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On Sunday morning I woke up to rain. Not the kind of light drizzle that evaporates before it even touches the thick layer of dust that’s settled on our trails this summer, but the kind of downpour that calls for muck boots, a heavy Gore-Tex jacket, and a 1,000-piece puzzle.
I texted a friend to cancel our bike ride, crawled back under the covers, and dozed back off to dreams of blueberry pancakes drizzled in warm maple syrup.
It’s mud season in Jackson Hole. Don’t tell my ski friends, but I love it.
Ski town dwellers take recreating seriously. Sometimes, a little too seriously. So seriously, that when the first frost hits and fall rain mucks up the trails and the dark skies force us back into the lowlands, many of us run away to far-flung corners of the earth for fear of having to do what we do worst: sitting still.
Too much rain and snow to hike, run, or mountain bike, yet too little snow to ski, the moody days in October and November are what mountain-towners have long referred to as mud season. It’s a rare time in ski country where the options for spending time outside are few and far between, and it drives our peak-bagging, Strava-obsessed community nuts.
Ask any ski-town dweller how they’ll while away October and November and they’ll likely tell you about their plans to spend the off-season biking in Moab, surfing in Mexico, or stacking family visits. Anything but sulking around Jackson Hole in the rain. When you live in a place that revolves around outdoor activity, true colors shine through when we’re all the sudden cooped up for a few muddy weeks.
But I’ve come to love this under-appreciated in-between time. A time when I can spend a whole weekend making tamales, devouring a book, or pickling anything I can get my hands on.
I’ve taken my fair share of mud season trips, but carving out ample time to spend at home during the sloppy fall days has become a crucial time for my body and mind to reset. It’s a time to slow down, recover from the chaos of summer, and enjoy the calm before the literal storm.
However fun it is, the height of summer and winter in a mountain town breeds a level of activity that’s unsustainable without a break. Mud season is a time to breathe. To escape the constant pressure to always be doing something epic, an often exhausting standard that the age of social media has tricked us into. When my restless body resists this quiet time, I try to embrace it, and think of it as a new kind of pre-season training.
During mud season, it’s okay to have a weekend without scaling a peak or scoring first chair. It’s okay to spend an entire Saturday making croissants from scratch while your smartwatch beeps at you to “get moving!” (Disclaimer: I do not recommend trying to make croissants from scratch with a significant other you hope to continue to spend time with.)
Don’t get me wrong, I love skiing for eight hours a day for weeks and months on end. I love riding my bike until the sun sets at 10 p.m. in July and driving across the country to explore new mountain ranges. I love spending entire evenings talking about snow conditions and getting up before the sun to score fresh turns. But I also love baking cinnamon rolls and playing Monopoly and soaking in hot springs in the rain. Mud season always rolls around when I need it most.
So if you live in a mountain town and are dreading the weeks ahead, just do me a favor and give these cold, soggy weeks one more chance. I’m not saying skip your ski fit class and spend six weeks on the couch, but try to embrace the quiet. Be okay with doing a little less. Don’t worry about your Strava stats. Catch up with friends, read the newspaper (like a real newspaper, not on your phone), make a huge pile of pancakes, or poach a hot tub.
This collective recharge is a time to let our excitement for winter bubble, but not overflow. A quiet fall is an exercise in patience, one that will reward us with an abundance of energy (thanks to pancakes and pre-season workouts) once the snow really starts to fly.
Winter, here we come.