By Julie Dockstader Heaps
The air was crisp and clean. The skies were blue. The snow sparkled like diamonds. I had just shot a photo of a trail on the Greys River Bench that seemed to show the sun in a starburst. Six months ago, I couldn’t walk without a cane after two hip replacements. Now I was snow-shoeing in Star Valley.
That — for me — was my “perfect moment.” I thought, “I’m alive again.”
Perfect moments are what winter in the “star of all valleys” is all about. It’s braving cold, shorter days to step out in the sunshine — a metaphor of sorts. It’s the reason I asked Kim Taft why she hiked the Greys River Bench with her dogs, Simon and Sadie, her rescues from Lucky’s Place, when she’d need snowshoes if the trails weren’t groomed by Alpine Trails and Pathways (ATaP). And it’s why I asked Violet Sanderson, Afton Town Administrator, how folks in Star Valley get out in the cold for winter activity when they could hunker down by a cozy fire.
“It may be cold outside, but the love you feel and the association you feel with your neighbors will keep you warm,” Sanderson replied, recalling ice fishing with her family when she was a kid growing up in Encampment, Wyoming.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever been super-cold; we’re having so much fun because we’re together,” she told me.
So, it’s the fun of winter activities — the snowshoeing, sledding, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, fat biking, snow biking — that warms you up. But it’s much more than that. It’s the warmth of the Star Valley spirit
I remember that “warmth” when I joined my brother, Dan Dockstader, and his wife, Kim, and their kids in the late 1990s to go “sledding” (local terminology for snowmobiling) up the Smiths Fork to find the perfect Christmas tree (with permits, of course.) Joined by several families, we worked inward to the best meadows, then set up a small fire where hot chili warmed us. We snowmobiled all over the hills. We laughed, had snowball fights and drank hot chocolate. And I don’t think I’ve ever had a prettier Christmas tree back in my Utah living room.
Earlier in the 1990s, Dan, his daughter, Meagan (McDavitt) and I strapped on cross country skis on Christmas night and headed up Swift Creek at midnight. The only word I can use to describe that moonlit, clear night was “pristine.” It was probably below zero. It was Star Valley, late December, in the middle of the night. But all I remember was feeling a warmth that sustains my heart when life seems cold.
I wasn’t cold up the Greys last month when I went snowshoeing for the first time. I wanted photos for the 2024 SVI Media Winter Highlights, so Jeremy Larsen of ATaP put me on the back of his “sled” — camera, snowshoes, trek poles and all — and took us back along the bench. While he groomed the trail with his weighted roller, I shot photos and took in the blue skies. I found it revitalizing. My snowshoes sat in the closet for two years since my husband had bought them for me. I wasn’t able to use them because of severe hip arthritis.
Now I was not only using them, but I also felt like I was breathing again. And it didn’t hurt that it was fresh Star Valley mountain air.
After writing and shooting photos for the 2024 Winter Highlights, I’m going to find more of those “perfect moments.” Come join me. I’ll gratefully return to Star Valley to gather around a meadow campfire for some hot chili.