A little bit of snow in Vermont and the Pacific Northwest means the rest of us are suffering with 2-3 foot bases at our local ski hill, hardly enough to justify a $50+ lift ticket. Or in the cases of the chic resorts here in Colorado, $100+ (really, Aspen? really, Vail?) Vail is sporting 19 inches at the time of this posting, which means each inch of crusted-over snow costs about $5. That’s expensive.
But temperate temperatures means that the tough start looking beyond the ski resorts for winter fun. No, I’m not talking about quick getaways to Mexico. I’m talking about making the most out of winter, right there in your own backyard.
Some of the more hardcore among us are up for adventures like mountain biking on snow (done right here at Rabbit Mountain a few years ago). But for the rest of us mortals, having sports we can out (almost) out our front door will keep us healthy and happy until the snow dances kick in.
Road trips rock. Even Hollywood knows that. Pile all the hot folks into the classic convertible, have them eat gas station food, camp out in the desert (even though they didn’t pack sleeping bags), and run into all sorts of trouble on their way to their destination. For Hollywood, it’s about depicting the journey as the destination.
For snowboarding powder days in October, it’s about the destination.
It was Friday, October 7 and I was all packed for Moab. I had neat piles of boxes and bags in my kitchen. I had slept four hours a night for two nights, going over maps, cooking food, double-checking my toiletry bag. I hadn’t been to Moab since Thanksgiving 2008, and I had been missing it sorely. I was psyched to go. Mountain biking is my first love, after all.
But somewhere around Thursday night I had heard it was dumping at Wolf Creek, my favorite ski area. The knot-nag in my stomach was telling me I had committed to Moab and needed to push powder pipe dreams out of my head. I was going mountain biking, not snowboarding that weekend.
But then plans fell through. At 7pm on Friday, I was no longer going to Moab for the three-day weekend. I was free to go to Wolf Creek. I went to bed at 8pm (not hard, as I was working on maybe 10 hours of sleep for two days) and set my alarm for 4am. Two hours of cleaning and a little repacking, and I could be at the lifts by 11am and board until 4pm. Five hours of boarding powder for $33.
But the thing about snow dumps on your favorite ski area is that they’re not very cooperative with your driving schedule. And so it was, early Saturday morning on October 8 that I drove right into a snowstorm. It wasn’t snowing heavily and the conditions were not white-out, but the roads were icy. Driving on unplowed, icy, snowy, and dark roads is something I’ve done (a lot) and something I hate. I drove with an envy for the other, paved side of the road that only extreme dieters can understand. I white-knuckled it in places, slid a little here and there, and arrived at Wolf Creek by 11am.
Temps were warm, maybe upper 30s and I wondered if I hadn’t overdressed with three layers on the top and two on the bottom. My first run was off the Bonanza Chair, a long, winding, easy-peasy run that’s good to warm up on. It’s called the Great Divide and it’s a great introduction back to snowboarding after a three-month hiatus. But the trail was longer than I or my legs remembered and somewhere, about three quarters of the way down, it burned, burned, burned. That IT band, it burned, and the calves followed suit.
The iron deficiency thing I have kicks in just over 10K feet, so I was huffing and puffing like an emphysemic wolf at the straw house. I chilled out for a few minutes at the lodge before I headed over to the the Treasure Chair, where I would stay for the rest of the day. The Treasure Chair had the powder. That’s the beauty of Wolf Creek–the more eastern you go, the further away you get from the main lodge, the more powder you can find. And I found it by ducking into the trees along the Tranquility run. I was swishing and laughing, all by myself, forgetting that it was October, that I had driven five hours to get there, that I hadn’t sleep much that week, and that I was 41 years old. I forgot all that and used my x-ray vision to find more untracked powder even though it was getting on in the afternoon.
I found an open field of untracked powpowpow, which had what looked like pieces of straw sticking up. I leaned back on the board with my weary-heavy legs and shifted my weight back so I could literally surf over the snow. That feeling of gliding over snow is what makes skiers turn into snowboarders. Snow-surfing is surreal and full of quiet, save the the board fwapping over the straw in the field. I went back for more. And again.
Exhausted by 3:30, I called it after about 10 runs. I had packed my New Mexico maps just in case I wanted to duck south and do some mountain biking. I knew I wanted to mountain bike Penitente Canyon on Monday, but I love northern New Mexico I dream about it. Often. So I headed to Chama.
The drive down the mountain to Pagosa Springs is ridiculously scenic, so I pulled over, with a dozen other cars, to the overlook to click and capture some magical moments:
I took highway 84 down to Chama, New Mexico, home of the famous Cumbres and Toltec scenic railroad that winds through the countryside/mountainside just like back in the days of old. I was hoping to stay in Chama and ride my mountain bike nearby the following day, but there was no room at the Chama Inn. Or the Chama Motel. There were no beds on which to rest my weary head.
So I parked in town, watched the sunset, then drove north through another snowstorm.
The unbelievable opportunity I had on October 8 to go snowboarding in six inches of powder at Wolf Creek is still resonating in my addled mind. My favorite part was the sunshine and the clouds and the cold and the hot and the vibe and the folks and the excitement that snowboarding season is coming…slowly maybe, but coming.
For those of you chomping on the ski pole or last year’s mittens, read my ditty about what early season skiing conditions are like and what to know and do when hitting the ski run before Thanksgiving. What to expect when skiing or snowboarding in October. Hurry, there’s less than two weeks left.
The snowmaking guns and Mother Nature have conspired to make snow conditions favorable enough where Arapahoe Basin, a staple of the Summit County, Colorado skiing and snowboarding scene, will open tomorrow for the season. It’s a pretty early opening and comes on the frozen heels Wolf Creek’s opening this past weekend.
