It's been 4 to 5 weeks since we started seeing the first signs of the impending winter at higher elevations, mere dustings of sleet and snow left behind by passing afternoon thunderstorms. The "monsoon" winds of late August and September bring moisture originating in the Sea of Cortez to the northwest over the desert and into the higher terrain of Colorado. The atmosphere cools as the length of solar daytime heating diminishes toward the solstice, and the snow level begins to drop.
The first accumulating snows are typically not the right type of snow to make early-season turns on. These first events tend to be unaccompanied by any wind. These storms blanket the mountains in a beautiful layer of white that gives skiers a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, but doesn't offer much support support to a pair of skis. As September rolls on, the polar jet stream begins to push small bits of energy southward along the Rockies. Just a few inches with some moderate winds can drift this snow into piles that line the ridges and fill the gullies.
The utmost care must be taken when skiing this time of year. The snow is incredibly thin and the surface is usually crusty, thick, and grabby. It's skiing nonetheless. These early days build character, and if you respect the gravity of the consequences surrounding you, and ski accordingly, they can be overwhelmingly fun. The feeling you get clicking into your skis and sliding down a cold drift of snow after a long summer of sweaty, dirty work is nearly unmatched.
The storms that come in October tend to be colder. The sun-baked snow surface freezes solid and fluffy snow drifts on top of it. This crusty layer can offer support and protection from the sharp rocks below. The first faceshots of the season are produced by a quick slash of the skis. The first taste of winter has been savored.
Eventually, the snow stops falling and the dry October days and cold, crisp nights take over and promise to turn this first coating of snow to an unsupportive base layer that will inevitably come back to haunt us. All we can do now is enjoy the anticipation of what's to come and hope for the best.