This winter will go down as one of the toughest seasons on record for Northwest winter sports enthusiasts, ski resorts and shops. If you have boards gathering dust in your gear room, look on the bright side. Next year has got to be better (knock, knock…). Winters like this one are a good reminder that if we want to play with Mother Nature, we need to be flexible and come recreationally equipped to play by her rules. That means being ready to take advantage of whatever the season brings, which may mean buying a fat bike to extend your riding season, taking up tele skiing on resort groomers, finding a more flexible job to hit more sporadic powder days, or trying to check off hikes in the “Best Desert Hikes: Washington” book. Anything is better than complaining about the weather.
While the spring-like conditions have quadrupled the number of people out on the trails around Spokane, it’s also been a little creepy out there. The other day I was sitting out in the backyard in a t-shirt and shorts, soaking up some low-angled, mid-February sun, when a honey bee buzzed my head as I dozed in a lawn chair. I surveyed the yard and noticed several flies frantically circling our chicken coop and other unidentifiable insects passing through our pinched urban airspace. On closer inspection, I discovered volunteer kale and other greens coming up in the garden and a rose bush butted up to the house sprouting leaves. A few hardy perennials were poking out of the soil too, exposing bright green shoots that seemed awkwardly out of place in the flat, mid-winter light. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any weirder, a mourning dove started cooing from the giant Douglas fir tree on the side of the house and a redolent whiff of charcoal briquettes and sizzling steak drifted in from somewhere in the neighborhood.
I remember the last winter kind of like this one around a decade ago. Hiking out on the John Wayne Trail south of Cheney on the last day of January, a butterfly followed us down the trail for a ways, and I picked a tick off my sunburnt leg back at the truck. Strange winters like this seem to be part of a natural cycle, but if you believe in science and statistics, signs point to increasingly warmer temps globally for the long haul. And while we can adapt our recreational pursuits to shifting weather patterns and a changing climate, native fish, wildlife and forests don’t have the same luxury of easily adapting their way out of drought, disease, and more extreme wildfires (all of which are expected to increase with climate change). Farmers and ski resorts also face significant challenges to their survival without substantial snowpacks. Relatively speaking, the disruption of the accustomed recreational patterns of the rest of us is small potatoes when you put it into perspective. Whether you’re a skier, snowboarder, whitewater rafter, angler, backcountry mountain biker, wilderness hiker or snow farmer, let’s all do a dance for a cold, wet spring. //