point in the surreal display.

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Glitter in the sky. Winter rainbows sighted at Steamboat today.

The clouds are perched mid-mountain. Stay above or below them for the best visibility and better snow. The cream is up top. Work the edges of the runs, well-spaced trees and little bumps like Norther. What felt hard-pack a few days ago feels exceptionally soft underfoot once again.  Temperatures in the 20s mean there is no sign of melt, but we’re happily done freezing our butts off. The cold spell has snapped.

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A fresh blanket of snow on the Yampa Valley at sunrise.

As if the Yampa Valley weren’t already so pretty it practically hurts your eyes to take it all in some days, throughout the next two weeks Steamboat is adding something even more beautiful to the landscape. Environmental artist Sonja Hinrichsen is back in town to lead two landscape-scale community snow drawings with teams of snowshoe-clad volunteer artists. These are huge, impermanent patterns in the snow — a temporary transformation that begs a reassessment of the working landscapes that surround this ski town. Steamboat’s past snow drawing installations with Hinrichsen have made the community globally famous in many hundreds of stories and photos and even a selection as one of the planet’s best examples of environmental art.

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Steamboat’s community snow drawing on Lake Catamount, 2013. Photo courtesy Sonja Hinrichsen

The first snow drawing starts tomorrow on Lake Catamount, located south of the ski area on the valley floor. By the time that artistic rendition of the swirling flow of the Yampa River’s original pre-dammed river channel is finished, it should prove quite the vision from pullouts on Rabbit Ears Pass. The second drawing will emerge next weekend, Jan. 16-17, on a haymeadow between the Hayden airport and The Nature Conservancy’s Carpenter Ranch.  Anyone lucky enough to be flying in or out is destined for a visual feast.

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The community snow drawing that made Steamboat famous: West Summit of Rabbit Ears Pass, 2012. Photo courtesy Sonja Hinrichsen

It takes many athletic feet to stomp in these delicate patterns. For those who participate, it’s a moving meditation — a ground-level look at infinite spirals, snow crystals and the physical exertion of breaking trail. As aerial photos are released in the coming weeks, we will zoom out to capture the essence of a larger communal creativity.  This is our brain on snow. Surely, this collaboration  will mark another moment of creative genius in snow-loving community.

Onward, skiers, riders and snow spiralers! And happy 81st birthday to the King, who is definitely riding that mono-board in heaven today.

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Elvis (a.k.a. Don Smith) rides Steamboat.

Jennie Lay, Telemark skier

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