Last ski season, I skied 50 days for my 50th birthday and discovered that you can indeed teach old skiers new tricks.
My main takeaway was that I’d been entirely too particular about finding just the right day at just the right resort. “Forcing” myself to head for the hills a couple of days a week made me realize there’s treasure to be found in every day on the slopes, be it the snow, a quality conversation or a gorgeous view.
In addition to my philosophical epiphany, I also picked up some practical pointers to squeeze the most out of the season and make slope days go smoothly. Here’s what I learned:
- Schedule ski time for yourself. When you flip the calendar to a new cold-weather month, pencil in ski days in between school activities, work obligations and social events.
- Notice I said to write your ski dates in pencil; that’s because it’s important to stay as flexible as possible. Check the forecast at the beginning of the week to be sure you are headed for the hills after the storm instead of before it. I realize that we all have non-slope obligations, but if you can work on a Saturday instead of a Tuesday to take advantage of freshies, you won’t regret it.
- In fact, always think outside the crowd, timing-wise. Even on the MLK holiday weekend up at Winter Park, one of the busiest of the year, I was able to get some alone time with Mary Jane. There were 13,500 visitors on Saturday and 15,000 on Sunday, but only 5,000 people stuck around to ski on Monday.
- Also keep Mother Nature’s timing in mind and schedule the steeps for later in the season. I picked up a copy of the “Extreme Limits Guide” for Crested Butte the first night at our hotel, but it was early January, so approximately 0 percent of the “steepest and most difficult skiing terrain in North America” featured was open.
- This is a good example of why you should always have a Plan B — which in the case of Crested Butte was to cruise around the resort’s many scenic trails and soak up some sun at its Umbrella Bar.
- Well, I shouldn’t say “soak up” — more like “responsibly deflect.” Like many outdoor-loving Coloradans, I’ve had a few melanomas, so now I never forget the sunscreen. My dermatologist recommends zinc. Unlike those commercials where a doctor recommends some expensive prescription, mine recommended Desitin (yes, the diaper cream; make your own joke here). Desitin Maximum Strength contains 60 percent zinc oxide — the maximum amount available without a script. Fine print: Zinc is good for your skin, petroleum is not — so don’t get the stuff with the latter. Also, since the cream is moisture resistant, you’ll have to wash the heck out of your clothes to get it off of the fabric.
- Every season, I seek out the new. I’ve been skiing Eldora since I was a 2-year-old making her way down “Bunnyfair” under the lights, so I was interested to check out the upgrades made by the new owners for the 2017-18 season. The new six-pack chair gets you up the hill in a third of the time (about four minutes instead of 12), which gives you more time to do laps on the front side and feel good about indulging in microbrews and items from the chef-created menu now offered at the lodge.
- Speaking of food, make sure you know when the lunch line closes (usually around 2 p.m.) so you don’t go hungry. The end of food service is also a great time to get bargains and extras. One closing time at Mary Jane’s Lunch Rock, I got a bowl of butternut squash soup for a cup price because they were cleaning out the bottom of the pot. I’ve also been at Loveland, which has an on-site bakery, when they were selling that day’s donuts, cookies, etc., for a buck at the end of the day.
- Speaking of Loveland, make it a go-to for the day trip. Less than an hour from Denver, the resort allows a day of skiing and time for an evening event. There’s a lot of vertical at Loveland and, with its new high-speed lift, “Chet’s Dream” (which will get you to the top in 3 minutes — half the time of its predecessor, Lift 1), you’ll be able to take advantage of it to your quads’ discontent.
- Taking the Breckenridge gondola always reminds me to dress for the top of the mountain, not the parking lot. What feels like enough layers at 9,600 feet down in town won’t feel even close to enough at the 13,000-foot summit of Peak 8. Of course, colder and higher usually translates to better snow — which is certainly the case with the bounty that is Breck’s Imperial Bowl.
- As anyone who has taken Exit 232 off I-70 (as I did on 19 of my 50 ski days) knows, an “active” police presence requires you to drive slowly through Empire. What you may not know is that the town’s Dairy King is a great place to stop for an après milkshake. The family-owned cafe is known for its sweets, but also has yummy hamburgers and other American classics.
- On the last days of the ski season, I learned that silly spring traditions aren’t just for the young. For the first time, I signed up for some “pond skimming,” which, considering the percentage of people who make it across the water, should actually be called “pond sinking.” I was so close to making it across Winter Park’s rubber duck-filled pond on closing day that I couldn’t resist giving it a go up at A Basin on the last day of the ski season in Colorado. How’d it go? Let’s just say my boots spent the summer on the dryer. If I sign up for “skimming” next year, maybe I’ll cover them with a thick layer of Desitin.