Friday, December 19, 2008

The ice is always whiter next door ...

It's supposed to get cold this weekend -- below zero here in Durango, the weather prognosticators say.

For myself, that means a few strategic maneuvers: letting the faucets and toilet drip in the downstairs bathroom, so they don't freeze; throwing a big fatty log in the woodstove before heading up to bed; moving the mailbox down to the tree along the walkway so the mailman doesn't have to scale the glacier that bulges on our front step in midwinter (it is, I am fairly sure, the only glacier on Earth that is advancing).

Beyond that, though, I'm looking forward to it. I like to fully inhale the breath of winter's breadth, and now that I've had some nice deep gulps of snow (three most glorious powder days at Purgatory this week -- now that's the way to start a ski season!), I owe winter its depth of cold. Bring it on.

Of course, here on the southern flank of the Southern Rockies, even in the depth of winter the cold is pretty shallow. A few degrees below zero, maybe, for a week, maybe. Last year, if I remember correctly, winter managed to plunge us to double-digits below zero; still, though, for self-anointed mountain folk, Durango's so-called cold is a mere splash in a puddle.

For real submersion, you need to head to the deep end of winter's pool. There you'll find folks throwing blankets over the hoods of their cars, or plugging in electric heaters attached to the blocks of their cars' engines, or pulling their car batteries into the bedroom with them where they will hopefully awakened warm, refreshed, and ready to crank over a crankcase full of sludgy-cold tranny oil in the morning.

I learned those tricks and many more during the several years I spent living in the Fraser Valley, in northern Colorado, in the 1980s. In the Fraser Valley (which includes the town of Fraser, the self-proclaimed "Icebox of the Nation," even though the town lost a bitter trademark dispute with International Falls, Minn., over that moniker), an unusual geologic feature creates what is essentially a high-altitude sink where the cold pools in a fierce, dense, frigid pool that frequently submerges the towns of Winter Park, Fraser, and Tabernash in temperatures of 40 degrees below zero and lower.

The coldest temperature I, myself, experienced was in Tabernash, when it hit 62 degrees below zero. While I hitchhiked to work that clear, crystal, still morning, smoke from nearby chimneys snaked down off roofs and crawled to the ground, and snow fell from my breath.

After that, Durango feels tropical, and its week of single-digit sub-zero temps a cute little anomaly in an otherwise lovely climate.

Well, what Durango is to the Fraser Valley, the Icebox of the Nation -- whichever one you really believe deserves to be billed as such -- is to Oymyakon. Located in Siberian Russia, Oymyakon holds the record for the coldest temperature for an inhabited place in the northern hemisphere: -71.2 degrees Celcius.

In Oymyakon, according to the news segment below (recorded in 1996), birds freeze to death in flight, but the residents are tough as nails. It gets hard to breath at around 60 below zero, reports the grinning town "weatherman." And even the kids are resilient: At the Oymyakon school, students have recess until 40 below zero, and school isn't called off until the temperature sinks to minus 52.

I'll take Durango -- or even Tabernash -- any winter's day.

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