I was talking with a good friend the other day and he told me about an unusual day on the slopes, or was it an unusual friend telling me about a good day on the slopes?
He went up early with the intention of taking a run down Long Shot, something he hadn't gotten around to doing all season. One thing led to another, and each lift line led to a chance meeting with different friends, and each of these encounters led to an unanticipated run here or there. It eventually became late afternoon and he hadn't even had lunch, much less that chance to ski his beloved Long Shot. Nourishment be damned, he headed for the short hike up to Burnt Mountain before they closed it for the day.
I know what you are thinking, and you are wrong. This is not a sappy tale with a predictable happy ending about lovely spring skiing on a glorious day, running into good friends at every turn, ending up on the deck of a slopeside bar with a local favorite band playing to hundreds of other joy-filled skiers shuffling around the splintered, sun-soaked boards in their ski boots, and being reminded once again how lucky we are to live in such a wonderful place where we can ski the best mountains in the world on a whim while forming life-long bonds in an honest to goodness community with great schools.
While not tragic on a grand scale, the ending to this story is not of the feel-good variety. After skiing for more than six hours, the first full day of skiing my good and unusual friend had experienced in decades, he came home and collapsed in exhaustion. It was not the good kind of exhaustion that is hard to distinguish from deep satisfaction. It was plain old bone-ache exhaustion that you might feel after a day of, say, weeding a large potato garden that hasn't been tended to in years, or building a medium-size log cabin with granite countertops in the middle of a roadless wilderness using only hand tools.
My friend told me that he was so tired that he was nauseous. He couldn't sleep. He was still sore four days afterwards. I am happy to report that by the time of this writing he has made a full recovery. You can stop worrying.
What is interesting is the ensuing discussion we had about this skiing experience, most notably that something like this would have never happened 30 years ago. Back in the '80s tons of skiers stayed on the mountain from the time they cranked the lifts until the time they shut them down. The last chair ride of the day was as coveted as the first. There were groans, lots of groans actually, when the lift line gates were shut. It was a running joke about how crowded Spar Gulch was at four o'clock in the afternoon when throngs of skiers were forced to finally come off the mountain. Nobody was too nauseous and sore for hardcore apres ski.
After a good beating up, our topic yielded two possibilities for the profound and sudden extinction of the all-day skiing excursion for us. First of all, high-speed lifts enable skiers to get more skiing today in a couple of hours than was previously possible in an entire day on the old, slow lifts. In the old days, you might have to wait 20 minutes to ride a two-person lift for 15 more. Now, you wait in line for 30 seconds for a quad lift to get you to the top in about 5 minutes. The math might not be simple for everyone, but you at least get the idea that six hours of skiing today is about the same as an entire three-day weekend in 1982.
The second reason six hours of skiing these days is nearly lethal compared to how we might have felt after the same time on the slopes 30 years ago is that we can no longer head out without dragging Father Time along with us. Age is a killer! Literally, now that I think about it.
The point, of course, is that nothing oldtimers in a ski town say can be relied upon. Talking about skiing, or anything else today versus yesteryear is the equivalent of comparing grapes to raisins. Grapes make wine and raisins promote regularity. Old locals have more confusion than perspective. The thing that changes most around here is us.
Roger Marolt is determined to become fine wine rather than a raisin. Contact him at email@example.com.