The Outsider: Like a kid again riding powder on the Keystone lift lines
Few things compare to the moment in March when you finally drop the trees you’ve been salivating over since November.
When I was a kid, all I ever wanted to do was ride the lift lines under Wayback and Ruby Express at Keystone, two of the tightest and most debris-filed lines this side of the Continental Divide. But, like most of the backside lift lines at Keystone, that’s not always an option. My childhood mountain tends to get the short end of the stick when it comes to snowfall, and more often than not those lines look more like minefields than something a sane person would try.
But things have been different this season. So much different. Beginning in December, Keystone was blessed by almost every major snowstorm, including the latest round that dropped 14 inches in a single night on Monday, plus another 24 inches since then (and it’s still falling as I write). That doesn’t always happen on the eastern end of the county, so when it did, I ignored my adult instincts to go charge Ballroom at Breckenridge or make the road trip to Vail and instead got in touch with my inner kid.
Riding lift lines is the sort of thing you do when you’re young. They just look so daunting and nasty and insanely fun from the chair, and, best of all, you always know you’ll be able to find your way out. If the adults you’re with don’t want to deal with the bumps and drops and steeps, not a problem — they’ll just meet you at the lower terminal. Lift lines were a little taste of freedom (and fresh powder) at an age when you still relied on mom or dad or a friend’s parents to deal with Interstate 70 madness.
These days, I’m more inclined to get as far away from the lifts as possible, but when this latest round of storms dumped more than three feet in four days at Keystone I just couldn’t say no to one of my favorite childhood combos: Diamond Back to Cat South Glades to Badger and back again, with Bullet Glades, The Slot and Lower Go Devil trees on the return trip to the Mountain House base. (We never parked anywhere else when I was young. Somehow, my dad always managed to find a free spot in the Pika Lot, no matter when we arrived, and somehow I’ve inherited his good parking luck.)
Hot damn, I’m happy that I went with my gut this week. Keystone tree riding was better than it’s been in at least three or four years — that’s a chorus just about every local will repeat right now — and I could go anywhere my giddy little heart desired. Literally. Again, that doesn’t always happen at Keystone, especially on the touch-and-go sections of Diamond Back and Cat South Glades, where boulders and fallen trees and dirt patches can spell disaster (or at least a core shot) most seasons.
But not this time. It was one of those mornings when every turn, every line, every sketchy rock drop took me somewhere I’d never been before, then led me right back to the familiar traverses I know by heart. Days like that are few and far between at a resort where I’ve been riding since 5 years old, and it’s the sort of thing I’m not sure will happen again anytime soon.
But, for one morning, I was a kid again.
GoPro Big Mountain Challenge
Even big-mountain skiers bow to Mother Nature on occasion. Friday was supposed to be the first day of competition at the GoPro Big Mountain Challenge, Breck’s rapidly growing youth comp on Six Senses at Peak 6, but this week’s never-ending storm was just too much. Visibility on the ridge overlooking the cliff band was zero to nothing, and so organizers decided to reschedule the 15- to 18-year-old divisions for today and Sunday.
Registration for the competition is closed, but if you want to watch nearly 150 of the best (and youngest) big-mountain skiers and snowboarders in region charge cliffs, chutes and cornices, take Kensho SuperChair and then Bliss (the blue traverse across lower Serenity Bowl) to the flats at the bottom of Six Senses. Competition begins at 10:15 a.m. and runs until Kensho closes around 3:30 p.m. Oh, it’s free.
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