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.