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Spring skiing1s something special

Veronica Whitney

There are only three feathery clouds in the sky above Beaver Creek on Thursday morning and the air smells of sunscreen.At 9 a.m. ski boots already sink in 3-inch slush at the base of the mountain. Ski hats and gloves feel unnecessary. Sunglasses and camelbacks are essential.Ticket scanners at Centennial chairlift already have shed layers of clothing since the lifts opened at 8:30 a.m. and are now wearing Hawaiian shirts.The thermometer by the chairlift reads 50 degrees on the sun.3You always have to wear sunscreen when you ski here, but especially at this time of the year you have to reapply all the time, says Nick Calise, a ski instructor at Beaver Creek Ski School who in spite of all that sunscreen has a deep Caribbean tan.All the tables outside Starbucks are full. Drinking coffee and reading the paper, some people wait for the snow to soften on the top of the mountain.3I head up around 10 a.m., says Charlie Gibbs of Morris, Ill. 3I ski about three hours every day. That1s enough. Skiing slush is hard on your legs. It1s like skiing on a snowcone.It1s the third time that Gibbs has skied at Beaver Creek this season.3The best skiing, so far, was in early March, he says, going back to his latte.Ginger and Gary Cooper of Nashville, Tenn., who are visiting with their children, love the warm weather.3Every day we1re so tired after skiing that we eat and crash, Ginger Cooper says.By 9:30, the line in the chairlift thickens as ski school starts its day.The best skiing early in the morning is on the east-facing slopes, like Larkspur Bowl, Calise recommends.3The slush is forgiving, but sometimes beginners can have some trouble in it, he says.Alex Spaeth, another ski instructor, recommends that skiers check the grooming report first thing in the morning, do the groomers first and then try the bumps.3Slush is hard work, but it1s a lot of fun, he says as he waits for his students. 3I wouldn1t recommend tree skiing at this time of the year.Succeeding spring break weeks of late have filled the slopes, the shops and Spaeth1s lessons.3In the last three weeks I1ve been working six hours a day every day, he says.3Usually, spring break is three weeks, says ski patroller Jim Clancy. 3This year, however, is going another week.Slush is sometimes feared by skiers for the potential of knee injuries. But Steve McGervey, a ski patroler in Beaver Creek, said this spring there haven1t been more injuries than other times of the season.3We1re seeing between eight and 10 people a day, mostly with minor injuries like wrists or knees, McGervey says.Justin Crick and Alex Wright of Suffolk, England, say that no matter how warm it gets, they keep their helmets and goggles on.3The snow is fine and we snowboard every day from 9 to 3, Crick says while riding the chairlift.This is the third time the couple has visited Beaver Creek in two weeks. They usually ski in Tignes, France.3We like it better here, Crick says. 3There1s less people on the runs and no lines on the lift. (Obviously they haven1t skied in Vail on a Saturday, but the reporter doesn1t tell them that.)Those who head up the mountain wearing T-shirts soon find they might have underestimated March weather in the mountains.The Birds Of Prey chairlift, number 8, is closed because there are 50-mph- wind gusts at the top.It1s about 30 degrees in mid-mountain and the bump runs are deserted.3This is March. What1s typical is unpredictable weather, Clancy says. 3In the past days we had a lot of wind and had to close the chairlift a couple times.Despite the lack of new snow and the daily temperatures in the 40s and 50s, Clancy says, the mountain has been holding up pretty well, even in the glades.3Skiing is still pretty good here, he says.Skiing down lower Harrier, Denise Jones of Chicago, however, wishes she had stuck to the groomed runs. Jones slowly turns around still semi-frozen bumps and dodges some bare spots with rocks the size of a small pizza.3I1m not doing that one again, she says at the bottom, catching up her breath. 3That was hard work.Others enjoy every inch of the mountain<slush, ice and crud included.David Cohen, 29, of Edwards heads to his 60th day on the mountain wearing his telemark skis.3These conditions are the best one besides powder days, he says. 3Every turn is soft.Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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