Skiing is a lifestyle sport. It has a special way of commandeering the brain such that it’s all we think of, all year long. For some, it’s the sense of freedom one feels while ripping down the mountain. For others, it’s the insatiable desire to push the limits of physical law and savor the adrenaline-induced high that ensues.
Be it blasting through cold smoke on a crisp February morning or soaking up the afternoon sun and a few cocktails at your favorite après spot, the atmosphere surrounding ski resorts and mountain towns is abound with an undeniable electricity that is every bit as infectious as it is addictive.
For many skiers, the obsession runs its course through the winter and takes a back burner when temps start to rise and the goggle tans begin to fade away. There are a select few, however, who refuse to let go.
These are the die-hard adrenaline junkies who spend the summer months chasing patches of corn snow and earning their turns until the last flakes melt away. They eat, sleep, and breathe skiing, and in the beating heart of American ski culture, the Colorado Rockies reward that unquenchable addiction with soft snow and sunny skies, sometimes all summer long.
As coronavirus restrictions in the Centennial State begin to ease, Colorado ski bums have started to emerge from their caves. Having nothing to do for months but drink cheap beer and watch Warren Miller movies ad nauseam, they’re chomping at the bit to get back on the hill.
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These two East Coast transplants are guilty as charged, and once recent weekend we lathered up the sunblock and dusted off the sticks to go earn some (socially distanced) turns on St. Mary’s Glacier.
Our morning started in Boulder as we packed the car in view of the jagged Flatirons shining brilliantly in the 80-degree sunlight. As we wound up Route 6, climbers ascended many feet above our car and the cold Clear Creek ran below.
An hour-and-fifteen-minute drive landed us in a packed parking lot where an overflow of cars lined the street labeled “No Parking.” From legging-clad hikers to children in sandals, the crowds surged upwards through the sparse woods.
As we made our final approach, a refreshing breeze whipped off the proglacial lake that glistened a brilliant turquoise hue in the afternoon sun. The water was surrounded by picnicking families, skiers, dogs, and lots of folks relaxing in hammocks.
Temperatures dropped enough on the snow to allow some clothing coverage to protect from the baking sun. Trekking up the snow while wearing heavy plastic boots quickly induces a sweat, but once atop the peak looking down at the run below you forget how you even got up so high.
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The first turns on snow in June were some of the sweetest we’ve ever had, perhaps appreciated even more due to the abrupt end of our ski season. The snow, although sun-soaked and wet, slid cleanly off our edges and allowed for an exhilarating ride down.
We started the day making awkward pole plants and hop turns while we got used to the snowpack, but as the sun began to sink in the sky we were rewarded with the best runs last. We spotted a chute at the top of the hill that had been spared from the sun’s glare for the last hour or so. The last hike was slow and steady, after we ditched our packs and opted to carry our skis on our shoulders.
Our legs became rubber as the toll of 10,000-plus feet of elevation tamped down the excitement of skiing in June. As we slowly approached the peak, we ran into a fellow Eastern transplant who was there to rip some after-work turns. Dillon Priolet, originally from Darien, Conn., said that this was his 100th day on snow. We exchanged some ski stories before beginning the descent.
The snow was firmer, allowing a more extended arc. We felt our bare arms being assailed by a cold breeze reminding us that it was in fact summer. Skiing down, we glimpsed brown rocks and dirt on the snow’s edge.
Skidding into the last section, time slowed and the crowd that had gathered at the bottom of the glacier erupted in cheers. It seems everyone, even non-skiers, can find adventure and inspiration at a snowy escape like St. Mary's. The spirit of skiing is alive and well here in Colorado, even late into the summer months.
It is all too common that less experienced skiers disregard their limits when venturing into the backcountry. As the temps climb and snow softens, it is easy to forget some of the crucial safety measures that we’re all so careful to follow during the winter.
As skiers, we share a common love for a sport that unifies and excites us, but we also share a common responsibility to protect the health of each other and all of those we may come in contact with when we’re out there chasing slushy summer turns.
Part of that responsibility includes avoiding imposing any additional burden on medical workers and first responders, so if you do choose to ski, please stay well within the limits of your ability and if you don’t know, don’t go. Help our health care heroes, and live to ski another day.
More on backcountry safety: Backcountry 101