David McKay Wilson
When you have the best day of skiing, ever, on the first day of a six-day romp through the Colorado Rockies in mid-February, what do you to top that?
You have the best week of skiing ever.
That was my conclusion after skiing Copper Mountain, Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge and Winter Park over six days. The snow was deep, the air crisp, and it kept snowing, night after night, day after day.
It was a week that tested my 60-year-old legs against the likes of my two sons, 15 and 17, and godson, age 25. I chased them all week – across the back bowls of Copper Mountain, down the steeps at A-Basin, and through the fresh powder fields at Breckenridge, where the northern wind blew a gale.
It was the third consecutive year that the four of us had ventured out West for our Mancation in the mountains – to challenge ourselves on the toughest terrain we could find, endure the brutal weather that can unfold at 12,000 feet, and kick back together after a day on the slopes.
On the sixth day, on a blustery afternoon at Winter Park, with the snow still plentiful on the Mary Jane Chutes, my sons were back at the Olympia Motel, finishing up their homework in recompense for playing hooky for three days. I skied until 4 p.m. and declared victory.
The snow all week was bountiful. It began dumping in Colorado in early December, and hadn’t stopped, setting the stage for spectacular spring skiing.
At the offices of Colorado Ski Country, they had to reconfigure it website to allow three digits in the base-depths because so resorts many had more than 100 inches piled up at their mid-mountain measuring sticks.
“Mother Nature has been very kind this year,” said Jen Rudolph, of Colorado Ski Country. “Now we’re waiting for the next round of announcements, to see who will extend their closing date. I skied last year on Mother’s Day at A-Basin. It was my best Mother’s Day ever.”
Our first stop, at Copper Mountain, just off I-70 in Summit County, about two hours west of Denver International Airport, provided a glimpse at the snowfall bonanza, and the deals to be had this year. Along with discount tickets at Liftopia.com, Copper has a $99 pass Snow Day promotion that provided a ticket on Super Bowl Sunday, Copper’s closing day, and any day in which the mountain had reported at least four inches of powder. By mid-February, there’d been 18.
We felt like heroes on our first runs at Copper. It was one of those bluebird days, with the brilliant sun revealing the majestic Tenmile Range, and three inches of light, luscious powder providing the perfect float for our rockered skies, including the pair of demo Rossi Soul 7’s my son rented from Christy Sports in Copper, and returned five days later in Breckenridge.
Far above timber line, the vast bowls of Copper were in perfect shape. So were the glades, where stashes of powder abounded through openings in the lodge-pole pines in the appropriately named Enchanted Forest. Over on the Super Bee, where the US Olympic Ski Team did its speed work in December, I did my Ted Ligety imitation as I cranked up my GS turns to see just how fast I could go. It was plenty fast.
While I relaxed after dinner in our fifth-floor two-bedroom unit at the Passage Point lodging, the boys headed over to Woodward at Copper, the indoor facility with jumps, trampolines, and foam pits where you can work on your inverted snowboard and skiing tricks. A word of warning: a slip-up at the facility can put you on the shelf for a day, as it did to my god son, who turned his ankle on the trampoline and sat out a day to let it heal.
On Day 3, we headed to Arapahoe Basin, the down-home mountain in Summit County that calls itself “The Legend,” which recalls its early days in the mid-1940s, and its reputation for some of Colorado’s longest lasting alpine conditions. A-Basin typically stays open past Memorial Day, when the tailgating gets serious along The Beach – the front row spots in the parking lot that can be reserved for up to $175 a day. A-Basin maintains a strong audience among the locals who snap up $299 adult season tickets and $99 for kids up to 14. A three-day adult pass was $139.
With no lodging at A-Basin, we stayed five miles down the road at the Keystone Resort, in a spacious two-bedroom at the Sundance Manor Condos, with a well-equipped kitchen that helped for the Italian dish I whipped up for the young lads. I felt like I was doing the time warp at the Sundance, which featured two cassette boom-boxes, preserved in their 1980s splendor, in a glass cabinet. I need to bring my cassettes next year!
The opening of the Montezuma Bowl in 2007 increased the area’s terrain by 80 percent, and provides groomers for intermediates and steep chutes and cornices from those looking for a launching pad. On our visit, however, the wind was blowing a gale, leaving an unforgiving hard-pack. So we skied the front side, cavorting down the natural half-pipe on Humbug, and discovering the wonders of Pallavincini, the world-renowned run with bumps galore, and a steep pitch that tested my legs.
While making my deliberate turns, an A-Basin hot-shot straight-lined it down the edge, in a blur.
