Meet Nate Dogggg’s heirs to 1st chair at Arapahoe Basin
October 21, 2016
A decade of opening days
In the grand scheme of things, this year’s opening date at Arapahoe Basin is later than average. How 2016 stacks up against the past 10 years:
2016 — Oct. 21
2015 — Oct. 29
2014 — Oct. 17
2013 — Oct. 13
2012 — Oct. 17
2011 — Oct. 13
2010 — Oct. 25
2009 — Oct. 9 (earliest opening on record)
2008 — Oct. 15
2007 — Oct. 10
2006 — Oct. 13
Source: Arapahoe Basin Ski Area.
Trailer Tom and the boys have this whole first-chair thing down to a science.
For the past 20 years, Summit County native Trailer Tom (real name Tom Miller) has joined his good friend, longtime local Nate Dogggg, and a small crew of snowboarders for the first chair of Colorado ski season — a "shred family reunion," he calls it.
This usually doubles as the first chair of the North American ski season, and so the shred family has been on TV and in print every winter for at least a decade. They've been first to load at Arapahoe Basin more than a dozen times, first at Wolf Creek for an autumn powder day, first at Loveland Ski Area when it opened five minutes before A-Basin last season, and even first at Keystone Resort under the lights way, way back in the day.
"Keystone used to be the first, when they'd blow snow from top to bottom on Spring Dipper and turn on the lights," Trailer Tom said from his perch (throne?) ahead of about 200 skiers and riders around 7:30 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 21, steps from the truck where he and the family have posted up since Wednesday afternoon. "That was nuts. You hadn't been snowboarding all summer and it was that long run in the dark. It was icy and sketchy — fun, but sketchy."
October night skiing is strange, but this opening day was almost stranger. For the first time in two decades, Nate Dogggg was nowhere to be found when chair No. 1 spun up to the base of Black Mountain Express. It wasn't a surprise — he announced his retirement last season when Loveland and the Basin duked it out for dual opening days — but the gaggle of photographers, reporters and newscasters waiting for the king were still surprised and a little disappointed. After all, it was A-Basin's 70th birthday. How could he miss it?
Then they saw the shred family. The first four in line — Trailer Tom, Silverthorne's Justin Smith, Denver's Seth Hill and local On The Hill correspondent Z Griff — donned t-shirts reading, "Staff: Nate Dogggg 1st Chair." He wasn't there in person but he was there in spirit, along with the pinball machine, board games and enthusiasm the family always packs for tailgating.
"Nate's 20 years was huge, but this will be a new memory of what it's like to be here without Nate Dogggg," said Smith, who met Trailer Tom as a teen at Summit High School and Nate Dogggg not long after. "I heard rumors of a beach, of a vacation, of taking the girl to Minnesota. He's just chilling."
The king might be 1,000-some-odd miles away, but it's not like Smith, Trailer Tom or the rest of the family are new to the routine. If scorekeepers want to get technical, Trailer Tom has recorded more consecutive first chairs than Nate Dogggg: he caught his first one 24 years ago at 15 years old — it was his first year with a driver's license — and he hasn't missed it since. Call him the rightful heir to the first-chair throne.
"The streak is over (for Nate Dogggg), but that's part of the story," Trailer Tom said as the lift line behind him grew and grew. "It hasn't lost its charm. It gets more fun every time, and it's because we get more people in the crew every year."
What's it take to join the first-chair family? Smith and Trailer Tom explain the rite of passage.
Early October | Weather intel
"Starting in October we do these intel missions," Trailer Tom said, who still lives in Silverthorne and can look out the window for conditions. "We've done it for so long that we kind of know where the snow is, how things are looking, all of that before they open."
The internet makes intel a breeze. Smith and Nate Dogggg kept close tabs on COO Alan Henceroth's web updates, known as Al's Blog, and a new live stream showing groomers moving snow at the base area doesn't hurt.
"It's really anyone's guess as to when they open," Trailer Tom said. "I first heard from Nate it was opening, but his source was Facebook when Al posted about conditions."
Oct. 19 | The family arrives
Just a few hours after A-Basin made things official on Wednesday, Smith loaded up his truck and headed to The Beach (the dirt lot closest to the base area). Trailer Tom followed soon after with the pinball machine in his truck bed — a vintage arcade model named "Flash" — and the two dug in for nearly 48 hours of anticipation.
"The first night was a lot colder than last night," Trailer Tom said. "But it was fun. The anticipation is always fun."
Oct. 20 | Tailgating begins
By Thursday afternoon, the weather had warmed and the first family was busy wasting time. Smith and Trailer Tom updated social media with countdown photos between meals, rounds of pinball and snowboard-themed Monopoly. It got fierce in a way only Monopoly can: the family played four-hour games, best two-of-three, to crown a champ.
Midnight, Oct. 21 | The extended family arrives
The Beach stays quiet until right around midnight on opening day, Trailer Tom says, when the first row slowly fills up.
"The hardcore folks are coming up the night before or at midnight," he said. "They're standing right there with us, holding it down."
2:30-3:30 a.m. | Nap time
A guy's got to sleep sometime. Trailer Tom, Smith and Hill slept in shifts once other people started to arrive — but it didn't last long.
"By then, there were enough people here that the adrenaline was kicking in," Trailer Tom said. "I always get that way."
5-5:30 a.m. | In the lift line
First chair isn't as simple as pitching a tent at the lift terminal. Snowmakers are scrambling to get things ready, so Trailer Tom and family stay out of their way while keeping an eye on the front of the line. Just before sunrise, base ops wrapped up with opening-day preparations and the family sidled up to the terminal.
8 a.m. | Interviews, interviews, interviews
Yes, joining the family comes with responsibility. As The Beach filled out, reporters worked the front of the line for photos and sound bites with Trailer Tom, Smith and Hill. By now, they're naturals in front of the camera — even if they spent most of the time answering questions about Nate Dogggg's absence.
8:50 a.m. | The family straps in
Contrary to popular belief, the first group on the first chair loaded about 10 minutes before the official opening. This gave Colorado Ski Country USA time to set up the opening day banner, while everyone else got more photo ops.
9 a.m. | First chair leaves
9:15 a.m. | More interviews
After the first run, the family usually meets up with a newscaster from one of the Denver TV stations for a final interview about the conditions. They're never the greatest, but then again, it's the first open run on the continent. Beggars can't be choosers.
9:30 a.m. | Shred time
Why wait if there's no reward? Trailer Tom and Smith aim for at least four or five runs on High Noon, the lone open run, before ditching the crowds. Sure, waiting in line for 20 minutes isn't close to 48 hours, but that's comparing obnoxious apples to ritualistic oranges.
11 a.m. | The family departs
Trailer Tom and the family took one final run around 11 a.m. before loading up and heading home for (presumably) showers and sleep. By then, nearly 3,000 skiers and riders were split between the lift line, the A-frame patio and High Noon.
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