Thompson: Springtime on the slopes is the best |

Thompson: Springtime on the slopes is the best

Pete Thompson
Valley Voices
Pete Thompson

Have you noticed? It’s springtime.

For us avid skiers, we are entering the most gorgeous four weeks of the year. Established snow base. Brilliant sunny weather. Comfortable temperatures. And … yes, many of the tourists are heading home. It’s our mountain again.

So smile and get out there onto the mountain. This is one of the most celebrated mountains in the world. Let’s practice some GS turns interspersed with garlands. Maybe an occasional pivot. And let’s refine our “left turn.” Right turns are OK, but those left turns are cockamamie. I do get my center of mass moving down the mountain ahead of my skis but my upper and lower body separation are weak. Got to keep my left hand up and in front. Make it flow smoothly — show respect for this mountain and this snow.

If you go out before 10 o’clock, be prepared for crusty surfaces. Yesterday’s warmth and sunshine made the snow very soft, even liquid, and last night’s freeze turned it into ice. So the surfaces are brittle in the morning, and “off piste” trails will beat you and your legs up. Maybe the best thing is to wait until 11 before donning your suntan lotion, your dark glasses and your skis. 

I often look at photographs of skiing in the early days. It seems that the sun is always shining, and the skiers look so elegant. They didn’t need helmets, hoods and shoulder pads. They all look lean, healthy, and young. 

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It reminds me of a startling quote by Friedel Pfeiffer, a 10th Mountain Division soldier who came home from the war and helped start the Aspen Ski School. He said that chairlifts “ruined the sport of skiing, but created the industry of skiing.”

I thought about that quote for a long time. Before William Averell Harriman installed the first chairlift at Sun Valley in 1936, most skiers had to hike or “skin” up the mountain. It was during those uphill treks that skiers had the time to truly sense the nature around them, that they truly engaged with their trekking companions, and that they truly “earned” their downhill runs.

Think about that. I took up AT skiing, or touring, a couple of years ago. And yes, I sense all those things. I remember once trekking up Meadow Mountain to a magnificent old pine tree, taking off my skis, and sitting peacefully in the shade. What a vista. What beautiful nature.

I then spotted two figures skinning up my way. It was two female figures, and as they got closer it looked like a mother-daughter team. As they got within speaking distance, I asked out loud: “Which do you prefer: the skinning up, or the skiing down?” They had different and opposing answers. As I am already 70 years of age, I agreed with the mother’s answer. Most backcountry or side country skiers enjoy both, the uphill and the downhill.

Anyway, today is the first day of spring, we have a full daylight savings day ahead of us, so let’s go. Life is in session. 

Pete Thompson is a local veteran skier who teaches for Vail Resorts and Colorado Mountain College.

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