First Descents

The must-have family photo on day 1. Copper Mountain, Colorado © Helen Olsson

The must-have family photo on day 1. Copper Mountain, Colorado © Helen Olsson

The first days out on snow don’t always go so smoothly. More than once, I’ve made it all the way to the lift only to discover a thick layer of storage wax on my skis. One season, my husband showed up at Copper with no ski pants. There he was, standing in the parking lot in his long johns rooting through his ski bag. Oh, pants! We always forget something critical in those first few days. Season passes, boot heaters, goggles. But better to get your act together when conditions are iffy than on a powder day in January, I say.

We’ve logged our first few days on snow and are slowly getting our act together. I greet those early days with mixed emotions. When the resorts open in November, there’s invariably one run available, and scads of rabid skiers and snowboarders who just cannot wait to ski. Welcome to the white ribbon of death.

Siblings getting along on the slopes at Copper. Magic. ©Helen Olsson

Siblings getting along on the slopes at Copper. Magic. ©Helen Olsson

Steamboat: Skiing with Bears

In the years 1996-2000 BK (before kids), skiing at Thanksgiving was an annual tradition for my husband and me. We would head for Steamboat, Colorado, rent a condo with a few of my siblings and assorted friends, drink way too much. We’d ski and snowboard just enough to work off the turkey and pumpkin pie. Mostly, we were skiing on a few runs on very firm snow. But we didn’t care. It was November, and we were skiing.

One year, in a clear sign that it wasn’t yet time to ski, we saw a large black bear waddling across the slopes. The beast would get about halfway across the hill when a skier would come zinging by and scare it back into the woods.

Perhaps we should wait to ski until the bears are snoozing into their caves. Maybe we should ski more in spring, when ski areas have their total acreage open and the snow is either a creamy consistency or layered up in powder from a springtime storm. Ironically, that’s when most people hang up their boards, lured away by warm-weather sports like mountain biking and golf.

Every year, I tell myself to save my days for the spring—but I never do. Like most fanatics, I ski at Thanksgiving. But it does have its benefits. Admittedly, I regularly ski myself into shape during the early season. November and early December is when I get my ski legs under me.

Copper Mountain: Human Slalom

For our first day out, my husband, Jeff, and I took the kids to Colorado’s Copper Mountain. Riding the lift up, we wondered if we would remember how to turn. (We did.) I contemplated the possibility that my boots had shrunk over the summer—either that or my feet had gotten fatter. Below us, ski racers from all over the country scribed perfect arcs, leaving railroad tracks in the snow.

Copper is an early-season magnet for the ski-racing set, including the U.S. Ski Team, which takes over the Super Bee lift and the slopes beneath it. On the terrain off the Eagle Lift, where we were skiing, the caliber of skier was high. I figured my kids were learning just by watching all the good technique from the lifts. We made a game of identifying the scud missiles among the mostly ripping skiers. There was just one run open, but it was enough to dust off the cobwebs and test the muscle memory of our quad muscles.

At one point we stopped below a slow sign, which was manned by two safety patrollers. We watched as a very small skier took out one of the safety patrols from below the knees, as if sliding into home plate. It was like watching a Warren Miller movie blooper in real time. I mean, if you’re going to have a fender bender, you don’t want it to be with a police car. (PS: All involved appeared to be unscathed.)

Loveland Colorado

Taking in the view at Loveland in November. Looks like winter. ©Helen Olsson

Loveland: Unplugging the Teenager

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, my older son and I headed to Loveland, Colorado, where my younger son was training with the Eldora Mountain Ski Club. He’d been boasting about the team logging 17,000 vertical earlier in the week, which seemed impossible given the potential for early-season lift lines.

We steeled ourselves for the post-Thanksgiving rush, but it never came.  We were on the lift at 8:30 a.m. and had logged five runs by 9:30 under sunny skies. We kept at it until noon, never waiting more than about two minutes to hop on the chair, loaded by a friendly fellow with a shockingly bright red Mohawk. We even caught a rope dropping on a brand-new run.

On the lift ride up, with views of a snowy Continental Divide spread out before us, I decided it was infinitely better to be out in the fresh air than home binge-watching reruns of South Park. Seriously, this is what my teenager is into these days.

While my teenaged son and I skied, my younger son skied with the ski team.

While my teenaged son and I skied, my younger son skied with the ski team.

When we got to Loveland, I realized I’d forgotten my sack lunch (see above). I was pretty sad about it, because the best ski lunch of the season is a sandwich of leftover turkey, stuffing, and my homemade cranberry-fig sauce.  All was not lost, however.

Lunch at the recently remodeled Loveland Grill is surprisingly reasonable, compared with the menus at most big destination ski resorts. I had a pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw for a wallet-friendly $5.95. My son had the mac and cheese, French fries, and cinnamon bun the size of a softball for around $10. He did not share one bit of the cinnamon bun.

With those early season runs under our belts, when the powder does come, we’ll be ready–with pants and lunches and boards that are waxed and brushed.

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