Aspen On the Hill: Last Lap
Your final ski run on your last day of the ski season is a singular mix of bittersweet nostalgia for the recent past and abject fear.
You can’t help, in those end-of-the-season turns, to reminisce about the winter behind you and all the days you spent on the hill — the new friends, the best powder days, the weirdest apres nights. And you can’t help — or at least I can’t help — but shudder with fear that on this final run, with summer and its sunny mountain-bound glories so close at hand, you might catch an edge or hit a tree and snap ligaments and limbs.
You might never worry about injury on your more extreme ski days, but when you’re closing out a healthy winter it’s hard to think about anything else on that final descent into mud season. And if you’re costumed-up and partaking in closing-day festivities, and you’re drunk and on drugs, well, then you have some more to worry about.
My final lap of 2017-18 came on a soupy weekday afternoon on Ajax, with light snow falling on the top of the mountain, a steady rain pouring at the bottom, and a dense cloud in the middle. These menacing conditions, of course, did not help assuage the final-run fear.
As I sailed into that murky cloud at the top of Spar Gulch, I encountered a stretch of snowcover that was half-slush and half-velcro — a halting weirdness that you’re only going to find on the April side of a long winter — and I came upon a patroller pulling a stretcher with a busted skier inside. The sight slowed me to a crawler’s pace the rest of the way down.
And then I let the bittersweetness settle in. Winter 2017-18, for me — as anybody who has been reading these columns in the past few months knows — was the year of the baby. It was a season of changing diapers in the Sundeck bathroom between ski runs, of peek-a-boo in the gondola, of family cross-country ski days, and of forgoing the hunt for a 100-day season. Terrain-wise, it was the year of Bear Paw Glades. Somehow, in 10 winters, I’d never dug in there much until early this season when — with scant snow on the mountain — I went scouring the trees on that steep pitch for a fresh turn or two. It turned into a habit: lapping Bear Paw on the F.I.S. lift. And further proved that getting to know Aspen Mountain is a lifetime project.
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