IN DURANGO, COLORADO, A COMMUNITY CELEBRATES SEPP KUSS’ TOUR DE FRANCE TRIUMPH

TOUR DE FRANCE

For cyclists in Durango, Colorado, Sepp Kuss’s Tour de France stage win brought joy, memories, and good vibes.

JULY 15, 2021

JOHN LIVINGSTON


At the Kuss family home in Durango, Colorado, Dolph and Sabina Kuss screamed into the television this past Sunday, watching their son, Sepp, navigate the twists and turns on his bicycle as he descended the Col de Beixalis during stage 15 of the Tour de France, thousands of miles away in Andorra.

Behind Kuss, Alejandro Valverde gave chase, hoping to challenge the American for the stage win.

“Come on Seppy, take a risk,” shouted Dolph, a two-time Olympic cross-country skiing coach for Team USA in 1964 and 1972. “I was encouraging him on that downhill so he wouldn’t have to battle Valverde out for the last few seconds going into the finish. Sepp, of course, I know he’s not void of downhill skills. When they would show the splits – 18, 20, down to 15, back to 16 – oh man, every one of those second losses felt like they sucked the wind out of you, and every gain brought you to life.”

Sabina, herself a cyclist who has conquered the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic from Durango to Silverton on numerous occasions, at times with her son in tow during his early days on a bike, said she could watch him without fear as he reached speeds as high as 50 mph on the downhill for the first time in her life.

“Thank goodness there was no rain,” Sabina Kuss told VeloNews. “We know Sepp is a good descender, so this was the first time I could relax, and I took every curve with him.”

As Dolph and Sabina proudly looked on, Sepp held off Valverde, and coasted across the line to take the biggest victory of his professional cycling career. In doing so, he became the first American in a decade to win a stage of the Tour de France.

Back in Durango, Colorado, where Sepp grew up, the victory sent ripples through the community. Those who knew him best had just watched him do what he had done so. many times on a mountain bike throughout his childhood. And in the days after the victory, these friends explained how Kuss’s win reverberated throughout the mountain town in Southwestern Colorado, that has produced so many great cyclists before.

“Back in 2017 when he was racing domestically for Rally Cycling, Sepp, Howard Grotts and I rode the South Boundary Trail from Angel Fire to Taos in New Mexico,” said pro mountain bike and gravel racer Payson McElveen of Durango.

“It was a super long descent and pretty technical in the end. I don’t think Sepp had ridden his mountain bike in like nine months or something crazy because he had been focused on the road. But he just hops on his mountain bike, and he was ripping, and he was even wearing road pedals and road shoes. Howie and I had just gotten off a full mountain bike season, and Sepp had absolutely not lost a beat.

“So when he dropped into that descent on the Tour, I had a pretty good feeling he was just going to absolutely rip it. It was easy to believe in his massive bank of skills at this point,” McElveen added.

Dreams of mountain bike success fill many Durango children at a young age. From his early days working with coach Chad Cheeney at Durango Devo, Kuss was known for his small frame, pointy elbows, strong climbing ability, and the tail whips he would try to throw off even the smallest features on any trail.

“Like everyone, he was into mountain bikes. But he would always ride the road, too,” Cheeney said. “Sepp always had these really cool and funny custom road bikes, beaters he had boughten off eBay or found in the Durango Cyclery recycling section. He’d find these super-light frames and put funky parts on them. We’d go on rides, and his bike would be creaking and rattling loose. He was this cobbler of bikes.”

During his senior year of high school, Kuss made the USA Cycling roster for the UCI mountain world championships, and he was a member of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory Devo Sweet Elite team put together in Durango. It was made up of under-23 stars such as Kaylee Blevins, Lauren Catlin, Tad Elliott, Grotts, McElveen, and Sarah Sturm along with high school shredders in Kuss and Stephan Davoust, among others.

While none of those riders ever would have gone on to predict the success Kuss would have in road cycling, he left a few clues behind along the way.

