An ode to the timelessness of winter.
Forever in Vail’s Back Bowls is one of my favorite ski runs in the world. I love the way the open slope falls down into the valley like a tilted meadow, and, yes, I love the hubris of making long, floating arcs right under the chairlift.
One powder day, I watched a snowboarder straightline the middle of the run—all 1,850 vertical feet of it without a single turn—his hair flowing behind him like the Silver Surfer as all of us riding the old three-seater began to cheer, yodel and squawk.
I have milked the openings between the aspens at the bottom of the run for every last bit of fresh snow, then raced to the lift line over the troughs and berms forming on the catwalk. When I was young, I twisted my knee there in the spring slop, and I rode the chair in a toboggan, staring into the depths of blue sky above me like an endless ocean above the earth.
At the end of the day, as my father and his volunteer ski patrol friends descended on last sweep, I began to feel better, and started playing tag with a red-haired girl on the Golden Peak deck.
In the mountains, you never fall in love just once.
Aspen and Interski
My first trip to Aspen was proof of that. The simple logic of turning an old mining town into such a straightforward ski town, at the base of such an elegant, mysterious mountain, cast a spell over me—as did the undulating ridges and endless options of the Face of Bell, and the rollercoaster feel of running on shaking legs down the banking steeps of Gentlemen’s Ridge.
I felt that immediate nostalgia I would come to feel in every ski town I have ever visited, the feeling that I want to live there for the rest of my life, and the realization that I may never come back.
Luckily, Aspen is a place I continue to revisit. Last April, I returned to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the 1968 Interski, the only time the international ski instructor’s congress has ever been held in the U.S. Several members of the PSIA National Alpine Team who represented America at the event were there, sharing stories about the deep spring snow, weeks of training for only a couple of days of demonstration runs and the different skiing techniques of the Austrians, Japanese and French.
One of those members, George Ingham, was a 70-something high mountain elf who had decided to stay in Aspen after Interski was done. As soon as he asked me to take a run with him, he started sandbagging about how old he was before dropping down the first pitch in a tuck.
I followed his skis like the swishing tail of a salmon straight to the bottom of the mountain, nonstop. After panting over our poles and laughing for a minute, we grabbed another gondola back up.
A Short List
There were some Saturdays when, in a mass of kids, we popped like jackrabbits through the bumps of Trestle, Derailer and Drunken Frenchman at Mary Jane, after navigating the space-capsule-sized moguls of Outback on the way over from Winter Park. Late in the afternoon, we rode the Ski Train home in the dark.
Each car was filled with Denver kids in big parkas and turtlenecks. All of us falling in love with a sport and each other, riding the rails down the Front Range to the Plains, first-crushed up on Mountain Dew and Kit Kats. At class on Monday, skiing was the only thing kids could talk about.
When my wife’s parents moved to a little ranch in Salida, her mother bought us passes at Monarch. My brother-in-law Scot lived in the barn. Together, we tried to figure the place out. I’m not sure how much you ever learn about riding a mountain as much as you do about how you like to ride it, and who you like riding it with. Scot and I seemed to like the same stuff: beer and steep runs, and when we could ride all day and watch The Broncos game at night.
Off the Panorama Chair we would soak in the views heading north toward the Collegiate Peaks, then drop rider’s right into J.R.’s or Dire Straits. Off the Breezeway Chair we would traverse over to Shagnasty and Outback. When they opened the Mirkwood gate access, I hiked the short ridge 12 times in one day to drop the cornice down the beautiful, windswept snow of Orcs.
When my friend Greg Ralph was the marketing manager at Monarch, he gave me the gift of a lifetime when he invited me to spend a day cat skiing with my all-time ski idol, Scot Schmidt. At Beaver Creek during the Birds of Prey races, Head Skis let me hit the slopes with Franz Klammer of 1976 Winter Olympic fame, who also won Austria’s Hahnenkamm, the world’s most storied, and dangerous, ski race, four times.
And on one bluebird May day at A-Basin, after my father had died the previous September, I felt like a dark veil had been lifted from my eyes. I knew that as long as I had the sport he gave me, there would be joy in my life.
But those are all old stories. Right now, there’s a season to start.