A lot of snow fell the last week here in Colorado, which means it’s time to break out the winter clothing and footwear. In fact, usually in late fall, I completely reorganize our foyer closet to get ready for all the clothing, accessories and gear we will need for winter. I’ve sure learned a lot since my first winter in the mountains many years ago in Mammoth Lakes, California.
I moved to Mammoth from Alexandria, Virginia — a suburb of Washington, DC. Suffice it to say, that Washington, DC is not known for its snowy winters — a couple of years ago they had a “huge” winter when 60 inches of snow fell. Which I will admit, based on my experience was a lot for them. But we normally average 150 inches of snow where we live — 2 1/2 times that, and many mountain towns in ski resort areas can easily average over 300 inches.
Anyway, in preparation for my big move to the mountains, I went to the local department store and bought snow boots — sort of fashionable snow boots to use for the winter. After the first two weeks in Mammoth, when our first big snowstorm fell and dropped 1-2 feet of snow, I found out I was quite unprepared. I remember trudging along one cold night in November, the temperatures down in the teens, stepping through snow about mid-calf level, and with every step I could feel the moisture seeping into my feet. It was either coming in through my very porous boots, or because the snow was so deep, and my boots were not very high, the snow was coming in over the top of my boots. With every step I took, my feet were getting wetter and colder, losing feeling in my toes, and I was really beginning to regret ever having bought those boots.
I worked in the ski shop at the Main Lodge at Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort. The next day I showed up, wearing my still soggy boots, and someone looked at me, and said “you’re never going to make it through the winter with those, you need to get some Sorels!” Well, I had no idea what they were talking about — what was a Sorel? And what did you do with them? Turns out Sorels are these rather large, clunky version of L.L. Bean’s famous duck boots. They have a big sturdy rubber bottom with a rugged tread underneath. The top is a leather upper, rather tall, with a felt liner inside, and heavy duty laces to lace the whole thing up. They are — in a word — bombproof when it comes to winter footwear. They are also incredibly ugly, but who cares if your feet are warm and dry. When you are walking through two feet of snow, you’re not exactly worried about making a fashion statement.
I was lucky, because the ski resort had made a deal with the distributor of Sorels, and had a pro deal with them, so that all the lifties (aka ski lift operataors) could buy and wear them. This meant I could buy mine for about 10% below cost, which is a great deal, because even then Sorels were more than $100 at retail. Those Sorels got me through that first Sierra winter and a few more. I can say now, 20 years later, that I definitely got my money’s worth. I still have those Sorels (you can buy new liners to put in them), and I still use them during the deep snow and muck of winter, and they are still getting me through those snowy mountain winters.