The alarm clock goes off and I stare at it stupidly, wondering why the thing is beeping at me at such an ungodly hour. I hit the snooze bar.
6:09 a.m. The beeping is back, but this time it awakens something in my brain: an adventure waits. Today is the day we tackle seven resorts in one stretch, from first chair to last. I shove out of bed and start cramming various items into my backpack, my mind still numb with sleep. Ski passes, check. Water, check. Three different pairs of gloves and a handful of different layers for varying weather, check.
6:57 a.m. I stuff a notebook and pen in my pack alongside a tentative itinerary for the day and grab a pencil at the last moment in case temps drop and the ink in the pen freezes. I applaud myself for my forward thinking and preparedness as I throw my skis into the car and head from home in Breckenridge toward Frisco.
7:13 a.m. The sun is beginning its climb through the sky in the east over our first destination, Loveland. I review the route again in my head: a run or two at Loveland, then over its namesake pass to Arapahoe Basin, up Highway 6 to Keystone, over the curves of Swan Mountain Road and down Highway 9 to Breckenridge; then back up 9 and onto Interstate 70 to Copper, over the pass to Vail and a final, mad dash to Beaver Creek.
7:29 a.m. A brief but joyous reunion ensues in the Summit Daily parking lot with my friend, photographer and companion for the day, Dominique. We chatter a bit in the cold morning air, reviewing the plan and brainstorming photo ops as we load up Dom’s gear for the trek through the tunnel to Loveland.
(Ski: The Continental Divide)
7:54 a.m. Loveland is quiet, peaceful. Long shadows creep up the Continental Divide, illuminating sections of the horseshoe-shaped ski area one run at a time. We park a few rows from the base, don all of our layers and procure our lift tickets before studying routes on the trail map. Confident in our timeframe and approach, we choose two lifts on near opposite sides of the resort. It’s our first mistake, and it will catch up to us.
8:30 a.m. The rope drops on Chair 1, and I eagerly skate forward to claim the first chair, only to be brought back to the reality that Dom has dropped her lens hood, which pushes us back a few seats. No matter — we’re made of time.
8:33 a.m. I tuck my chin into my coat against the morning chill and lean back into the three-seater, suddenly aware of the fact that there’s no safety bar on this lift. Loveland isn’t for the acrophobic. We disembark and take a line through the shadows and down the fresh corduroy on Tempest, pausing for photos and seeking just the right lighting and angles. We’re moving at a snail’s pace, but thus far, we’re ignorant of it.
8:45 a.m. After cutting across the resort, we hop on Chair 4 and head up the Divide. The lift takes us into the direct sunlight for the first time, and we’re surrounded by the white glow of Perfect Bowl. More dawdling turns under the lift drop us onto a run called Scrub, where Dominique captures me stumbling my way over a short stretch of moguls.
9:01 a.m. Dom points out that I can’t drive in my ski boots and we’ll never make it if I have to take them off and on at each resort. I look down at her snowboard boots and hand over the keys. We leisurely pack up the car and head up Loveland Pass to Arapahoe Basin.
(Ride: Hike-to terrain)
9:20 a.m. The Beach is still half asleep, and we manage a spot in the lower lot close to the edge of the snow. A few revelers are setting up camp chairs and cordoning off party zones. We stop to shake hands with a cardboard cutout of Zach Galifianakis, whose flesh-and-blood companion has already cracked his first (or second or third) beer of the day, and then trundle over to the Black Mountain Express, which will take us to mid-mountain.
9:31 a.m. We board the lift and collect some friendly advice from an A-Basin employee, which leads us down Wrangler to the Lenawee lift and straight to the top for a glimpse of Montezuma Bowl.
9:43 a.m. Montezuma is wind-blown and roped off, but the vista gives us a sweeping, panoramic view of Keystone and Breckenridge, our next destinations. Again we linger too long, still unaware of the fact we’re eating into our time too quickly and falling behind at every step. We scurry down Norway Face, through Dercum’s Gulch and then shoot down High Noon to the base. The siren call of The Beach catches us once again, and Dom stops for photos while I schlep the gear back to the car.
10:10 a.m. A few wrong turns in the parking lot and a closed exit gate nibble away more precious minutes, and we continue to ignore the clock in favor of discussions about the perfect, bluebird day and lamentations about skipping a quick breakfast at Loveland.
(Ski: With the family)
10:19 a.m. The free River Run lot at Keystone is nearly full, and reality finally sets in that we have been dragging ass and are now facing potential failure in our quest. We hustle through the motions of unloading gear and begin the hike to the gondola, a bit disheartened that we’ve parked about as far away as possible from our ride up the mountain. Ski boots clicking and squishing along slushy pavement in the growing heat of the morning, we make our way across the landscape.
