"First, fresh, forever,’ foiled by frivolity
In my mind, nothing compares to getting on the hill first thing and getting ahead of the crowds. Most of my riding life I have lived by the motto: “First, fresh, forever.”
On a powder day this isn’t even a question. You get all the fresh tracks if you are up and out before the masses. The entire mountain is at your mercy, especially a mountain as big as Vail. You can catch all the chairs as they open, tear apart the back bowls and be waiting for the rope to drop in Blue Sky Basin at 10 a.m.
Then, when the crowds start to build, break away for the front side and catch all the turns everyone overlooked in the mad rush to get to the Back Bowls. First chair on a powder day guarantees fresh tracks all day long.
However, living the single life in a resort town is not conducive to getting on the chair first thing. Having “gone big” the night before, I am guilty of overindulging on occasion and showing up in less than fit form or perhaps joining the “eleven at eleven” crew – meeting at the top of chair 11 at 11 a.m.
The 10-inch powder day last New Year’s Day comes to mind as one such occasion. It is, however, always a matter of priority. In the case of New Year’s Eve an old college buddy was in town without a ski pass and we found ourselves hosting a suicidal Johnny Walker while gambling the night away in one heated cribbage match after another. No regrets.
I skipped the mad dash to the backside and tore apart the front side while all the early birds made the loop. Locals always find their turns.
Where you get on the hill also influences how you negotiate your way around to stay in front of the crowds. Getting on the first gondola car in Lionshead is much different than catching the first chair out of Golden Peak. Where you start on the hill depends on your destination and riding scheme for the day.
Early or late start, it is always best to have an idea of where you want to ride before you try and navigate through the crowds on the hill. Mid Vail can be a time-consuming bottleneck if you get a late start and are heading to Northwoods.
Then there’s the spring philosophy – waiting for the mountain to soften up is a common practice. The spring mashers aren’t ready until late morning and if there’s no fresh snow, the motivation to get a jump on yesterday’s frozen corn is understandably lacking.
Spring riding is some of the best of the year and locals and visitors alike wait the bittersweet closing weeks of the season with both joy and despair.
A later start in the springtime is common. The powder fix has been satiated for the most part and the attitude on the mountain is much more laid back.
Lunch and beverages often accompany the spring riders and, with the days growing longer, the riding day can be extended despite the fact the lifts close.
Whether you get on the hill early or late is a matter of personal choice. Both require sacrifices of a different nature. But whatever your preference just be sure you get on the mountain and take advantage of the much too short winter season.
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