Winter wind in the Rockies

Winter wind in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo ©️ Erik Stensland, Estes Park, Colo. Used with permission.
Winter wind in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo ©️ Erik Stensland, Estes Park, Colo. Used with permission. Click to enlarge.

Estes Park photographer Erik Stensland posted this untitled photo on his Facebook page last month. He spoke of how difficult it can be to capture the wind in a still image. But on this day in December, he did just that. (Note the blue sky. This is not falling snow, it’s a ground blizzard.)

Most of us have probably seen snow swirling in eddies across a street or off a rooftop. And the lucky among us have seen banners of wind-driven snow streaming from mountain peaks. But neither situation explains how the very air comes alive when winter winds roar through the mountains. It may look like a fairyland in this photo, but when the wind kicks up (90 mph is not uncommon), it can be a nightmare. And dangerous. Stensland abandoned his trek this day when he discovered large branches and even whole trees were being toppled.

(This is a big image, and I just noticed that if you zoom in on the darker trees in the foreground, you can actually see the horizontal striations of wind-driven snow. )

13 thoughts on “Winter wind in the Rockies

  1. I was entirely cold enough before seeing this – now thinking i need a big mug of hot tea to hold onto. Did you have hiker flattening gusts hit you at the Keyhole, in the Trough, or on the Home Stretch during your climb up Longs? So hard to comprehend hurricane force winds blowing snow, yet that is the source of this beautiful photo. Really like my fairly warm office at this moment!

    1. Those awful winds are always possible in the mountains and Estes catches a lot of them — something about being down in a valley and peaks funneling the wind, etc. (The little Allenspark newpaper is called the Allenspark Wind for a reason.)

      No, I was very lucky when I climbed Longs. Clear, warm, windless all day. Plenty of climbers have been turned back by the wind and a few even blown off and killed.

      Enjoy your tea!

  2. What I wondered PT, when I went in close like you suggested, was; are there any of those beautiful elks stuck out there in all that?

    I love that elk.

    Magnificent shot; the people that go out there, and do this must be a very special type; with gentle minds, to capture this. how else can than go out otherwise?

    1. In winter the elk move down to lower elevations (like Estes Park) to avoid conditions like this. Luckily for all of us, Stensland is an intrepid photographer who goes out in all conditions at all times of day or night to get the shots he wants of the things he loves.

        1. It’s his profession. He knows what sells, what he has already and what he doesn’t have. And he turned back when conditions went from unpleasant to dangerous. I very much appreciate the effort he puts in to getting such great pictures so that I can continue to enjoy the park from the comfort of my living room.

        1. Did Ansel Adams go out in weather like this? I love his work but can’t recall any where he was in a windstorm like this. Yes, a tripod would be cumbersome, but Stensland once mentioned the weight of the pack he routinely carries, and it was big (50 lbs?). I think he always takes a tripod.

... and that's my two cents