10:26 a.m. The line for the River Run gondola is ridiculous, so we take our first shortcut and hop into the singles queue, which moves at a fairly rapid clip.
10:31 a.m. Boarding the gondola, I end up with a seat across from a gentleman from my home state of Iowa. The Hawkeyes lost the Outback Bowl, and I’m still in mourning that it will be months before the return of college football. No matter at the moment, though, since the skiing is good and the forecast indicates that it will only get better.
10:43 a.m. Our goal for Keystone is to check out the Kidtopia Snowfort, but fate has this way of dropping friendly, furry avalanche rescue dogs in your path. Dom drops to the ground for a dog’s eye view of Dercum Mountain, while I get directions to the fort — “it’s right over there.”
10:47 a.m. My ski boots meet the icy floor of the fort and there’s a brief struggle before I dig in my toes and clamber through the doorway. I look as ridiculous as I feel, I’m sure, but it’s hard to resist a lap through the maze as Dom follows two appropriately sized adventurers through the castle and down the slide.
11:03 a.m. Flying Dutchman takes us to River Run and the base, and we contemplate throwing me in a ski wagon with Dom at the reins just to get back to the car more quickly. My calves already ache from trotting in my boots, but I suck it up and we do the quick waddle back to the car. The sun is fully on us, the temperature has hit 35 degrees, and we’re in a full-on pant as we strip layers and throw our gear and ourselves back into the car.
11:13 a.m. That took too long. Way too long. We’re leaving Keystone and adding up travel time and resort time. The equation is pretty straight forward, and the result is not encouraging: We’ve mangled it pretty good, spent too much time on grabbing freshies, playing fetch with the avy dog and sliding around the snow fort.
11:21 a.m . At the turn onto Swan Mountain Road, I give in and make the call to my boyfriend, Devin, for backup. We’ll drive straight to my home in Breck on Peak 9 and pick him up to drive us the rest of the way.
11:37 a.m. Traffic on Highway 9 causes more problems, so we make a quick detour onto French Street. Boreas to Broken Lance, we fly into the parking lot, where Devin is waiting with Nika, our husky and enthusiastic new traveling companion.
(Ride: The terrain park)
11:46 a.m. Nika climbs into my lap and spreads wet nose smudges over my goggles as we sit in traffic on the way to Peak 8. Our goal was to try out some of the new terrain on Peak 6, but we can tell that getting there will be a mess and will put us even farther behind, so we opt for a lap through the terrain park.
11:53 a.m. Recruiting Devin is already paying dividends. He pulls my skis and Dom’s board off the roof of the car as we unload in the skier drop-off area. Without the hike from the parking lot, we might be able to make up some time.
12:03 p.m. 5-Chair takes us up through the trees alongside the terrain park, and Dominique takes off her gloves in a rush to capture some park hits from above. A brief fight with the lens hood ends in one of her gloves drifting down to the powder under the chair. Glove down — it’s the first real loss of the day.
12:12 p.m. We take separate lines through Park Lane Terrain Park, each on a different quest. Dom posts up in the park to capture some sick images of a 13-year-old park phenom, while I hug the lift in search of the missing glove. Near the bottom of the line, I spot it, a tiny speck of black in a sea of white.
12:15 p.m. Heading across the snow at a right angle, I lift my skis high to avoid sinking into the untracked powder below the lift. Halfway to my destination, a voice above on the lift shouts down, “What are you doing?” It takes a minute for me to register that the inquiry is directed at me, and I have brief flashbacks to being 8 years old and floundering around in waist-deep snow under a lift at Steamboat, evil teenagers heckling me from above. Refocusing on the task at hand, I take another step forward, point at the glove and shout back up, “Soldier down!”
“This is not ’Nam. There are rules!” is the reply. I chance a quick look up and see two snowboarders grinning down at me. I grin back, grab the glove and beat a hasty retreat out of the rough and back to the fairway, a victorious return.
12:28 p.m. I raise the glove triumphantly into the air as Dom rides toward me and we make a beeline back to the drop-off lot, where Devin is waiting with the car.
(Ski: Like the pros)
12:33 p.m. Chugging up Highway 9 to Frisco, we realize that we’re famished. Skipping breakfast at Loveland was another mistake, compounded by the fact that we didn’t bring any snacks or energy food, so we have to make a stop.
