What it takes to study snow in a remote area of Colorado’s mountains that’s almost completely inaccessible during winter ~ Colorado Sun


GOTHIC — Unless the avalanche danger is unusually high, or there’s a major snowstorm in the forecast, Christmas comes once a week to the nine residents of Gothic, most of whom are scientists spending this winter at the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab.   

Today, Santa is Erik Stolz from the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association and instead of gifts, his Yamaha sled is heavy with supplies needed to fuel research important to understanding the impact of climate change on snowpack and water resources.

Researchers ski out to meet the resupply sleds carrying scientific equipment packed next to drinking water, bananas cradled in a nest of rice to keep them from bruising, crackers, boxes of oat milk and a pair of ski boots that had been sent into town for repair.

The sleds are reloaded for the trip back to town, carrying laboratory samples, garbage, dirty laundry and the occasional scientist who needs to tend to sampling equipment elsewhere in the Gunnison Valley.

TOP: Erik Stolz , left, of the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association, helps support tech Jack Snow, center, and Ben Schmatz, right, unload a sled carrying supplies at the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab. Scientists spending the winter in Gothic must travel on skis or snowshoes to get to and from their work sites, residences and buildings. Gothic usually gets over 300 inches of snow. BOTTOM: Frank Zurek, a scientist working on the SAIL research project, makes himself comfortable while riding in a sled pulled by Stolz. Skier Jeff Troyer is also hitching a ride after getting his turns down Snodgrass Mountain onto Gothic Road. Because of its remote location, CBMBA was given a special permit to use a snowmobile for the weekly resupply. (Dean Krakel, The Colorado Sun) 

Gothic “is near but far,” said Erik Hulm, director of strategic projects for the lab, known as RMBL, which rolls off locals’ tongues as “rumble.” “Crested Butte sits at the end of the road and Gothic is just a bit farther. You can see Crested Butte Mountain from Gothic but it’s not like you can just get there.”

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Unlike other remote research sites scattered across the globe, RMBL has no support from snowcats, ships, helicopters or trucks. Hulm offers McMurdo Station in Antarctica as contrast. McMurdo has a harbor, land and sea landing strips, a helicopter pad, electricity, telephones, dormitories, clubs, warehouses, sewer and water lines and a fire station. There’s more, but you get the idea.

Gothic has “no spa or cafeteria,” Hulm said. “Researchers here are on their own. They cook their own meals, shovel their own snow from around residences and study sites. They have to constantly break trails to move between buildings and sometimes have to break miles of trail through deep snow to reach a work site. There is no repair facility to solve mechanical problems, nor a medical clinic for human repair.”

Everything, Hulm said, must be done by hand. Every piece of scientific equipment, large or small, from bolts to barrels to sample containers to cleaning supplies has to be brought in and taken out by someone or something. The personal needs of the scientists, enough clothing to make it through a long winter, every crumb of food they consume, even the laundry — all have to be brought in or carried out. 

There are no shortcuts. 

~~~ CONTINUE ~~~

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