First Turns of the Season

Fall is more known for raking leaves and trick-or-treating than setting a metal edge to snow. I say stuff your pockets full of candy corn and sneak away while the kids are at school to make a few turns.

I’m never in a rush to get out and ski when the resorts first open up for the season. It’s not that I don’t love to ski. It’s just that when there’s only one run open and it’s jam-packed with rabid skiers and snowboarders who Just. Can’t. Wait., the available terrain is a white ribbon of death, if you ask me. I’d rather ski late into the spring when more terrain is open and there’s tons of elbow room—and the slopes are covered in all that delightful soft spring snow.

Day one! I may be smiling, but my feet were crying. I’m so sure my feet got fatter over the summer.

That said….a few weeks ago, I was literally driving past A-Basin and Loveland, both of which had opened early. On a lark, I decided to stop at A-Basin for a few laps. I rationalized that it was midweek. The white ribbon wouldn’t be too crowded. Admittedly, I wanted to get that first day under my studded leather ski belt.

Smells like… fall

The experience was pretty surreal. The parking lot was bone dry. No ice and snow, no mud or spring puddles. As I booted up, the scent of wood chips warmed in the sun made me think more of starting out on a summer hike than hitting the slopes. Weirdly, it just didn’t smell like skiing. At the base, I found a fair number of diehard skiers making laps the one open chairlift. There were two runs to choose from, and I alternated left and right for a half dozen laps.

The East Wall looked a little naked in October.

High above, East Wall scraped a blue sky, but it looked nothing like it does deep in winter. It was dusted in snow, but you could see the rocks and cliffbands that are usually covered in white. In the opposite direction, the view of Loveland Pass and the Continental Divide was a startling vista in hues of tan and brown. Bikers clad in Lycra and motorcyclists were still riding the pass.

I saw skiers in tank tops and bikinis. Plenty of hoodies, baggie pants, and dreadlocks in the terrain park. The day was sunny and warm. It felt like spring. Everybody was stoked. The common refrain on the chairlift: “Can you believe we’re skiing in October?! This is crazy!” Most of the skiers and riders I ran into were Colorado locals. Folks from Summit County and the Front Range. Nobody’s getting on plane to ski the white ribbon in October.

Sneaking Away

Midweek in October at a ski area feels a little like Adult Swim at the local pool. I saw only two kids all afternoon. Maybe they were home schooled? Or maybe they were playing hooky, too. (I, for one, was playing hooky from work.) Not that I don’t love kids. I have three of them. But it was a decidedly different vibe. It was like we were all sneaking in a ski day when we should have been at the grocery store buying candy corn and fake cobwebs to decorate our front decks. The day had a touch of the illicit.

It wasn’t blower powder and it wasn’t chalky January snow on a steep high alpine cirque. But it was carving turns in snow—in October. And that’s one for the bucket list.

When I got home, I told my kids I’d gone skiing. It was a giddy confession. They were envious. “You did not!”

Yes, I did.

In October the view of Loveland Pass and the Continental Divide is more brown than white.

Tips for Early Season Skiing

  • Go midweek if you can. You’ll have more room to wiggle (or wedel, as they say in Austria).
  • Don’t bring out your brand-new boards. Coverage is usually good, but it’s not unheard of to encounter a rock or two. If you have rock skis or an old snowboard, this is the time to use them.
  • Tune up those rock skis. Early season snow is primarily man-made, which can get a little slick in spots.
  • Wear thin socks. After wearing flip-flops all summer, your feet may feel a little pinched in ski boots. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it by December.

    Parker the snow dog at Loveland. Looking pretty snowy for mid October! Photo: Dustin Schaefer

 

 

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