Last week the red-winged blackbird was in Arizona, wintering with a flock of ten thousand other orange epauletted avians. But some imperceptible change in the weather prompted it to start north, and two days ago it flitted into the bed of reeds just below the bridge over the creek. When it arrived the weather was balmy, and a green tint was starting to fade into the patches of dirt on south facing slopes. Now, the blackbird trills his happy call, ready for another summer of bouncing through the creek bed, aggravating other males and trying to attract females to mate.

Three skiers crossing the bridge with their dogs hear the distinctive call. Plenty of people talk about how spring has a special smell, but it has a soundtrack too. Red-winged blackbird warbles over the sound of snowmelt signal an imminent end to ski season. The skiers don’t really mind. They’re ready to ride bikes, chase packrafts down river. The dogs don’t mind either, warmer temperatures means there’s less wallowing and more bounding around before they roll in the skin track.

Up at the ski hill everyone is already in full spring skiing mode. Most of the chairlifts are filled by spring breakers. Locals head up for slushy afternoon laps, and there’s been rumblings of a wiggle carved into the slope. Some skiers are already planning their mud season escape to the desert. Others are excited by the newfound stability and are starting to check big lines off their lists of goals. Everyone is slathering sunscreen on newfound goggle tans and burns as they head to the hill.

And then some invisible switch flips. The redwing blackbird senses it first, huddled in the reeds as an icy chill drops into the creek bed. The light evening drizzle starts to freeze. Above, on the highway, a semi truck hits a new-formed, invisible patch of ice and veers toward the barriers. The driver saves it somehow, swearing and sweating as the massive rig buckles and then rights itself.

Sometime during the night the snowfall gains intensity. Up at the ski hill, the groomers have gotten used to easy laps, smoothing out firm snow. Now it’s soft and sluffing off the frozen crust as they secure winch cables, easing up and down each run. In town, the new snow accumulates, barey freezing, in a glop of almost slush. It covers the dog poop, makes the plow piles look pretty again, and causes havoc on the few greenhouses that intrepid gardeners have strung out.

In the morning, the redwing blackbird is shivering under a fresh coat of snow, working to stay alive, no longer filled with the joie de vivre that animated his calls just a few hours prior. In the parking lot a skier on vacation is bemoaning the fact that he only brought his narrow big objective skis. His rented SUV is parked haphazardly in the snowbank and his fitted softshell pants will be soaked through in just a few minutes.

The same three skiers from yesterday are headed back out for another lap. No dogs this time. The avalanche report reads casually, but they know that more snow piled up than anyone anticipated, and treewells kill dogs as easily as people. They’d written off this winter just yesterday, resigned themselves to having made their last pow turns of the year. Now they’re quietly optimistic, breaking trail through deep snow, probing the slope at every turn, hardly daring to believe that it will feel as bottomless as it looks. It does.

Each turn is deep, sweeping, light snow hanging in the morning light. Their legs are finally seasoned and fit after months of skiing and they return to the summit for lap after lap, popping pillows at every opportunity, giggling as they plunder this unexpected windfall.

By noon the temperature is rising. They’re steaming as they skin back to the car. A few others will ski later in the afternoon and find slopes approximately the consistency of fresh-poured concrete.

At the ski hill there’s no rush, no parking frenzy, no lift line outrage. It’s a Thursday, and those who know, know. They ski deep snow for most of the day, trusting each landing with a full season’s snowpack burying obstacles.

By sunset temperatures are nearly ten degrees above freezing again. The red-winged blackbird survived the night, and he’s in higher spirits now. He lets out a triumphant trill as the last light fades over his patch of creek. Anyone who really counts winter as passed is a fool, and he’s happy to sing while the sun shines, and shiver when winter demands her due. She’s a ficklemistress, but often generous with spring snowfall.