By May 2, Loveland Ski Area had received almost 30 inches of new snow, Arapahoe Basin over a foot and our black Audi parked outside the apartment in Dillon looked like it received a thick, white paint job. Therefore, May 2 found Tyler and I embarking yet again on a snowy back country foray. We bolstered our early morning outing with announcements like, “this could be the last time,” just as we said the time before and the time before that and the time before that… At any rate, it was hard not to be just a little ebullient about another romp through untouched powder. Since Tyler had to go make the big bucks (aka work), we embarked early (my favorite). Loveland Pass had literally just opened, so we decided to do the “big lap,” coming in from the top and hitchhiking back up to the car at the end.
With the exception of two snowboarders who popped out of a small mini van like clowns doing the walk of shame, we had the top of the world to ourselves. The sky was “It’s a boy” blue, the sun already shining bravely through the overly brisk air — at 9 degrees, May entered stage right mistakenly calling itself January.
“I think I left my hands in the parking lot,” I said as Tyler and I crested the first ridge. Tyler pronounced that his left hand was “gone,” probably on vacation in the Bahamas, wearing board shorts and sipping a Mai Tai. It was certainly cold, but at least the wind hadn’t yet awoken. The air was as quiet as a room full of cake-stuffed toddlers after the inevitable sugar crash, making this tour one of the few that we could file in the “enjoyable” department. No blistering winds, no low, heavy skies sucking the contrast out of the surroundings. It was downright perfect.
Two ravens soared on an errant breeze just above the ridge we were aiming for. The snow was deep, but breaking trail was a lark as it was soft and light as the innards of an expensive down pillow. A regular soundtrack of booms echoed into the distance marked our travel, as Arapahoe Basin and Loveland Ski Area did their best to mitigate the avalanche danger brought about by another ample round of snow and wind. At the top of the ridge, we looked across the valley at the lifts turning at A Basin and the lower parking lot already filling up quickly like a movie theater popcorn machine.
One at a time, we descended through The Milk Run, floating over the snowy surface like marshmallows on the top of hot chocolate. Perfect turns and perfect stillness equated to a feeling of zen closer to flying than anything else. By the bottom of the first run, I had a grin painted across my face like a highly caffeinated mime. By the end of the second run, I felt higher than a satellite that had successfully zipped through Earth’s atmosphere. Despite a burning desire for spring, I had to appreciate a morning like this one.
The happy glow faded slightly when the time came to put the skins back on our skis. The cold temperatures made the glue on both of our skins stick together like two powerful magnets super glued and duct taped together then run over by an incredibly long, fast train. It took all my abdominal strength and prayers to every deity to get one skin apart (with Tyler on one knee pulling one end, me on my knee pulling with my entire body weight on the other). When the skin finally came apart, I catapulted backwards like a giant domino into the powder, coughing and sputtering and laughing.
“Oh crap, there’s still another one,” I said as Tyler extracted his second deadly skin from the pocket of his back country vest (which would later attract attention as it looks like a military grade fishing vest).
Eventually, we managed to re-skin and start the short but steep climb up to the top of the ridge to Hippy Trees. Someone had been up there before us and we plugged into their skin track two-thirds of the way up, which made our lives easier. Walking the ridge is delightful, as one is granted a 360 degree view across A Basin to the South, the east side of the Loveland Pass drainage, back towards our sweet Milk Run and Shadowlands lines from earlier to the North and to the west, all the way down past Keystone to the Gore Range. And we could see the parking situation at A Basin, where the lower lot looked like a full page article, with neat lines of cars packed like sentences that read, “Powder Day, everybody call in sick to work.” True story: the night before at the Cafe, I heard a whole chorus of locals planning to call in to work and plead the powder flu.
As we were transitioning from hike to ski, the other BC adventurer popped out of the trees — the only time we’ve ever encountered another person up there.
“How’s it goin’?” He said, shuffling up to us on a blue and green split board (a modified snowboard that allows a boarder to walk uphill on “skis” and then reattach the pieces and snowboard down). Splitboarder guy’s name was Creston and he and Tyler eventually realized they’d shared a snowy spot before, probably up at Vail Pass. It’s a small world, after all.
What goes up must come down, and neither of us were about to argue against the rules of gravity on a powder day. The sun flashed off the perfect snow surface like a moment of pure genius as we leapfrogged each other down the widely treed slope of Hippy Trees. The snow wasn’t as light and fluffy as it was on higher elevations, but it was consistently smear-able, like marscapone. About halfway down, the terrain gets steep and dives steeply in a convex terrain feature called a “roll over.” It’s the point on the tour where we consistently re-evaluate our trajectory and ski one at a time to mediate avalanche danger. Both of us experienced mini-slides of new snow sloughing off the old snow surface. But the steep terrain in Hippy Trees is short, so the consequences are (hopefully) minimal.
At the bottom, we were relegated to a semi-dignified scramble in ski boots, due to the presence of many large boulders and the absence of enough snow to smooth them over. On the road, we stuck out our thumbs like Marmot-wearing, ski-boot clad hippies. Hitchhiking is as common on Loveland Pass as pigeons are to a dirty New York park, so we didn’t have to wait long for a ride. A chill dude named Alex gave us a lift to the A Basin parking lot, where I left Tyler and all our gear and caught another ride to the upper A Basin lot with a guy named Greg. His excited dogs yipped and pawed at the rear window as he dropped me off. I crossed the road, watching a whole string of cars turn into the parking lot.
After a bit, a white SUV pulling a snowmobile slowed to a stop.
“You just headed back up to the top?” Said the driver, a friendly Asian with goggles pulled up on his forehead.
“You got it,” I said. “Thanks for stopping.”
“Yeah hop in,” said the passenger, an attractive Asian girl with a big, friendly smile. “Sorry, it’s a mess. It’s gonna be kind of cramped.”
“That’s okay,” I said, moving a pink helmet, a bag of opened potato chips and two back country packs out of the way. “I’m small.”
On the way up, we chatted about the still-sketchy snowpack, the winter in general and the great skiing conditions this morning.
“Yeah we were just talking to some guy at the Basin in a slack country vest,” said the driver, whose name was Leo. “He said it was really fun out there this morning.”
“True story,” I said with a laugh. “That was my husband.”
Both Leo and his girlfriend, Nancy, started cracking up at length. It was evident early on that they were stoned to the bone.
“Small world!” said Leo.
“Holy crap, they bombed that thing!” Said Nancy, pointing to a bomb hole on the left where CDOT did some avalanche mitigation early in the a.m. while the Pass was closed. A small avalanche had resulted from the blast and Leo slowed down to check it out.
“Yeah they blew the shit out of that tree,” I said, pointing to the charred skeleton of what once may have been a fir tree.
The two up front dissolved into giggles again, a happy soundtrack which carried us the rest of the way up the Pass — which now resembled a volunteer taxi depot. Mini vans and trucks were dropping off loads of back country users who departed with a short wave or exuberant “thanks!” The solace which surrounded the Audi this morning in the cold, wee-er hours had been replaced by camera touting tourists, an idling semi truck, a whole brigade of skiers getting suited up, and a kidnapper van loitering suspiciously on the right fringe. I quickly changed out of my ski boots and threaded through the excited throng to retrieve Tyler.
The saying goes that April showers bring May flowers. Whoever thunk that up ain’t from around these parts. The only reason to call it spring these days is because the weather keeps springing back and forth between lukewarm and arctic. Even now on May 6, as I tie up this lovely tale, snow is falling around Dillon like dandruff from the Gods, or salt from their springtime banquet table. If spring has sprung, then my name is Lindsay Lohan and I’ve really succeeded in rehab this time.