Director’s Letter January 2020

Magic of Winter

A Gothic winter is magical and RMBL is expanding opportunities for students of all ages to experience it.

When the snow starts to fall, the larger world fades away.  A typical year brings 40 feet of snow, covering one-story buildings with a white, smooth blanket of snow.  The snow came so fast in one storm that a snowplow drove over a truck parked at the trailhead without noticing, leaving only a broken antenna behind.

Very few people get to experience this magic.  When the conditions are good and the body is willing, it is only a 45-minute ski from the trailhead to Gothic. But backcountry travel can be challenging.  The wind at the trailhead can be wickedly cold, especially when temperatures drop to -30 F.  Breaking trail after a big storm can be brutal.  At the wrong temperature, snow sticks to skis turning a gentle ski into a tiring slog.  Serene blankets of snow can instantly transform into waves of cement traveling 200 mph.  It is all manageable, perhaps less dangerous than big city street crossings.  And with some expert guidance, a waiting warm cabin, and a good attitude, anybody can enter the enchanted valley!

An unusual confluence of factors makes Gothic one of the best places in the world for new people to experience winter in the high country.  Not only does RMBL offer cabins with water (and now flush toilets) in the backcountry, but Crested Butte has one of the largest and most professional winter backcountry guiding communities in North America.  The Crested Butte Avalanche Center provides professional avalanche forecasting.  And once students arrive in Gothic, they are embedded in one of the more active snow research communities in the world.  billy barr adds to the magical mix.  Through media coverage of his decades of record-keeping, visitors experience a landscape that millions have seen digitally, but can only dream of experiencing.

What is RMBL doing to enhance opportunities for these winter experiences?  With funding support from the National Science Foundation and donor Doug LaFollette, we opened Crystal Cabin this fall.  This year-round cabin has 7 bedrooms, 2 kitchens, and 2 full bathrooms.  It dramatically increases the number of winter visitors we can host.  We are pursuing funds for another cabin that will include meeting and research space.  Working with Gunnison County we updated our plans for ensuring safe travel in the backcountry and put limits on the use of snowmobiles to support the programs.  This will help ensure our use stays compatible with the use of the valley for non-motorized winter recreation.

Interest in using RMBL’s facilities in winter is growing quickly.  Irwin Guides continues to offer avalanche courses (see accompanying article) and both Colorado College and Western Colorado University are bringing classes to Gothic this winter.  Several high schools have expressed an interest in backcountry programming and we are working through permitting with the State of Colorado of overnight stays by K-12 education programs.  We hope to be able to offer such programs next winter.  After scheduling our education programs we open the cabins up for the general public (reservations are managed through our website).  This year, even with a big increase in availability with the new cabin, reservations filled quickly.

RMBL is a unique institution, providing unparalleled scientific activities.  We are now adding winter programs to the mix and connecting children and adults to the outdoors in ways that are unique to the world.  Stayed tuned for more national media coverage of billy barr and Gothic in the winter!

Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL