Front Range Slugfest

For Colorado day-trippers, the beautiful madness of a pow day starts with getting there.

By Kevin Luby

We had four pairs of skis, nine individual ski boots, seven off-brand Buffs, fresh zucchini bread, road beers, and enough hangover farts to power a small factory. But what really worried me was the traffic. There’s no one more depraved or twitchy than those trapped bumper-to-bumper in Saturday-morning pow-crazed traffic just east of Idaho Springs. We knew, chugging through a slushy Clear Creek Canyon in an ’03 Outback at 15 miles per hour, that we’d be getting into that stuff real soon.

We had predicted the storm the night before—days before, really. A low-pressure system teed up over the Colorado high country late Thursday night. The first wave would bring six angry inches of wind-affected, just enough to cover the suncrust, leaving the brunt of the work to a trough dropping in from the northwest late Friday afternoon. You could almost hear the collective alarm ringing among the devoted, semi-devoted, and purely fair-weather skiers of the Front Range. “Sweet titty-deep-powder-skiing baby Jesus. Freshie weekend.” This sucker would bring them out of the woodwork.

Immediately we hatched a plan: 6 a.m.—no, wait, 5:30 a.m. departure. Alex, Crystal, and I rendezvoused with Sean at the T-Rex lot and assumed the position in his rig, the aforementioned Outback, for the ritual flogging known as the Front Range day trip.

The going was slow and tormented, but our early start got us out in front of the majority of the Epic Pass crowd. Positive attitudes and ’80s vibrations from Alex’s iPod fueled us through the first two hours to the Eisenhower Tunnel. The road closure of Loveland Pass threatened to derail our pilgrimage, but after a pit stop for java, $2.75 breakfast sammies, and kind eyes—much to Crystal’s amusement—from our tatted-up, “Summit County hot” register girl at Blue Moon Bakery, spirits achieved an all-time high. The powder-day push from Denver to the resorts of Summit County is excruciating, yet there’s an electricity along the I-70 corridor during big storms as thousands scramble for fresh turns. Drivers rap on steering wheels while passengers scroll through playlists in search of that perfect pump-up jam. Everyone’s jittery, loose, unpredictable, and fully stoked. I take an odd comfort in the insanity and sheer volume of my kind: skiers, all hooked on the same drug.

Three and a half hours later we pulled into A-Basin, only 20 minutes behind first chair, scoring one of the few remaining lower-lot spots. Were our lines fully untouched? Of course not. But if you can’t enjoy a lightly minced 15 inches then I recommend you try another sport. Like knitting.

> This winter, CDOT opens a third toll lane on I-70, costing anywhere from $3 to $30 depending on traffic. Travel time will decrease by an estimated half hour. We still suggest leaving early with a solid crew and good tunes.