So much to be thankful for |

So much to be thankful for

Shauna Farnell

The term “white ribbon of death” became obsolete at Vail’s opening weekend.

While at just about every ski area on just about every opening weekend a person can expect to hit a single ribbon of snow armed with a ferocious but futile guard for one’s personal space as thousands of other enthusiasts – many with no such awareness of their own or anybody else’s personal space – attack the mountain like wild hyenas, Vail felt like the calm after the storm. And amazingly, the calm lasted all weekend.Many people avoid Opening Days altogether, assuming they will consist of a sea of puffy jackets and wobbly, unconditioned ski legs mixed with an obliviousness to said lack of conditioning that results in shakily firing down the mountain at uncontrollable speeds with a zillion others as an unfortunate handful get caught in the crossfire.I’m assuming that several hundred people were thinking exactly this and skipped Vail’s opening last Friday, because when I arrived at mid-day, expecting to spend the afternoon standing in line, I glided right onto the Born Free lift.According to Vail Resorts representatives, the amount of terrain opened for Vail’s first weekend – more than 1,000 acres – is more than what’s available at 90 percent of the nation’s other ski areas in high season.How lucky we are to have such a sprawling surface of snowy playground, especially in November.

With 4 feet of snow on the mountain, there was no shortage of powder stashes on Friday, and even some remaining – tracked out but lingering – on Saturday. In addition to the soundless euphoria powder turns always provide, not to mention merciful soft landings, it’s amusing to see people try to jump-start their ski legs in the unexpectedly deep snow on opening weekend.Coming down International Saturday, which was covered in shin-deep, heavy snow, there were snowboarders scooting around on their backs like turtles until they could find a place solid enough to avoid punching through the snow while getting back on their feet. There were skiers doing involuntary splits as the snow led their skis on unparallel journeys and tele skiers doing unmistakable woodpecker diggers.For those of you unversed in the woodpecker, it is a face-plant technique (and take my word for it, I know them all) wherein telemark skiers fire into heavy snow carrying too much speed with too much weight forward. Their knees lock into an involuntary brace as their speed is cut in half upon hitting the deep snow, their upper body bends forward at the waist, their heels become freer than they’d ever imagined as their faces plunge into the snow directly over their skis.While not pleasant to experience, the woodpecker is a hysterical sight.

And there was no shortage of pecked snow on International Saturday. By Sunday, as far as I could tell, all of the powder had been found and pecked, chewed, bumped out, packed down, used and abused in every other way. But conditions were still good and the snow still soft. The atmosphere was not unlike a casual Tuesday in February. Of course, the calm is bound to change with Thanksgiving weekend coming up. But even with thousands of turkey-stuffed skiers and snowboarders flocking all over the mountain, there’s plenty of space in which to spread out. I know that I for one, am already thankful for it.Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext.14632, or, Colorado

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