Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Sad spring snow surprise
2nd draft

Back in 1993, my first job in Idaho was working with the Blaine County Recreation District. After a bond approval our valley workers and volunteers built a world class bicycle trail on the old railroad right of way. In winter we groomed the same path for a cross country ski trail, which thousands of winter recreationalists delightfully used.

Back then the Rec district had only one snow-cat groomer, which we used primarily for the popular Harriman ski trail. For the local path we used a modern snowmobile, dragging behind it a rudimentary 200 pound steel groomer. For colder days when the surface was icier, we added barbell free-weights, which locked into small poles at the end of the groomer and tugged behind. In front I carried additional weighted disks to dig deeper where the top snow crested hard at the few shady spots where cottonwoods arched over the trail.

Usually, we began grooming two hours before sunrise, slowly combing our way north to higher elevations, hence following the trail temperature at an even keel.

If the weather forecast was warm, we started at night, hoping to encounter prime grooming conditions. Sometimes, this was challenging; for instance when a cold snap followed a sunny day, this would result in 3 to 4 inches of crusty hard freeze. In cases like this, I would be required to repeat the grooming process several times, focusing firmly on the most traveled spots. Even so, there were times when skiers complained, thinking that we had not yet groomed, though it was often an area that we had already combed over repetitively.

It was a pristine job, and it led me to idealistic thoughts and musings as I groomed along my merry way, encountering folks who were enjoying healthy sunshine and happy exercise. Part of the task consisted in picking up stray trash, which didn’t seem too bad since I only needed to stop a handful of times. It was important to carry a shovel as well, since there were spots where the snow-machine would bog down, especially in warmer climate. Moreover, since the air-cooled snowmobile overheated under the stress of pulling large weights, I was required to unhook the heavy groomer and go play, spinning speedily around in snowdrifts to cool the engine.

I soon learned it was important to dress smart for the grooming task. This included sunglasses, warm hats, thick and thin gloves and spares, a face shield with defogger, first aid kits, warm fitting snow boots, layered jackets -the outer waterproof, toe warmers inside quality socks, but not too tight. It was also important when dressing to make sure my feet had fully dried from morning showers before pulling on socks to prevent foot moisture from freezing fast in the below zero temperatures.

When spring arrived, we would try to time it right to plow the south half of the path to provide eager bicyclists a safe place to ride. This, while continuing to snow groom the north section through late spring. As the melt-off continued and snow receded I was surprised at the large amounts of trash and dog poop tarnishing the trail. There were even McDonald’s wrappers in the wet dirt, and back then the nearest Mickey-D’s was 80 miles away! The first spring cleaning day our boss had expected me to finish renewing the south bike path in around three hours. But picking up hundreds of pieces of trash spread afar filled many bags. When the boss asked, “What took so long?” I replied, “Oh, the humanity.”

That next season I worked as an itinerant cab driver, and one day my fare was a young lady. Soon after introductions, in an impromptu manner she suddenly told me the story of how she had arrived in the Wood River with great expectations; seeing how immaculate the area was painted with its virgin snow surface. This bright luster helped convince her that Sun Valley was a power spot or some sort of a fantastically exceptional place. Then she started weeping as we passed a gas station as she saw stacks of trash blowing around. She said that she was disappointed when the pristine snow melted, which had been hiding the filth and dirt of the entire town. Then she equated the sad snowmelt to some of her broken friendships. As she began sobbing more uncontrollably, all I could say was, “I know what you mean, Honey.”

Jim Banholzer was an active Idaho resident for 25 years. Currently he is residing in Pennsylvania with family.

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