Warren Miller: Sking still great after Easter ends the season
Vail, CO, Colorado
With a symbolic flick of an electric switch, life as we know it is all over for the next eight months for tens of thousands of people.
Employees and guests at ski resorts all over the world will no longer be able to ride skyward because of the engineering genius of chairlift builders and the pioneering men and women who came before them: The men and women who borrowed money at the bank to buy the first engine to power their small, rope-tow resort.
Yes, the season is over because whoever invented Easter said, “It is over,” even though Easter can be a different date almost every year. Easter Sunday can vary by 28 days because it is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.
If the vernal equinox is March 21 and if it falls on a Friday and the full moon is on Saturday, then March 23 is automatically Easter and we can lose 28 days of riding on a chairlift and skiing because everyone thinks it’s time to go sit on the beach in the dense spring fog somewhere.
On the other hand, if the full moon is on Sunday, March 21, you will have to wait 28 days for Easter. I have no idea why Easter Sunday is scheduled that way except some religious guys said so a very long time ago.
My religion and my church have always been out on the side of a hill somewhere. I remember the spring of 1947, when the lifts were all shut down because of Easter Sunday, and the corn snow was beyond fantastic.
Ward Baker and I had driven my 1937 Buick and hauled our 8-foot-long, 4-foot-wide bedroom-kitchen trailer from Los Angeles to Yosemite, to Alta, Utah, to Sun Valley, Idaho, to Jackson Hole, Wyo., to Pikes Peak to Berthoud Pass and Aspen and then returned to Alta.
Alta was the only place where the chairlift was still running after Easter, but the wind had recently roared up the canyon, carrying with it large amounts of evaporated salt from the Great Salt Lake. Neither of us could figure out what kind of wax to use on this salty spring snow, so we packed up our gear and the trailer and headed off in search of the last good snow of the season.
Since we had started our ski trip six months earlier in Yosemite, it’s no surprise that this is where we eventually ended up. Badger Pass in Yosemite also was shut down due to “the Easter Sunday lack of interest” rule, so we drove our car and trailer to the end of the plowed-out road at Glacier Point.
Parking between 8-foot snow banks, we shouldered our heavy packs for the long climb into the Ostrander Lake cabin. We were the only people within eight or 10 miles of the cabin, and the spring skiing was fantastic. We climbed and skied down Horse Ridge as many as six times each day during the next six days.
We also shot a lot of 8-millimeter movie footage that just surfaced from somewhere in the attic a few years ago.
The cabin was very deluxe for us and our moldy sleeping bags (they were still smelly but more than comfortable). Each day by about noon, the corn snow had melted into deep slush, and so we napped in the afternoon sun and worked on our surfboard-riding tans until the shadows got longer.
The memory of one run on Horse Ridge was preserved with my 35 mm, black-and-white still camera. Ward is standing in the lower left-hand side with his seal-skin climbers wrapped professionally around his waist, pointing up at the figure eights the two of us had carved on the side of the mountain for no one except us to appreciate.
However, the photo did make it onto some dinner plates a few years ago. Every time my wife and I serve our dinner guests with our special ski-photo dinner dish set and I get halfway through cleaning my plate from the good food that Laurie has once again prepared, a lot of very pleasant memories come flooding back to me.
I am sure everyone has some pleasant memory of a church service somewhere.
I always return to that spring day in Yosemite for my most memorable day in church. Or, sometimes, I recall a Sunday in Montana when the sky was so blue that it hurt my eyes. Maybe it was when I had rappelled down into a deep crevasse in Switzerland to film a person having his life saved by a talented team of professional ski patrolmen.
If I could have one wish granted, it would be for some way to teach skiers and snowboarders to save their cold December days of sliding on two inches of man-made ice and trade them for spring snow on a base that can still be 20 feet deep. Why not sell lift tickets for half price the week or so after Easter?
Maybe more people would find out about the awesome side of a snow-covered mountain in the late spring. It’s a place that I call my church because there is something that is both spiritual and religious about it at the same time.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to more than 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff, log on to WarrenMiller.net
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