“We were at a race in Colorado Springs for Sweet Elite, and Sepp couldn’t make it because he was in Europe for a world cup,” Cheeney said. “We all watched the live timing for it. He started like 130th, and it was a super climbing race. He moved all the way up to like 50th or something. All of us had the tingles, and we looked at each other like, ‘Holy cow, Sepp can really, like really, climb. Before, we all knew he was fast, but that was this world-class moment. Before, you just thought of Sepp as some chill and mellow guy. You never thought of him as a world killer.”

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the Ayatollah HŌganie sneaking around like a thief in the night

Seldom Seen (Denny Hogan) deceptively removing his bike from the back of the rŌbert Sag Wagon in Ouray at 05:30 to get a head start on the pack riding to Durango.

Telluride Mountain Film’s past directors ride the shot ski at the Sheridan Opera House

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Mountain Film’s past directors ride the shot ski at the Sheridan Opera House, the original theater, to celebrate the festival’s 35th year. Dalva Chesonis photo

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Jerry,
Sweet to see that you had taken note of the six way ski shot. You might well
have taken the seventh glass, as I always think of you as the very embodiment
of a mountain communitarian, and Lisa’s contributions to MOUNTAINFILM
generally, and me in particular, are forever warmly remembered. The two
of you are always running these ridges at the highest levels, and I treasure
your daily observations via the Report now, as I did your conversation and expertise in an
earlier time. The Robert Report, and I don’t
know how to use the keyboard to accent that correctly, is as reaffirming
as a morning cup of coffee, and I am grateful for both.

Rick

Rick.
Thank you for your kind words… I admire what all of you directors did with the birthing of a little film festival and it’s meandering journey of 35 years. I think everyone appreciates the metamorphosis and energy it took to guide Mountain Film to it’s present place at the top…
saludos
Jerry

He’s a Third World Man ~ Casa de Tyler

Compay, Tyler built a beautiful small home beginning with a Weather Port design, then added … large capacity water storage tanks under the floor with electric pump & lights, wood stove, shower, a small kitchen … even a bed.

It’s small, compact, everything has it’s place and use … thought out & designed with cool shit like you’d see in a custom boat …

Everything you need. A very unique and very cool third world Starter Castle.

Salud

rŌbert

MELTING SNOW USUALLY MEANS WATER FOR THE WEST. BUT THIS YEAR, IT MIGHT NOT BE ENOUGH ~ NPR

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May 23, 2021

MICHAEL ELIZABETH SAKAS

Colorado Snow Survey supervisor Brian Domonkos and civil engineer Madison Gutekunst of the USDA weigh snow to know how much moisture it holds on April 30, 2021.
Michael Elizabeth Sakas/CPR News

There’s still snow in Colorado’s mountains near the headwaters of the South Platte River, and Brian Domonkos has strapped on a pair of cross-country skis to come measure it.

He’s the Colorado Snow Survey supervisor, and knowing how much snowpack is left from the winter to runoff into streams, rivers and reservoirs this summer is crucial, especially in a year when much of the West is in extreme drought. As it melts, the snowpack here will become the primary source of water for millions of people in Colorado and across the West.

Domonkos skis to specific points on what’s called a snow course. He jabs a tall metal pipe into the snow to collect a core sample, then weighs it to calculate how much moisture it holds.

The snowpack at the South Platte’s headwaters is over 110% of normal levels for this time of year, but that’s not the case for the rest of the state. In southwest Colorado, it’s less than 40% in areas that are already experiencing a historic drought.

The trend is concerning, Domonkos says, and part of how the warming climate is disrupting this delicate system in multiple ways.

“That might be the real wow factor for me, where these soil moisture deficits and low stream flows that we’re seeing in the fall prior are having such a massive impact on the current year streams,” he says.

