The last two weeks of the ski season always seem to be the longest two weeks of my life. Time stops. Sometimes it feels like the minute hand of our city clock is stuck, like in Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” music video.
The end-of-season celebrations seem disappointing to me. Especially the closing party of the Highlands. Originally it was a burial for the old base area. I see it more as a fiery vigil. My fear of getting hit outweighs my desire to ski in costume again with the cheering masses. I imagine that on the brutal Monday after Highlands closing day, there is a noticeable increase in the number of people checking into rehab and attending AA meetings.
The “look” I’m looking for at the end of this season is a middle-aged, windburned, grey-haired, paunchy skier wearing a one-piece ski suit. According to my reflection in a murky slush puddle at the base, I nail it.
My motto this year has been “ski the margins”. The tried, tested, and true longevity methodology is to go left where others go right, enter the mountain through dark portals at odd hours, ski afternoons midweek or last chair and avoid busy weekends like the plague. As a result, I found a strange kind of peace and quiet this winter in Aspen and Snowmass that has often eluded me in the past.
I recently discovered the value and benefits of slow skiing, such as extending your skiing career. My new mindset instantly draws me to the edges of low-angle ski slopes, where I make as many turns as possible, hugging the fringes and milking the terrain like a powder cow. This process makes me feel like I’m getting a better deal on my ski pass. Instead of judging a day by how hard I charged, my new yardstick is instead how many laps I have under my belt.
Another practice I’ve implemented is to go to a chairlift and just ride it for all it’s worth. I will ski the far edge of a run, then go back and ski the other side afterwards. It’s amazing all the cool terrain features, powder and corduroy that you miss when you’re going too fast. You have to stop and smell the snowflakes. Who intentionally does nine laps on Two Creeks – not kidnapped or at gunpoint? Me!
The latest storm delivered two days of mid-week powder in April and looked a lot like the lifetime achievement award for local ski fans. In contrast, one day last week the skiing was so bad that I even considered asking for a refund, credit, or voucher for a cup of cocoa. I felt bad for the “paying” customers. The mountain seemed hostile and unskiable in some sense. The snow was so frozen that it would have been beneficial to wear a mouth guard and earplugs. The on-ear noise canceling headphones I was wearing definitely helped.
We saw a tourist (I guess) take off his skis after two impossible turns and climb back to the top, to which my wife responded by shouting from the lift, “Good call!” The ski slopes also have their bad days. To his credit, the bottom 1/16th of the mountain skied well.
When I hear people go on a misguided rant about our tracks being busy and include the word “IKON,” my ears instantly shut off. One of the easiest things to do is to target a certain demographic and blame it. We all do. Don’t get sucked into eating the fermented, handy fruit of local complacency, as you could end up with an extremely unsatisfying buzz followed by a hangover of bitterness. Remind me again where you moved here from? And what do you suppose people from other tourist traps say about us behind our backs when we puff into town and tell them we’re from Aspen? Hint: This is not praise.
Did you notice the snirt storm we had this week? Snow + dirt = snirt. Every time there is a huge windstorm blowing in from the west, we are covered in a layer of red dust from the Utah desert. This time of year you can either go to Moab or let Moab come to you. It’s devastating to our snowpack and runoff, chewing it up like a Doberman. Take a look at the lower flanks of Aspen Mountain right now, and you can see the frozen, dirt-covered, knee-ripping bumps sticking their dirty heads out from the confines of Slalom Hill and Norway.
Spring skiing can be dangerous. On some of those heavy, wet end-of-season powder days, if you bend your ears, you can hear knees popping like popcorn over Ajax. It’s important to walk away from the ski resort on your own, rather than limping back to your car or riding in the back of an ambulance.
When the lifts finally stop turning, I stop skiing. One of the things I’ve noticed is that the backcountry has been getting crowded for the past two years. I responded by getting rid of all my body recovery devices and renouncing the backcountry and all the near death experiences I’ve had over the years. I thought I was one less inexperienced “kook” on the other side of the rope. (You’re welcome.) Also, I can easily get killed within the confines of the ski area.
With age, I hope wisdom comes. Look for me and my ski trails on the fringes of our local ski slopes, signing a signature, telling a winding story of twists, trials and tribulations of yesteryear, only to be magically erased by the next snowstorm .