I rode up the gondola with Mr. Steamboat this morning. With his passion for skiing and sparkly Santa Claus eyes, it’s a pretty great way to start the day. I would have snapped a pic of that smiling mug, but Daryl was rolling with his own team of legends, and I hated to interrupt the stories of early ’80s ski bummery. What’s clear is that Daryl gets after those turns daily, no matter what kind of day it’s shaping up to be. It’s a pure attitude of positivity. That’s what it takes to get 100 days in a row, in case you’re aspiring.
We’re now skiing double-wide Heavenly Daze. There’s 1.5 inches of fresh snow on top, and it’s soft and smooth this morning, all the way down. There may be a lot of man-made snow in the mix, but there are none of those interesting mixed-snow surprises. With some high clouds, temps around 20 and skis under foot, it’s a darn fine Friday to be on the slopes.
Shake it up on those gondola runs with skier’s left, then skier’s right, lots of top-to-bottom. It’s you and a whole lot of ski instructors getting oriented today — in case you are wondering about the blue and green possess. They’re plentiful but gathered in tight packs, prepping for the big season to come.
Steamboat gets extra busy this time of year. But that didn’t stop a whole lot of people coming out to the library last night to learn about moose. Aside from that grouchy grouse who likes to lounge on Sunset, our local Shiras moose are perhaps the most surprising beasts you might bump into on a ski run this winter.
Here’s a snapshot of what we learned from the experts at Colorado Parks and Wildlife. (I don’t have an actual snapshot of a stately moose to share, but local photographer David Dietrich takes cool moose pics all the time, so here.)
- Moose are the largest members of the deer family.
- Moose is Algonquin for twig eater. They can eat 800-plus twigs a day. That’s a lot of willow, folks.
- Moose populations are generally declining around the country. The trajectory is the opposite in Colorado. Our population is expanding, and with all our healthy willow and oak brush there’s not much reason to think we’ll see any tapering off any time soon.
- They breed in September and October, have their calves in May and June, and shed their antlers in early winter. Moose antlers are likely falling into the snow as I write this.
- Moose have twins when they have plentiful, high-quality habitat. If a sampling of Steamboat social media photos is any indicator, we can certify some darn healthy moose habitat here in the Yampa Valley. You’re hardly a local if you haven’t been stuck inside your house snapping photos through the window while a mama moose munches on your yard. Twin moose proliferate. Rumor has it they’re having triplets in Grand County, to the east.
- It’s debatable whether moose were ever a native self-sustaining population in Colorado, although there were certainly sightings in the 1800s. The moose we’re seeing in Steamboat are all the result of a dozen moose that were introduced into North Park in 1978, and a second dozen introduced in 1979. North Park moose spilled over the Continental Divide into the Yampa Valley.
- The Steamboat moose population is probably in the range of 30-45 moose, and 15-18 of them are hanging in and around town, including on the ski area. Just over the Divide, there were 560 moose in North Park at the end of the 2016 hunting season. Colorado has about 2,400 moose statewide.
- Moose are solitary creatures. They run up to 35 mph, stand six feet tall and weigh up to 1,000 pounds. They stand their ground. Translation: Leave them alone. Use common sense. They are big and fast, and they don’t want to deal with you and your selfie stick. Avoid confrontation. Give them space; no moose-jams on the ski runs. Stay calm and ride on by.
- Jeff Yost, the terrestrial biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, has a proposal pending to study Steamboat’s in-town moose. It’s a collaring project that would help determine how many moose we actually have, whether they stick around year-round, and what exactly they’re up to. Personally, I’m pulling for Jeff to get enough funding for those uber-cool collars that include cameras so we can actually see what kind of shenanigans our moose (and our local humans) are up to.
Jennie Lay, Telemark skier