When I was in Colorado back in January, my friend Paul mentioned that he’d be having an end-of-season party to celebrate his first year of sobriety. He said I should come out and have some fun – not a tough sell, right? So I booked my tickets back to Colorado, and had a great time skiing there this past weekend.
After a bit of a delay getting into Denver (due to fog in New England that muddled the schedule of many westbound Southwest Airlines flights), I made it into the Rockies (where snow was falling in large bursts) and to Paul’s house in Eagle, which is west of Vail. We spent the evening catching up a bit, and then got some shut eye as the next morning…
…dawned powdery! Yes! We piled our stuff into my Jeep and made our way to Vail, where the powder was ample, and where our friends, Don and Betsy, were waiting to share in the bounty. Run after run, we aimed for the fresh snow: down wide boulevards, over moguls small and big, through trees and threading chutes. Paul showed us some fun routes that are off the official map, and all of us had ear-to-ear grins as we enjoyed mid-winter conditions (in April!) with powder that ranged from ankle to mid-thigh in depth.
We skied most of the mountain. On the front side, we cruised the rollers on Ledges and made zipper lines through the bumps on Zot. In the Back Bowls, we had fun cruising China Bowl and poaching a few turns in WFO. And in Blue Sky Basin we laughed in delight as we “sipped” the powder in Champagne Glades.
There wasn’t a dull run all day long – we even finished with a nice little aspen glade for our last run – and we all returned to our cars tired, but very pleased that we enjoyed such an ideal day.
Day two, Saturday, was the day of Paul’s big bash. His wife, RenÃ©e, had done a lot of shopping for the party, the fruits of her labors stuffed into the back of their VW EuroVan, which Paul and I carted to Arapahoe Basin early that morning. RenÃ©e and their son, Justin, followed in their Audi, as we arrived at A-Basin just after 8 a.m. to claim our spots on “The Beach,” the area of A-Basin’s parking lot that opens up onto the bottom of the ski hill. During the spring, “The Beach” is party central in the Rockies, with huge parties featuring grills, benches, umbrellas, bands – and even portable hot tubs!
But our party was to celebrate the one year anniversary of Paul’s sobriety – it’s been a helluva turnaround for him, his family and his friends, and all for the better. So while the surrounding camps devolved into various states of pickling, we concentrated on the food (burgers and brats), the friends (who were there from all over the place), and the skiing.
And skiing at A-Basin is a really retro experience. It reminded me quite a bit of Alta, Utah: slower lifts, not as much grooming, and some incredible lines through rocky terrain. The only discernible differences are the presence of snowboarders (still verboten at Alta) and the high altitude. A-Basin tops out (lift-wise) at 12,500 feet, which makes for a lot of oxygen starvation if you overdo it.
I ended up having fun skiing with Don, Betsy, Spence, Tracy, Katy and other random friends of Paul. We had too much fun exploring the mountain, which was wind-whipped and cold for April 12th. The benefits of the wind were many, though: fewer crowds on the fun terrain, and re-deposited powder back in Montezuma Bowl. The only odd part of that equation was the somewhat mysterious entry into said bowl, as the snow obscured the lip of the cornice leading into the powder-laden trough. Somehow, though, we managed to find our way down.
On Sunday, Paul and I made our way back to Vail. And unlike our mid-winter experience on Friday, Sunday’s weather dawned sunny and warm, with temperatures making their way through the 40s to near 50 degrees (F) as the day progressed. What was light powder on Friday was corn and “mashed potatoes” by Sunday – a perfect spring skiing recipe!
We started our day with a couple laps on Vail’s front side groomers, where we sliced beautiful arcs into uncrowded corduroy. However, we had friends to meet – Bob, Pete, Greg and Mike – so we made our way to the summit of Chair 4. As we waited for our friends to arrive, we saw the beginnings of the costumed crazies that make closing day at Vail such a trip: Captain America was there to keep the peace, and a wayward woman in a prom dress traded money for photographs. It was quite the sight, and only got more insane as the day progressed.
But we were there to ski – and ski, we did! Once we met up with Pete and Bob (and Pete’s friend, Rick), we made our way back to Blue Sky Basin for a few laps of Steep & Deep and Heavy Metal. We even did a short out-of-bounds excursion that featured some steep and fun trees (still with nice, soft powder) and a slalom-like tree run back into the ski area (I had to practice my gate blocking skills to fend off the pine boughs).
We then met up with Greg and his son, Mike, who were also at the previous day’s party. With them, we skied a couple of laps on the Teacup lift. On the first ride up the lift, I scouted out a nice, tall cornice at the entrance to Genghis Khan, one of the lines in China Bowl. On the next run, I let Paul lead out to the lip of the cornice and asked him if the landing was clear. He nodded with a bit of confusion as I took a running start and lept off the cornice ledge into the bowl. I got some nice air, then stuck the landing into 5 big, sweeping super-G turns, hearing the whoops and hollers coming from the chairlift above (which happened to be stopped at the time – a captive audience). Paul met me a minute or so later, laughing and marveling that I did something so crazy. But it was such a rush!
We wound down the day as the temperatures soared and the snow became sticky. We met up again with Bob at the top of Chair 4 to see out the rest of the season, basking in the sun, watching the drunken revelers celebrate the end of a record-setting season in the Colorado high country. As the clock passed 4 p.m., the last skiers made their way up the mountain and Paul, Bob and I made our way down. The last run was sweet, and we took our time to lap it up. While it was not the end of Paul’s season, it was the end of mine, so I decided to save it for posterity: