When it snows, people want to ski.
When it snows a lot, people want to ski real bad.
It’s very predictable behavior.
There’s a road between Santa Fe and the mountainous areas on which this activity takes place. When there’s a lot of snow in the mountains, there’s a lot of snow on the road. It’s well and promptly plowed, but conditions are usually dicey early in the morning after a big storm.
It’s a very predictable scenario.
You’d think people would exercise sound judgment in these situations. For example, those without four-wheel drives or all-wheel drives or, at least, snow tires and good winter driving skills, might choose to find a ride with someone who does. They might even consider tackling the road later in the day when temperatures have climbed, and more plowing and salting have been done.
But this is not the case.
No one knows what makes someone believe they can pile a family of four into a Dodge Neon with skis poking out the windows and shoot straight from sunny Santa Fe right up to the ski area after 8 inches of fresh powder has softly pummeled the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, but hundreds seem to do it every time it snows.
It’s no big deal to pull over, bust out the tow strap and haul these folks out of an embankment every once in awhile, but it’s less charming when they end up blocking the road and creating a snarl of bitter, powder-hungry maniacs equipped with sharp poles, heavy boots and general misanthropy.
Things really get screwed up when the park rangers start telling apparent lies. Earlier in the season, a ranger was stopping traffic not too far past the entrance to Hyde Memorial State Park and telling everyone to pull over. There was a multi-car collision up the road, he said—we’re waiting on tow trucks and wreckers to come up from town and clear the scene.
After loitering with a few hundred other despondent souls, my truckload got sick of the stench of fresh wax and decided to peak up the road while the ranger was distracted—maybe we can help was the rationalization.
What we found was a beautiful, clear road all the way to the parking lot at Ski Santa Fe. Not a single crashed car and no evidence of one, let alone many. Soon, texts and tweets were flying. As word spread, I imagine the ranger saw more than a few middle fingers as people tore up the hill and away from the impromptu parking fiasco and traffic tangle—at least from those who weren’t stuck in the deep snow in which they’d been asked to park. I don’t know what body parts the others might have shown the ranger.
More recently, it was a similar story. Just past Nun’s Curve, traffic was nearly stopped in both directions. Allegedly, a ranger had blocked the road ahead and a wicked game of telephone was spreading down the hill at a rapid clip.
“The road’s getting cleared.”
“Conditions are impossible.”
“It’s a nightmare—no one can make it through.”
“Wrecked cars are littering the road.”
We confidently told people who had started to turn back to Santa Fe that it was likely a lie—or at least it had become a lie by the time the distorted news reached them. But they didn’t listen—they grew increasingly panicked and started sliding and getting stuck in their efforts to turn around and flee the fearsome mountain.
The problem is that the steepest, shadiest part of the road is actually on the way down—the road dips before climbing steeply up toward Nun’s Curve. All of those fat-packed Dodge Neons? Maybe they could have made it to the ski area and maybe they couldn’t, but they sure as hell couldn’t make it back up Nun’s Curve. The result was a massive and dangerous traffic jam caused by people trying to leave. Cars were sliding everywhere, people were angry and short-tempered, and thousands upon thousands of dollars that Ski Santa Fe would have earned were deflected back toward town. The vast majority of cars waiting to go back down the hill were from Texas and Oklahoma.
As a cantankerous local, I’m obligated to be happy they turned around and to be happy if they decide to never return to Santa Fe after their crappy visit. But as a caring local, I’m obligated to think that was some poorly handled tourism business.
When I used my cantankerous local persona to romp past the chaotic heap of cars, the road was once again clear and beautiful. The powder was fresh and the skiing was great.
When gullible Americans believe that health care reform is a government takeover or that US wars are about national security and spreading democracy, they’re sheeple: people behaving like unquestioning sheep. When they believe the rumors spreading from car to car, they’re skeeple.
In Colorado, a consortium of government bodies has considered a $15 billion rail system to alleviate ski traffic congestion. In Santa Fe, a simple sign at the bottom of the hill—“4WD required this morning”—would probably do the trick.
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