12:55 p.m. Every error is another grain of sand through the hourglass, and forgetting to bring food proves to be the costliest one yet, as we hit the curb in front of Pika Bagel Bakery in Frisco. We double up the stop as a bathroom break, but it still takes time to get food in the middle of lunch hour on a weekday. “This isn’t helping,” Devin texts me from the car, and my heart sinks a little.
1:08 p.m. Dominique leaves her gear in my car, jumps in the driver’s seat of her own and tails us down I-70 to Copper Mountain. The original plan to try the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center proves overly ambitious, so we scrap it to ride up Super Bee to the summit. We ditch Dom’s car at the edge of the free Alpine lot and Devin drives us into the East Village.
1:20 p.m. Our first piece of luck finally arrives, as the Super Bee lift has a short line and we start the journey up the mountain. We pull the bar down to peruse the trail map and choose a route that we think will lead us back down to East Village. From the top, we cruise Copperopolis, pausing here and there for photos. Our lack of familiarity with Copper’s terrain puts us on a nonnegotiable path to Center Village, so I frantically call Devin and tell him of the change in plans.
1:45 p.m. Main Vein dumps us into Center Village, and we hike from the base of the American Eagle to the skier pick-up by American Flyer. Devin loads skis and board, and Nika greets me with a furry paw slap to the face as I climb into the back seat.
1:52 p.m. Dom safely deposited in her car, we caravan over Vail Pass to stop No. 6. Another bit of luck on the pass, as they completed all of the avalanche control the day before. I sit back and take a few breaths as we hash out a plan for tackling Vail. Our original goal was to ride Gondola 1 to the new Chair 4 and dip into The Back Bowls, but another long walk through Vail Village would eat up too much time from our rapidly depleting day. We decide to circumvent the bulk of the crowd and head to Golden Peak.
(Ride: The Back Bowls)
2:22 p.m. After ditching Dom’s car on the top of the Vail Village parking structure, we race around to the skier drop-off at Golden Peak. Tumbling out of the car and into the lot, Dom and I snatch up our things and scuttle toward Chair 6 as Devin begins the first of a few laps around town to kill time.
2:25 p.m. Our gamble on the lift lines at Golden Peak pays off, and we load Chair 6. Time is still riding us like an overzealous boss, so we choose to only make the trip halfway and head down through the Golden Peak Terrain Park.
2:35 p.m. Dom stops for a few choice photos of park rats hitting rail grinds and booters, followed by one spectacular moment of me sliding the world’s smallest box directly behind a few shredders that wouldn’t reach the height for an average carnival ride. I scoot my bruised ego through the remainder of the park and back to the base.
2:45 p.m. Leaving Vail, the final target for the day is to make it to Beaver Creek in time for the iconic cookies at 3 p.m. It’ll be close — now it all comes down to traffic. Dom jumps into her car, with a plan to skip the lots at the base of the mountain and drive directly to the top of the hill to Beaver Creek.
(Apres: Without roughing it)
3 p.m. We’re cruising up the hill to Beaver Creek, but we’ve missed Cookie Time. My stomach protests loudly, having only eaten a bagel all day, but there’s nothing we can do.
3:05 p.m. Mere seconds after I step onto the snow near the Beaver Creek Chophouse, I see Dom already racing around the Centennial base area, hunting for anyone who might still have a cookie in hand for a photo. Apparently in the five minutes since the sweet treats were handed out, people have already scarfed them down or shoved them into pockets, as there are none to be found.
3:15 p.m. Thwarted on cookies but ultimately not defeated, we strap in, hit the singles line and take a seat on the Centennial Express Lift for our final ride of the day. I exhale slowly and a goofy smile creeps across my face. We did it — seven mountains in one day.
3:23 p.m. I lean on my poles at the top, cherishing a minute of relaxation and letting a small sense of accomplishment flood over me. Dom snaps a photo of my moment as she skates off the chair behind me and adds a few more clicks as I pull off my skis, hold them aloft and let out a few whoops. The wind picks up a bit and sends the snow swirling in little eddies around my feet. I finally have a chance to take notice of something besides the clock and the burning in my legs from a day of hiking in ski boots.
3:28 p.m. The route down is Cinch to Gold Dust to Hay Meadow, and I make lazy turns and stop a few times to ogle the view of the valley. At the bottom, I unclip from my skis and shoulder them a few steps to the Chophouse, Dom already ahead of me capturing the daily champagne toast. We confiscate a couple of glasses from a friendly couple, who offer them up after hearing our story, and we clink them together before taking a victorious sip.
It was tough; it was crazy. Plans were hashed out, scrapped and rerouted on the fly, and there were many, many times that we didn’t think we would make it, but I’ve never worked so hard to earn that first taste of après.