Solitude prior to the storm | AspenTimes.com

Solitude prior to the storm

My skinning season got off to a mixed start Saturday when I headed up Snowmass.

I heard from friends that the Big Burn had been groomed the prior week so it was smooth sailing. I drove up to the nearly deserted village mid-morning, put on my gear for the first time this season and trudged out to the slope. Idle snowcats sat on Fanny Hill after laying paths of corduroy some days before.

It felt good to strap on my planks — outdated as they may be. I quickly found a nice shuffling rhythm and retreated deep into thought. There were no skiers or snowboarders to dodge and very few snowmobiles from Aspen Skiing Co. mountain operations workers.

Saturday morning was incredibly warm and sunny, so by the time I reached the alligator pond at the water plant, I had to strip off a vest. I had no specific route planned or deadline so I wound my way up the slopes that looked most inviting, passing the Ullhrhof restaurant before long. I reached the Powderhorn trailhead, looked up Sneaky's and thought, "Why not?"

There's a point about three-fifths of the way up Sneaky's where the evergreen trees to the uphill skier's right abruptly open and Garrett Peak pops out in full majesty across East Snowmass Creek Valley. I stopped and gazed in awe at an environment that looked immersed in mid-winter.

By that time, the wind kicked up and the clouds to the south were dark and plump with moisture that pounded the valley from Saturday night through Tuesday. I had to replace the vest and throw on gloves for the first time for the final ascent. It was odd being alone at the top of the Big Burn lift as the wind swirled snow devils and whistled through the trees. What a transformation is coming for the 137-day ski season starting Thanksgiving Day, I thought.

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I was glad to get out of my skis. I was feeling some discomfort, though not exactly pain from my alpine touring boots. I packed up my skins and threw on extra cloths as the wind rose and the temperature fell. I was glad to get moving, but my first turns of the season were bittersweet. My boots, which felt pretty good going uphill, tortured me downhill. My medial malleolus and lateral malleolus — aka the inside and outside "ankle bones" — were in agony from the pressure. It made turning a drag, which become a problem on the lower slopes because I had to evade obstacles.

I was never so happy to shed my skis as when I reached the Snowmass Mall. As I walked through the mall to my car, I saw that Jack Rafferty, the boot doctor with a workshop in Aspen Sports, had his sandwich board out showing he was open for business. I saw it as a sign from Ullr himself. Jack listened to my tale of woe, nodded knowingly and said the ankle pinch was a common flaw of that boot. He marked the pressure points on my liner and promised they would feel better.

I tested my boots Thursday on a trip up Aspen Mountain. I smiled when I reached the Sundeck. Not only was I relieved to finish, but the pain was gone. Jack did it again.