Guest Column: Powder is relative
December 26, 2014
I have been quite amused lately by the stories about powder skiing in the paper. I guess one knows that they have been around for a while when a mere 10 inches of fresh snow doesn't cause the excitement that others experience. I keep thinking back to times on Ajax in the '80s when we got 48-plus inches in three days, or 17 inches of the lightest, most delicious, almost-feathery snow on "big Wednesday," or the giant dumps that we would almost always get during World Cup races, and in particular the following story (an excerpt from my manuscript, "My Life On Skis or Ski For Fun!"):
It was sometime in the early- to mid-'80s, and I was going to Colorado Mountain College "solar school." It was a relatively complete curriculum and classes were held five days a week at the Glenwood Springs campus. I lived in Aspen, and so had to commute each day early in the morning. My car was a faded, green 1966 Volkswagen Beetle that I got for $50 from my neighbor several years before. My dad, Deane Billings, was a Volkswagen nut, and so with a minimum amount of work, I had a super-reliable vehicle that was great in the snow.
It was the first week of February and I was headed to school at about 8 on a frosty morning with packed snow on the highway. It had snowed about 6 to 8 inches the night before — not enough to make me skip class and go powder skiing. No one else was out on the slicker-than-snot road, and I was just cruising along with KSNO AM radio on and a fresh, hot cup of coffee. This was before cup holders, so I was gingerly holding it between my legs. The morning newscast ends and the snow report comes on. It used to be that the only way you could really find out how much snow had fallen on the ski hill the night before was on the radio report each day.
I was just south of the airport and the announcer says "8 at the bottom, 14 at midway and 23 at the top!" I had just taken a sip of coffee and upon hearing this stomped on the brakes and jerked the steering wheel while at the same time trying to reposition the cup between my legs. I was heading toward the ditch, and the flimsy plastic top popped off and I had scalding-hot coffee pouring down my crotch. Luckily, my pants were thick enough, and so uttering a few choice words, I punched the gas to try and get back to town for first tracks. My VW stuck to the road as I hauled ass back home — it couldn't have been more than 10 minutes till I was pulling back into the driveway.
Literally running into the house, I tore off my clothes and threw my ski gear on as fast as possible. By this time, it was almost 8:30, and although rushed, I wasn't too worried because — as I have failed to mention so far — I live less than a block from Little Nell. Lickety-split, I was out the door and at the lift in no time. That's right — this was pre-gondola.
Arriving at the maze, I was astounded to find that there were only about five people in line! Just like me, everyone had looked out their windows and seeing only the 6 to 8 inches went to work or school or back to bed. If I remember correctly, skies were relatively clear and cold, just like February should be. Loading onto the Little Nell lift, I bundled up for the 45 minute ride on three separate lifts to the top.
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I remember riding No. 3 (Now the Ajax Express), checking out all my favorite jumps and cliff drops, but from there, it's all just kind of a blur of white, but one of those days of skiing that is not soon forgotten.
1983 was a very good year for snow but I have heard stories of 4 feet in one day in the '60s and, of course, 2008 was a great season. See my video of super-deep skiing at Highlands on YouTube called "Sixty Seconds in the White Room."