The Snow-Yo Is the Worst Part of Hiking in Spring

When your spring bounces from t-shirt weather to snow in the space of a day, getting ready for the trail is a challenge.
By Leslie Barrett ,

In Colorado, this could be anytime from October to May

Eric Strom

It was just supposed to be a two-hour hike, but I was carrying a wardrobe. I wore compression capris, a tank top, a midlayer, a down vest, and a trucker hat. In my pack, I carried a rain shell, a synthetic puffy, and a beanie. I stretched traction over my boots, briefly contemplated adding gaiters, and started hiking, feeling mud clumps hit my butt with each step.

I grew up in Connecticut where during the months of April and May, the world gradually warms up. The rain-fed landscape becomes green, and wildflowers begin to spring up in the meadows.

That is not how spring works in the foothills of Colorado. From March through May, any given day could bring shorts weather, a blizzard, or anything in between. (My personal favorite is when frozen slush falls from the sky, like someone is holding down the handle on a gigantic Icee machine.) I’ve dubbed this ever-changing weather the snow-yo, and it’s one of the biggest culture shocks for transplants like me. Still, with ski season winding down, it’s the unpredictability is not enough to keep me off the trail.

For days leading up to my jaunt into the foothills, the snow-yo effect had been in full swing. The morning would start with sunshine and temperatures in the 60s; in the evening, it would snow. By noon, it would melt again, and in the sunshine, I’d allow myself a fleeting hope that spring had finally, really arrived. Then, it would snow again. The temperature swings mirrored the emotional swings I was feeling.

As I hiked, I could see a full year’s worth of microclimates around me. To the left, a wintry Narnia. To the right, brown, sun-baked grass. It felt like I stopped every ten steps to put on or remove my traction.

The snow-yo has its little pleasures though. I ate refrozen spring snow the texture of shaved ice, and blew a kiss to a pine tree chandeliered in dripping crystals. I reveled in the mud covering my fingers as I took my traction off once again. And when I reached my destination, I sat on a rock overlooking Boulder and smiled that, snow or no snow, I could enjoy the feeling of spending a few minutes barefoot without freezing my feet off. 

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