Year after year, unusually dry soils from warmer than normal temperatures and a lack of moisture are absorbing a lot of the water that melts from the snowpack. This means that water isn’t making it into rivers and streams, essentially limiting the efficiency of the melting snow.

Even a year with an above-normal snowpack might not push Colorado out of a shorter-term drought, Domonkos says. Plus, warmer temperatures also mean less snowpack accumulation.

“That’s where I think some of our concerns, for us as professionals that do this, the deeper we get we wonder if we’re able to get out of it,” he says.

A sign marking where to measure snowpack on Colorado’s Mosquito Snow Course, near the headwaters of the South Platte River.
Michael Elizabeth Sakas/CPR News

Colorado has also been missing out on its late summer monsoon rains the last few years. Assistant state climatologist Becky Bolinger says that means the soils don’t have a chance to catch up on moisture until the snow melts.

“Your soils are dry, which gets into this unfortunate feedback loop of hot soils, evaporating dry and hot air,” she says

Last year was a good example — no big monsoon showed up in 2020, and “incredibly hot temperatures” dried out the soil.

In years that start with a water deficit, like this one, melting snowpack saturates the soil first.

“In order to have a normal runoff season and get what you need into the reservoirs, you need above-average snowpack,” Bolinger says.

Poor snowpack efficiency doesn’t just impact Colorado. Reservoirs Lake Powell and Lake Mead are projected to shrink to historic lows in the coming months, which could trigger the federal government’s first-ever official shortage declaration. That would mean mandatory water cutbacks in some states.

The Colorado River, which starts in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, feeds those reservoirs. The snowmelt supplies water to millions of people downstream. Yet the forecasted runoff for Lake Powell is just 28% of average levels.

“This wouldn’t be a concern if Lake Powell and Lake Mead had more water in them, but they are already at critically low levels,” Bolinger says.

The record lowest inflow for Lake Powell was in 2002, during a historic drought for the West. But Bolinger notes that Powell and Mead were “quite full at the time,” and believes there’s a chance this year could rival the record.

“We have not recovered from that 2002 drop,” she says. “I am extremely concerned about what this is going to mean for Lake Powell and Lake Mead.”

Ripple effects on recreation, ranching, wildfires

Some parts of Colorado rely on snowpack as a central water source. Sonja Chavez manages the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, where snowpack levels are around half of normal. With less snow melting off quicker, Chavez said it’s shortening the recreational season. If the snowpack was above-average, she said there could be six months of a season on the rivers.

“When you’re in drought like we are right now, that season is concentrated into maybe four months,” she said. What’s more, she said, low river flows can mean bad water quality from higher concentrations of metals and other contaminants.

The lack of snow and monsoon rains also has a big impact on ranchers in the area, who are reporting lower hay production and smaller herd sizes.

“So this year we’re starting to see our producers reduce their number of their cattle herd, and that has trickling economic effects throughout our basin,” she said.

Chavez said the federal Bureau of Land Management has reported that water wells drilled on federal grazing land are starting to dry up. “The groundwater supplies and levels are actually falling,” she said. “The city of Gunnison is actually dependent upon groundwater well supplies for our municipal water uses.”

Chavez said there’s a sense of urgency for water managers to plan for worst-case scenarios. She said more people have moved to the Gunnison area because of the COVID-19 pandemic allowing for remote work, and the water rights on those homes are newer.

“Some of those junior water right holders, they just may not get their water at all which is a concern,” Chavez said. 

Another symptom of snow disappearing from the landscape earlier is an extended drought and fire season.

“The earlier the snow melts, the drier the landscape becomes in that late summer period before fall rains sort of drown the system again,” said Kelly Gleason, who researches eco-hydro-climatology at Portland State University. 

The dried vegetation creates fuel sources primed for wildfires. And the feedback loop continues. Later, snowpack that collects in recently burned areas of the forest collects black carbon and is exposed to more sunlight.

“That blackened gunk acts like a black t-shirt on a sunny day, absorbing solar radiation,” Gleason said.

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