An epic season by all accounts, even from afar |

An epic season by all accounts, even from afar

Devon O'Neil

Bumped into an old friend the other day while skiing powder at Breckenridge. The guy’s name is Marcus. Poor sucker, he moved out of town a couple months before the 2005-06 winter season began.

Typical casualty: He and his wife had a baby, needed more than the ski town could offer, so they left with remorse, staring longingly out the rear window on their way out of Summit.

It’s a happy story, for the most part. They’re starting a family. Making plans. Watching their little one grow up.

And it’s all happening in North Carolina.

When I met Marcus on the T-Bar, he was dressed in all red. No hat or goggles on this frigid, windy day, just some old black prescription sunglasses. He was smiling like it was the first time all year he had skied fresh Colorado snow ” which, of course, it was.

We said hello, how ya been, but because we were both skiing with separate entourages, we left it at that. Later in the day, our respective buddies having since departed, we met up at random a second time and took some runs together.

“Where’s Kelly?” I asked him, referring to his wife.

“She’s visiting friends in California,” Marcus replied. “I came here instead.”

The dude was happier than Hugh Hefner. For the first time all winter, he had it made. He arced perfect turns through the sweet, deep powder. He launched off rocks and hooted when he landed. He grinned all to himself.

You could tell that the day brought peace to the guy, a peace he’d been missing.

While riding up the new Imperial Express chairlift, Marcus turned to me as the flakes flew and the wind whipped around us. He spoke softly but audibly.

“How many days has it been like this, percentage-wise?”

I leveled with him. “More often than not.”

He shook his head and looked down at the deserted run beneath us.

“It’s killing me, man, being away from this.”

Marcus is 34 years old. He moved to Breckenridge for the epic 1994-95 season, then left for law school the next year. He and his wife moved back two and a half years ago, then left again.

It’s funny how this place pulls on you. Marcus has a big, grand life ahead of him, and all he’s thinking about ” freaking out about ” is the snow that’s falling without him.

I see it in others, too. Our roommate, a 25-year-old British guy named Jake, moved here for the season. He is a geologist by trade, possessor of a master’s degree in his field. Fed up with working on metal rigs in the middle of the ocean, he ditched the European real world and high-tailed it to Breckenridge for the winter.

Jake had skied a little before arriving here, but not much. Now it’s all he thinks about. All he talks about.

I think about people like Jake and Marcus, and how this season is affecting them. By the numbers it is a season for the ages; on more than a few occasions, locals who have been around for decades have told me in passing that they can’t recall a richer winter than this one.

Marcus and I wrapped up our afternoon together on the hill just before the lifts ceased running. He led me down one final powder pitch, then we headed for a beer at his favorite apres haunt.

For the better part of an hour, we sat there and chatted about stuff that matters in life; blissfully replayed the day’s highlights, while the Weather Channel painted the TV screen overhead blue.

We laughed. We ached.

And outside, it kept snowing.

Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13630, or at

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