ARAPAHOE BASIN — The fanatic Breckenridge snowboarder known in these parts as Nate Dogggg claimed the first chair for the 23rd consecutive year Friday when Arapahoe Basin opened for the season, but he wasn’t any more stoked about his annual ritual than a woman who rode up on the second chair behind him and his posse.
When Gretchen Pleshaw arrived 12 hours earlier, on Thursday night, to get in line, it was snowing heavily at “The Legend” and an impromptu dance party was in progress on the deck at the lodge, complete with a disco ball and champagne. That kept her warm until she crawled into her car to get a couple hours of shut-eye while her skis marked her spot in the lift line.
It was her first time sleeping outside for an early start on an opening day, and she was fired up about it — especially that dance party.
“There were about eight of us,” said Pleshaw, 38, who lives in Vail. “They had this disco ball, we were all dancing, it was dumping snow and we didn’t even care. We were like drenched rats. It was super fun. We didn’t walk to our cars until 1, 1:30. The funny thing is, I feel amazing today. I think we were all just so stoked.”
Technically, the Colorado ski season began last Saturday when Wolf Creek opened, but that area in far southwest Colorado will operate on weekends only for the time being, so the Arapahoe Basin opening marked the start of the Colorado ski season in the minds of many. For the record, Dogggg snagged the first chair at Wolf Creek too.
“Since they close during the week, we don’t call it a legit season opener,” said Dogggg, 40, who slept in a sleeping bag under the chairlift Thursday night. “We go there to claim we got the first chair of the season, but we still say it doesn’t count. So we have to do A-Basin.”
Or the Loveland Ski Area, in years when it wins the duel with A-Basin. This year, Loveland opens Saturday.
Dogggg’s crew texted Pleshaw last week, inviting her to join them in line Wednesday. But she declined the honor.
“I love them, I respect them and honor them, that’s their thing,” Pleshaw said. “But for me to get second chair, it means a lot, because the mountains are my sanity. This year has been a really trying year for me, so this is a great way to kick off the season and be happy.”
In the past two months, two of her closest friends died. One succumbed to a heart attack just last week.
“I kind of feel like I’m skiing in honor of them, which is beautiful,” Pleshaw said. “This feels like family. I’m excited to do something that’s healthy and fun with the people that I love.”
Pleshaw made a new friend in Gio Myhre, 29, who arrived this week from Sugarloaf, Maine, to spend the winter snowboarding in Colorado and points west. Myhre loved the vibe that surrounded Arapahoe’s opening. Somebody set up a pinball machine in the parking lot and Myhre got to play a little Thursday night.
“I just think it’s really rad that you’re in an environment where you have a bunch of adults coming out to dress up goofy and act like kids,” Myhre said. “It’s so good for your soul. I love coming to the mountains because everybody is always in a good mood. If they’re not, they’re severely in the minority.”
The first chair headed up the mountain at 9 a.m. while the base area was freezing in the shadow cast by the soaring ridge line to the east. Taylor Koch, 23, of Breckenridge was one of the first skiers down the mountain.
“Up top it’s very nice, soft, not too crusty,” Koch said. “When you’re getting down in the (lower) half, it’s getting a little choppy and icy in areas where they are blowing snow. These are the best opening day conditions I’ve seen in three years.”
Pleshaw was overjoyed just to be back on skis.
“Whenever I can get on the snow, I think it’s a good day, but this year more than years past,” Pleshaw said. “I felt like the snow is exceptionally good, and I just floated down the mountain with the biggest smile on my face.”