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Mud season: Love it or hate it, it’s here

KIMBERLY NICOLETTIsummit daily news

A few years ago, select PR-minded local business owners started a grassroots campaign to stomp out the term “mud season,” asserting it reflected poorly on Summit County’s marketability. But calling it “mud season” reminds us of the season’s roots: The term originated from the fact that Summit County’s lack of paved streets caused the area to turn to mud as it rained, so everyone wore boots, according to 30-year resident Sandy Greenhut.These days, even though most roads are paved, there’s something genuine about maintaining a term that holds both positive and negative connotations, just as the time of the year does for many.I consulted residents who have stuck it out in Summit County for 20 or more years, searching for seasoned responses: These folks have been through the ups and downs of April and May in the High Country, and they each have their particular reasons for loving or hating it. I looked for longtimer responses, because, had you asked me about mud season the first few years I lived here as a very young ski bum beginning in 1989, I would have told you it’s the saddest time of the year- a time when nearly all the friends you made over the ski season leave, to pursue “a real life.” But after years of experience, I have a more holistic view, like many of the responses you’ll read below, and mud season’s much more enjoyable (plus, these days, there’s e-mail and social media to keep in touch when friends do take off to greener pastures -literally).

Mud season has notoriously been a time to head to Moab, or even take an exotic vacation. Many restaurants and shops closed for weeks, giving employees a guilt-free excuse to skip town and owners down time to soak in sunny R&R someplace warm.”In the early years, I would have recommended leaving, since for years there was absolutely nothing to do since everything was closed,” Greenhut said.A lot of people still take off in April and May, heading southwest, but in these economic times, it’s worth taking a deeper look at the hidden gems of Summit County.

“I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I love mud season,” said Leigh Girvin, executive director of the Continental Divide Land Trust. “Several years ago, I made a commitment to stay in town during mud season so my folks could travel and someone would be around to keep an eye on my grandma. Now that she is gone and I have the freedom to travel, I still don’t want to. I’ll take a long weekend in Santa Fe, but mostly I’ll stay near home and revel in the quiet and peace.” Just as summers became Summit’s “best-known secret,” it’s quite possible some insistent PR person is going to turn mud season into a hot tourist time, hailing it as the “most peaceful time in the mountains, when you can see how REAL locals live.” But until then, residents like Jackie McPheeters of ColoradoHomes4All.com will continue to drive to Denver on a Sunday afternoon “just because I can.” In fact, lack of congestion is a top pleasure on most people’s lists.”I love that the roadways have emptied out, and there’s at least a few days before road construction begins,” said Joe Wakeman, artist and faux painter. “(And) seeing the people again, whether in the coffee shops, grocery store or out on the trail. Everybody seems to have a minute to chat.”And, as McPheeters adds: “Also going into the grocery stores at a normal hour, rather than 7 a.m., and actually having the time to say hello to the locals without them all saying, ‘don’t we know better than to come to the store at 4 p.m., after living here for all these years?’ and the line is short, and the workers do not have dark circles under their eyes, and the shelves actually have bread.”Then there’s the smell of the rain and all the tell-tale signs of spring.”I love hearing the frogs and seeing the ducks in the ponds,” said Bill Wallace, Summit County treasurer.While most savor the beautiful spring days, a prelude to summer, as Wakeman poetically puts it, people like Dan Burnett, Realtor at Summit Resort Group, considers it a time for “the best backcountry skiing of the season.” But, as an integral part of the Summit County Rescue Group, the spring danger of backcountry turns are also the reason he stays in Summit in April and May.”Search and Rescue missions (take place) in very hard and harsh conditions,” Burnett said. “We don’t get to go on spring break, so we get to live here in the mud season, which is actually better in almost every way.”And, of course, a favorite remains to be two-for-one dining specials.”(It’s) a kind of ‘thank you to all the locals for a busy and hard-worked season’ from our great restaurant owners – otherwise we can’t generally afford to eat out and enjoy what we tell the visitors to enjoy,” said Susan Fairweather, director of marketing and communications for the Town of Dillon. “In a way, the two-for-ones are an investment in local marketing.”Plus, walking into happy hour and knowing half the people there is always a treat, Girvin pointed out.While most locals revel in the occupational slow down that usually comes with the closing of ski resorts, others are just revving up. Shoulder seasons for artist and mural painter Bonnie Norling Wakeman are especially busy work times, because she paints the walls of custom homes that are normally rented during peak times. Longtime local Ann Brewster washes the car inside and out “finally,” scraps the 2-inch deep winter gunk off the garage floor, does a “mud-season makeover” on her home, and schedules “whatever surgery has been put off for the ‘best time.'” She said she evaluates the timing very carefully, so as to heal in time for summer fun.For Snake River Saloon owner Jim Shields, it means “cleaning and repairing this 56-year-old building so we can trash it again for another year,” he said. “When everything is done and we reopen, then the winter is officially over, and then it’s vacation time.”Burnett has a “great feeling in mud season. It has to do with the coming real estate selling season.” Oh, and the availability of parking spaces, and “absence of 60,000 necessary but irritating people.”

But some people, like Breckenridge resident Linda Hessel, downright “hate” mud season (unless it’s sunny and in the 50s). So she and her husband occupy their 6-year-old daughter by swimming and rock climbing at the Breckenridge Recreation Center, creating treasures at Ready, Paint, Fire!, taking advantage of all the activities in Denver before it gets too hot, and dipping into winter sports, like skiing at A-Basin and ice skating, every so often.”Mud season is certainly an exercise in mental toughness,” said Jon Kreamelmeyer, president of Summit School Board. “I’m sure at one time or another residents ask themselves, ‘What am I doing here? It’s May, and it’s snowing sideways. This isn’t normal.'”He cites a storm one year that brought 30 inches overnight in the first days of May. “It was gone in a week, but many residents suffered psychological damage,” he said.But, he admits he kind of likes mud season – especially when it’s not snowing big, wet flakes.”Those days when there’s not a cloud in the sky and there’s a whiff of a breeze in the air help you forget about the ugly ones,” he said. “But a trip to Hot Sulfur Springs or to Princeton Hot Springs can always help soothe the anguish from your soul.”


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