You know when you see guys riding road bikes up the Fryingpan the first week in December that something isn't right.
You gotta hand it to Aspen Skiing Co. for making lemonade out of lemons, so to speak, especially considering that it needs to make enough for, like, hundreds of people out
of only a few measly pieces of unripened fruit. But somehow Skico pulled it off and has provided us with enough terrain to put a little wind in your hair and make you go, "Weeee!" - even if it's just for a few lousy turns.
The "spirited locals," as they've been called, are certainly satisfied, though I'm not sure I'm buying it. I know better. I know they're just day counters, out there long enough to get their passes scanned and get a little pink-cheeked so they can be seen clomping down Galena Street with goggles on their foreheads and skis casually tossed over their shoulders, so they can go back to work and brag about how they ski every day no matter what.
If you are a day counter, you can bet those two runs you took off the Bell chair count as a "day." If you're a day counter, there's no way in hell you're going to risk not getting your 100 days in on account of a slow start to the season. Mind you, you might not start counting vertical (that is, if you're a vertical counter) until the gondie opens, but days are another thing entirely.
My friend Katy is a die-hard skier. She loves skiing so much that she thinks every day on skis is a great day. When she told me via email that the snow was "actually really great," I'd rolled my eyes because I knew that's exactly what she would say.
I agreed to meet her for a few runs last week, figuring it beat dropping 20 bucks on another quinoa sushi roll and bottle of green veggie juice for lunch at Peach's. Plus, I'll admit, I was curious. I needed to know once and for all if my snowboarding pants still fit. Married life has not been all that conducive to maintaining a size small. (They do - but barely.)
Even though I know it will negate my status as a true local to admit it, I have never ridden the Nell chair or the Bell chair, for that matter, but what can I say? I am a Highlands girl through and through and never took the time to scour every inch of Ajax like the hard-core locals do. I agree that it's totally lame to identify yourself with one mountain over the other, which is why it's so annoying when other people do it. To be fair, I do love all four of our mountains, my favorite depending on whom I'm with and what I'm riding and what I feel like eating for lunch or where I feel like drinking afterward. Most days, it's Highlands, but still.
So I meet up with Katy, and it's a pleasant day, warm and sunny and quite nice just being outside. Riding the Bell chair gives us plenty of time to catch up, and I love that because normally Katy is more about the skiing than the social ski-and-be-seen aspect that I so love. On my birthday last year, she sternly informed me we would not be dining at Cloud 9 after all because, hello, it was dumping. I pouted the rest of the way up Loge, but as soon as I dropped into Ballroom, I knew she was right. Who needs a gourmet meal and a few too many bottles of wine when you've got a mouthful of snow? Better to eat in the White Room for sure.
As we head up Bell, the sun is in our eyes, the old double chair is a silhouette, the sky is sort of hazy, the snow is almost gray, and I feel like I'm in a home movie or an old black-and-white photo. There's a certain mood to it that's very sweet.
When we finally reach the top, the anticipation of the first run of the year is almost palpable. My hands shake slightly as I strap into my board for the first time. As soon as gravity takes hold of me, I let out that "Weeeeeee," almost relieved to know that the joy is still there.
I kind of like the whole old-school-ski-area vibe you get riding the slow double chair. You can see terrain so much more closely than you do from the gondola, little lines through the trees and fun drop-offs and lesser-known stashes that aren't always so easy to find on the way down. It's like when you travel with someone for the first time, you get to know them in a different way than you ever had before. The extra travel time on good old Ajax is kind of like that, too.
These early-season conditions remind me of growing up skiing in Vermont, where we didn't know any better. We skied on ice so thin it was blue and on days it was so cold that going in for hot chocolate wasn't so much a break as a life-or-death necessity as limbs froze and went completely numb. I remember a ski instructor told us once that singing on the lift kept you warm, so we'd holler the lyrics of "Miss Lucy Had a Steamboat" at the top of our lungs. While it didn't warm our little bodies, it definitely put a glow around our growing spirits.
Once again, I have to admit it: Katy's right. While I wouldn't say the snow is "really pretty great," I would agree that being on the mountain is. And while I might not be getting out there every day this season, I have been counting my "days," and so far, I'm at No. 2.