“That’s a whole different game,” remarked a fellow skier.
On a ski vacation, it’s always good to splurge, at least once, for lunch on the mountain. That day came to A-Basin, at 6th Alley, its $1 million addition, where I quaffed my thirst with a Bacon Bloody Mary, and chowed down on a savory pork stew. The boys, meanwhile, devoured mac n’ cheese with roasted tomatoes, a calzone stuffed with exotic cheese, and waffle chicken sandwich that took two hands to eat.
We arrived under the portico at One Ski Hill Place at Breckenridge before sunset, just as the snow began to swirl again. Open in 2010 by Rock Resorts, the 88-unit condo complex at the base of Breckenridge’s Peak 8 provides a state-of-the-art experience on slope-side skiing. The spiffy kitchen was all Bosch, the master bathroom had steam piped into the shower, and the complex’s two-lane bowling alley reminded me of grand hotel I stayed at 30 years ago in Arosa in the Swiss Alps.
Having a place on the mountain at Peak 8 is the ultimate in luxury. There’s no need for transport, as you walk to the lift, can dine at The Living Room, and even come back on lunch to make sandwiches. There’s a free gondola downtown, where you can walk to groceries at City Market, or procure some over-the-counter medication for your sore legs at the Breckenridge Cannabis Club.
The snow Gods were with us again. We awoke to six inches to a foot of fresh powder, with the snow coming down sideways. It was downright cold – 5 degrees and 40 mile-an-hour gusts. So we layered up, and headed up for the powder day of our dreams. We skied Peak 8 early, finding untouched powder eight inches deep on Cresendo. We hit it straight down the lift line on Spruce, strutting our stuff for the early morning crowd. Then it was up the T-Bar to Horseshoe Bowl, and then Contest Bowl, where the boys found a lip through the trees which they launched.
While they did laps on Peak 10 through the glaes called Windows, I explored a run called Devil’s Crotch, where I found my rhythm on the steep, undulating terrain. Later that day we made it out to Peak 6, the new addition to Breckenridge, where the six-pack Kensho Super Chair ensured that the wait wasn’t long. We hiked briefly up to the Beyond Bowl, where peaks jutted up to more than 13,000 feet, and we made fresh tracks with ease down Elysian Fields, and Daydream.
The day ended with a soak in the outdoor hot tub, and a treat my Dad – an inveterate skier who instilled the love of the sport all through my childhood – would have savored: a shot of Breckenridge single barrel Bourbon Whiskey, straight up.
Our last stop was Winter Park, ski area owned by the city of Denver, and operated by Intrawest since 2002, which you reach by crossing the Continental Divide over Berthoud Pass on US Route 40. We stayed at the Olympia Motel, a no-frills economy hostelry popular with Coloradans that had all 40 rooms sold out during our stay.
From the Olympia, you are within walking distance of a dozen restaurants, including the Library Sports Grille and Brewery, where I guzzled the Winter Park Ale, a hoppy salute to the mountain village at 9,800 feet, and the boys devoured hamburger platters brimming with French fries.
If you are staying in town, take the free shuttle to the mountain. You won’t like the walk from the lot to the resort. We skied Winter Park on Sunday, and got a taste of Colorado weekend skiing – it can get mobbed.
We skied the Super Glade Express, down the soft bumps on Sterling Way. There was plenty of snow in the woods, and as I skied alone for the first time all week, ventured into glades far denser than I had in the whole trip. I took it slow, side-slipping through one particularly tight chute. It was quiet in the woods. I drank it in.
There was four inches in the parking lot at the Olympia on Sunday morning. We had a 3:45 flight p.m. flight, and contemplated grabbing a few runs before embarking for DIA. But we’d heard stories about driving back to Denver on I-70 on Sunday. So we enjoyed our continental breakfast of bagels and pastries at the Olympia, and began 65-mile drive to DIA, which took us about two hours, as we crossed the Berthoud Pass. We ogled the back country skiers and their lines down the steep chutes. We crawled along the bumper-to-bumper to traffic I-70 for 20 miles.
And we began planning for another Mancation in 2015.
David McKay Wilson has written on travel over the past 30 years as a freelance journalist, with his travel stories appearing in The Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Hartford Courant, New Haven Advocate, and Gannett News Service. An avid cyclist and skier, Wilson enjoys vacationing in the mountains and by the sea. His articles on public affairs have appeared regularly in The New York Times. He’s currently the nation’s top freelance writer for university alumni magazines, with his work appearing in publications at 81 colleges and universities, including Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown and the University of Chicago.