If you’ve been following by non and mis-adventures you might be wondering why I’m not in Moab this weekend. The Moab trip had been in the works for a month and yet the night before fell apart owing to work obligations of one of our party. I was sad not to be visiting the homeland, but this now meant I was free to head down to Wolf Creek’s opening day as the first ski resort to really (more on this later) open in North America.
I’ll have more to write later, but I’ve got to get back to my road trip, which includes hiking and sandboarding and mountain biking Penitente Canyon.
At least six inches of powder was up for shusshing along all day long at Wolf Creek. Today was opening day at Wolf Creek, the earliest it’s ever opened. Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort, in its zeal to be the first resort to open in North America for the 2011-12 season, started running its lifts at 7:30AM. But I bet it looked nothing like this:
Break out the winter gear! Wolf Creek Ski Area, which has arguably the best snow and most powder in Colorado (outside of Silverton, maybe), is opening up this weekend after getting three feet of snow. Kudos to this no-nonsense, all business ski area for getting it together enough to open 3 lifts, 600 acres, the ski shop, and the upper lodge. Lift tickets are only $33!
The article I wrote as the Denver Snowboarding Examiner on Wolf Creek’s opening just went live. Check it out.
SheSpoke will miss all the fun. She’ll be in Moab mountain biking, maybe even spectating at the 24 Hours of Moab.
Six weeks until A Basin or Loveland probably open. I can’t believe it! A mere two months ago we were grilling out at A Basin for the 4th of July and a campy run down some moguls.
Well, Colorado Ski Country has done it again, selling the Colorado Gems Card for huge savings at resorts like Loveland, A Basin, Ski Cooper, Monarch, and a few others. The card is much like a pass, although without a photo. The card must be presented in person at the ticket window for discounted lift tickets.
Ski or board Loveland all season long for $39. Hit up Sunlight for $40. Enjoy a free day at Monarch in April 2012.
Yep, you read that right. Snowdump in places like the Sierra Nevada in California have reached unprecedented levels this season, which places like Squaw Valley (USA!) getting over 700 inches this season. You do the math.
Snowhounds should look west to make some turns: California, Oregon, Colorado, and Utah all have resorts that are remaining open or will re-open for the 4th of July holiday. Powder skiing and boarding, this ain’t, and get there early to get some fun in before the snow turns to frozen mountain lemonade.
Any adult who spends time in Peter Pan-land will tell you: Even a bad day of play beats a great day at the office.
Hence a day in the Colorado Rockies that is fraught with 30mph winds, pelting ice pellets, icy patches, flat light, extreme terrain, anemia-induced dizziness and weird eye-floaties is better than closing the deal, grading papers, or overall wrappin-it-up at week’s end. Let’s face it, with few exceptions, the best thing about work is time off from it. And I love my job(s).
So it was, on a random Thursday that I and my two partners in crime (one’s a nurse with an unorthodox schedule, the other is on what’s appropriately called funemployment) headed to A Basin, aka Arapahoe Basin, The Legend for a few hours of adult recess.
My two partners are not what I would call avid skiers. They stopped being avid years ago. Mr. Funemployment has put in over 30 days this year and I bet my nurse friend is in that same ballpark. These guys are warriors, not weekend warriors.
So it was with some trepidation that I headed up to the hills with the experts, somewhat leery of my recent cry day at Vail (not ready to write about that one yet) and somewhat wistfully remembering that magical day at Loveland where I boarded in my comfort zone all day and left the mountain with a rare sense of confidence. Being pushed is good, I agree, but some days ya gotta hang where you feel comfortable so you can practice the fundamentals, even when the pitch gets steep.
The day started with a three-day $138 A Basin spring pass. Rumors are A Basin will see the light of June, and April brings surprising powder dumps with its showers. Skies were grey, conditions were mostly icy with patches of powder, which were visible early morning but not afterwards. The flat light made navigating terrain difficult and seeing icy patches impossible. Flat light is a lot like April snow-showers: lot of surprises.
And the wind. The A Basin snow report predicted 25mph winds, but my virtual finger test called hogwash. By 11:30AM, winds were whipping through the Basin of A, sending icy snow pellets darting sideways and upward into my face. I hate icy, sideways hail.
By one o’clock, the anemia and hypoglycemia were winning, and the wind had turned just this side of ridiculous. So we raised the white flag halfway, caught some lunch at Black Mountain Lodge, and did our swan song turns for the day.
But not before hitting the East Wall. The East Wall at A Basin is hallowed in some circles, as it’s rated a double-black diamond. Now I can hang on blacks (as long as they’re mogu-l and tight-tree-free), but I don’t pretend to know or even care to know about double-blacks. The East Wall is hike-to territory, and the steep chutes, another 500-600 feet from the catwalk traverse, are what put the double in the black. We weren’t doing that, although we did see some folks hiking towards heaven.
The thing about the traverse along the East Wall is that it’s skinny, and I’m afraid of heights. So my clammy yet frozen hands are gingerly pushing me along the catwalk and these rocks, well, they jut out and make the margin of error of tumbling into the East Wall’s open bowl even greater. After charting a course and trying not to freak out by the “DANGER you will die” signs that greet you at the East Wall’s entrance, I dipped down into the bowl and realized:
The East Wall ain’t all that. The upper portion, sure. But I made it down alive, didn’t come near as close as I thought to any rock outcroppings or cliffs or any of that other nonsense. It was fun! There was this little funnel bit and a wide open bowl, with plenty of crust to turn in. I kept my speed up to the lift, and we turned around and did it again–minus the rock jutting out into the traverse.
And then the eye-floaties raised the white flag, all the way up, and we called it a day. For real.
Read about SheSpoke’s epic, six-hour road trip to hit Wolf Creek’s opening day in 2011 with three feet of powder!