Off The Hill: The circle of life for a Breck local
Off The Hill
The season came on quickly this year. I love the way the mountains open in succession. This year saw a momentous event: The 20th consecutive first chair for Nate Dogggg and the 4G Network at Loveland, while almost simultaneously on the other side of Loveland Pass, Cesar, Gretchen and my Vail friends got first chair at A-Basin. Cesar has held second chair honors for many years in Colorado, playing bridesmaid to the Network, but he’s equally committed to his goal. It is a testament to a love of ski season that one would wait all night in the cold year after year to get second chair honors.
Nate Dogggg announced that reaching 20 years in a row means he’ll loosen his grip on first chair. But, he did not officially announce any type of torch passing or retirement plans. I thought that having 4Gs and Cesar on both first chairs for Opening Day was a fitting and proper way to start the season.
Opening Days bliss
At the start of each season, I am trying to get a pass, I am checking all my stuff, I am watching the weather. I am watching new and old snowboard videos. Each season, I get a feeling that is a mix of anticipation, excitement and nervous energy. We are gearing up. All summer, we’ve been waiting for them to turn the guns on and spin the chairs. The summer, though short here in the High Country, can feel pretty long at times.
The build up to the season and the early season in Colorado are like nowhere on earth. It is the best early-season riding in my opinion — you can have over 10 days by Halloween. Each new run, lift, mountain, peak, park, piece of the hill that opens is like a new level opening.
So far this year, I’ve had the chance to cover openings at five mountains. Each one is it’s own amazing resort with rich history and astounding terrain. Each one with its own feel, it’s own set of friends and features and it’s own runs. Each one with its own lifties, lodges and lots. Little tribes, little troops, little crews. Shred friends assembled from all corners.
Back in the groove
People see the news at night with pictures of the first storm of the season, and they get very excited. Everybody wishes they lived here when it’s about to be go time. When it’s the shoulder season, right before the mountains open, a lot of us who live here are scrimping and scraping to get by. We’re trying to find a house, a couch, a job or a snow-tire appointment. Many people quite literally are waiting for the weather to arrive just for their jobs to start.
My friend was watching weather from the East Coast, so that he could book a flight to start a job here. Of course, I didn’t know that until I ran into him at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center Benefit Bash in early November. People you haven’t seen for months appear, and you pick up where you left off. Practices cycle back into everyday routine. Winter arrives. You get to see the town from above — a view that you only get in the summer if you hike or drive or ride your bike to the top of the mountain. You were up here in the summer, standing right over there. Now, you’re strapped into your snowboard. Everything someone looks different but the same.
OTH on FB
I made a Facebook page to better share the On the Hill episodes we produce this year. I never had a page before, and, when filling out the initial questions, it of course asks you to write a short bio about yourself.
I had to think about it. How do I sum up this nice little life choice in a nice little sentence? This is what I came up with: “I’m just like you … then I strap into a snowboard.” It is my defining characteristic as a person. It is my identity.
It can be tough to attach yourself to the weather in such a way. At the start of the season, I feel like a samurai preparing for a quest or a boxer getting ready for a bout or a third grader ready for recess. It gives me task and purpose. You go to Loveland, then A-Basin, then Copper. Wolf Creek opens after that, and it looks like mid-winter. Next is Breck, and then Vail and Winter Park. Beaver Creek and most other Colorado resorts are open by Thanksgiving. Snow banks are here to stay, and sleds are for sale in the stores. Pretty soon, it’s the holidays, and another storm and another storm and then Blue Sky opens and then the backcountry and then there is more terrain open than you could shake your stick at. Next thing you know, you see the liftie who scanned you that day at the grocery store, and you realize there is not enough time to be bothered with anything but working and riding and eating. All you think about is where the snow will be good next and hot showers. Sleeping is heaven. All you care about is riding … and eating. And, you can eat now because you have some cash.
People call you to go ride, and you go ride. Front Rangers gear up and leave their homes at 4:30 a.m. People buy Clif bars and coffee. People play hooky from school or work. People post pics of their first day all over social media. Some people pick up and move here — to the High Country. Some people park in parking lots. Some people blow in to town like the snowflakes and settle in. Some stick to the ground longer than others.
Living here can be tough on a body and a bank account and, sometimes, right around early September, I think maybe enough is enough. I think, “What am I doing here in the mountains riding a board 150 days a year down a hill?” Surely this time could be better spent learning things that normal people do.
When winter gets here, I am a wolf on the hunt for adventure and fun and snow and my solace in the storm. Let’s face it — I’m not normal. I genuinely believe my snowboard gives me superpowers. I love winter. I get to do my favorite thing. I fly out my door and up, over, around the mountains with all my superhero friends.
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