Sean Beckwith: Short stories from a long winter
If you ski 100 days and don’t Instagram your pin, did you actually ski 100 days? With an incredible ski season wrapping up, it’s fair to ask another 100-day-related question: If everyone else reached the century mark, how impressive is the feat?
People who don’t live in a ski town are impressed. People who have Ikon or Epic passes are impressed — especially the two middle-aged gentlemen from the Front Range who hazed up the gondola and later that same week almost hit me.
But how about locals? I’m not sure they care about your accomplishments. It’s like the Crossfit guy who tells you how many burpies he did this morning. First, I have no idea what a burpie is, though I’m sure they’d be happy to not only tell me but to demonstrate one. Second, why is it called a burpie? I’m not sure the gym needs an exercise that sounds like a parents describing a gassy baby.
So in an effort to not sound like the guy who keeps you updated on his deadlift capabilities, I’ll save the 100-day minutiae to awe relatives and flatland friends. Instead, here are some anecdotes from a few months in snowpants.
Chipmunk plays chicken
I had a few close calls with skiers this year, including the aforementioned blazed 40-something who never met a jump he didn’t like — or veer across the run to hit. This, though, was a different kind of on-mountain encounter.
I was transitioning from Spar Gulch to Kleenex Corner, just past the slow skiing zone signs, when a chipmunk ran out in the middle of the run. I assumed the animal would continue its dash from the left side of the trail to the right but instead stopped and stared at me, wondering which way I was going to go. Being close to a catwalk and amid a group of skiers, I didn’t want to rip the emergency brake, so I made my decision — GO LEFT! I transferred to my toe edge, raised my heals and came within a hair or two of decapitating or de-tailing the varmint. I whipped my head back to thankfully see the little guy sprinting toward the right side of the trail. Chipmunk avoided, crisis averted.
Fallen, frozen trees
During the blizzard that was March, there was so much snow that trees were literally freezing and falling. On the way up Exhibition at Highlands, a Ben Welch and I noticed pine trees fallen into runs. As we shared a lift and a beer later with some guys from Denver, we were amazed at the huge trees draped in snow and swaying in the breeze.
Ben, being the morbid person that he is, brought up the possibility of a tree crashing onto a lift cable, severing it and sending us plunging to a painful death. So, yeah, when we ripped through Sherwood Forest later and Ben lagged behind, my thoughts immediately went to the worst possible outcome as I blew his phone up. No, a well-timed tree didn’t strike Ben; he just got stuck traversing because he’s a second-rate snowboarder.
I don’t usually snowboard at Buttermilk but when I do, I snowboard at Tiehack. I thought the area was reserved for uphilling and people who can’t find stashes at the other three resorts. After an agonizing dentist appointment, I made my way to the most accessible ski area from Glenwood, which happened to be Buttermilk. None of the mountains reported an extraordinary amount of snow over the prior two weekdays, so I didn’t expect much more than a few runs to clock a day on the mountain. What I found — at 2 p.m. no less — was about 6 inches of mostly untouched snow and empty slopes.
It was so convenient and stress-free that I’ve added Tiehack to my rotation. I’m not sprinting over there for actual powder days or anything like that but the convenience of the parking lot is perfect for spring or groomer skiing. It’s like a gateway drug, though I’m not injecting that skinning culture into my veins just yet — or ever, really.
Also, I wouldn’t recommend the Tiehack lot before 9 a.m. because the uphilling crew fills the spaces like old people fill lap lanes during morning dips.
Friend on a powder day
I may be an a–hole but I’m not 100% a d—. A friend of mine’s visit was bookended by sunny days with featured powder day in between. He’s been out a few consecutive winters now and is picking up the sport at a pace befitting someone who snowboards once a year. Well, apparently that’s still not enough to endure 18 inches of fresh snow at Snowmass. After three runs, two of which I couldn’t help but plow into the fresh stuff as Bert followed my lead, we called it a day. I believe it ended with him yelling, “There’s too much f—ing snow! I can’t do anything when it’s this deep! I’m done!”
After some apres beers to discuss the next day’s plan of attack, he calmed down and we opted for Buttermilk, which, again, is my last pick for a powder day but we forged ahead anyway. Even though my windburnt cheeks could attest to the temperature, we had a blast. “Tree” runs off West Buttermilk aren’t ideal but they weren’t touched either, and there’s enough pitch on skier’s left before the run out to the West Buttermilk lift that one could feel like they weren’t missing great turns elsewhere. I mean it was only one day (of 100 and counting).
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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