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I rolled into the Sunlight parking lot on a bluebird Friday morning. This was no ordinary Friday, this was Skier Appreciation Day, an awesome $15 ticket deal that I totally missed (yes, I’m working on a nice big button so y’all can submit deals). Most charity events take place during pre-season, so it’s fantastic that Sunlight sets aside a high traffic Friday in January to raise money for the United Way.
What a day. I met a wild family that had driven out for Moab, a group of Aspen Highland ski patrollers enjoying a day off, and a group from New Orleans who had never been in the mountain before. Cheap lift tickets brings everyone together it would seem.
No new snow today at Sunlight which bummed me out…until my first run. I went straight to the edge of the map and immediately found tons of untracked snow hidden in the aspens. Sunlight may look small, but there is a lot happening here. For instance, rolling through some gentle aspens, I suddenly found myself in a cleared chute with a steep pitch that reminded me of Mad River Glen, VT.
And not one person had been down it in the last few days. Now that is a Colorado gem.
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Coco flew in from Tucson to join me and promptly lost her luggage, forcing us to spend the day in Denver with hipster brunch douchebags and a stealth trip back to the DIA Big Top to “steal” her own bag from Southwest — it was either that or wait in line for a couple hours.
Over the week, we covered a mini-tour that included Copper, Winter Park, and A-Basin — the same three that kicked off our season last year (thanks again Descente Jacket) and also made the exclusive 100 Days Of Winter trip.
Four inches the first day at Copper surprised us, as I hadn’t expected anything and had set the bar real low for our adventure. It wasn’t even dust on crust, which again surprised me. We even got to hike up to one of the front bowls, although my wheezing, unacclimatized ass kept needing breaks.
Winter Park is the first place I ever rode with Coco three years ago when she was just learning how to link turns. Fast forward to today as I took her dodging trees, tearing down bumps, and even dropping a small five footer in the woods. Yep. She’s coming along nicely.
It’s almost a custom that our days at A-Basin will be blustery, windy affair. I was bummed that Montezuma Bowl was closed yet again, as I have yet to really dig into that new expansion, but I will be back M-Bowl. I promise you that.
I passed the snowboarder at the exit ramp to Flagstaff. He was trudging down the piles of snow on the opposite side of the street. You couldn’t hitch here with the two lanes of traffic. It was going to be a long walk.
Hell, I was already late to the mountain, two days to be precise, a 150 car pileup stopping me from the biggest storm of the season. So I swung around and grabbed the kid. He was about twenty and had missed the day before as well. Turns out he tried to drive his car up to Snowbowl, got stuck, and yelled thoroughly by the parking lot attendants for attempting to bring his car up to the Bowl without chains or four wheel drive.
“I decided not to drive today,” he told me. Wise words from the kid.
Arizona Snowbowl sits twelve or so miles outside of Flagstaff. With a sizeable university and the closest riding to Phoenix, it gets slammed on the weekends…or say the Friday before New Year’s Weekend. I had heard the rumors that officials close down the entrance when the ski area reaches capacity. I just didn’t think it would happen to me.
“Yeah, we’re all closed up. Too many people,” the attendant told me crushing my dreams of starting the season on a three foot dump. “Unless you have a season pass.”
“I do,” my hitcher suddenly said, waving his papers. The guard nodded, waved us through the checkpoint and I was on my way.
The good fortune didn’t end there. Arizona had been hit walloped with a storm. Two feet the day before and a wonderful ten inches overnight. Plus, the free ticket in my pocket and we had the makings for a kick ass start to the season.
For two years, I’ve stared at the trees underneath the Agassiz Chair and each year wondered what those tracked out bumpy pines would like covered with powder. Well, wonder no more. But c’mon, it’s the first run of the season. There’s not even a decent base so it’s just bottomless snow with trees and branches waiting to take you out. It’s just plain ill advised.
Three feet of snow. And like always, caution gets tossed to the curb.
What a way to start the season. Hello winter, I’ve missed you.