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It Was the Best Winter Ever, Not In Spite of COVID, But Because of It

Through all of it, we had skiing; regular, by the book, reliable skiing.

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When I moved to Colorado to ski bum at 23-years-old, a medical doctor would likely have diagnosed me as a complete moron. I had no idea what I was doing on the mountain, on Main Street, or at my job making snow. I was the greenest of greenhorns, screamed the first time I saw an elk, and could barely click into my skis let alone actually ski them. But I had a blast despite myself. Telluride experienced one of the deepest snowfalls in its history my first winter there. It started snowing in October and it didn’t stop until, one day, it was just magically summer. I figured out how to ski, how to ski snow deeper than I am tall, and subsequently had the greatest winter of my entire life. Until, of course, this past ski season.

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By now, you have seen reports from the National Ski Areas Association that, despite public health restrictions, skier visits this season topped the fifth highest on record. That’s not what made this season great (in fact, the lines were way too long). I’m not talking about total snowfall, either. I have no idea how much snow fell in Colorado last winter, or the rest of the West (except maybe Jackson because they never stop talking about it. Ever.). But I don’t care how much snow fell. It could have snowed twelve inches of rusty screws and crusty boogers every day, all winter long, and I would’ve been fine with it, as long as we were allowed to ski. No matter the conditions, the lift line wait time, the parking, the traffic, the frozen mask-breath fogging my goggles, or any other weirdness from this ski season, I was OK as long as I was skiing. In 2020 terms, OK is pretty fucking great.

This winter restored my faith in humanity and the universe and proved we were not living in an End-of-Days, worst-case scenario. During the summer of 2020, I barely left the germ-free safety of my house, where I watched the world through cracked blinds and kept two bleach-soaked luffas dangling from my belt like pandemic-killing nunchucks. Remember wiping down your groceries (if you could find food) with Clorox wipes? Yeah, that woke my dormant OCD with a vengeance. If not for this ski season, I’d have lived out the winter in my closet collecting and naming my toenail clippings like Howard Hughes.

Aspen Covid ski tour
Photographer Matt Power quiets the noise with a skin up to top of chair 6, Highlands Bowl in Aspen, Colorado.
Photo: Matt Power

Instead, I skied, and I skied a lot. I never tested positive for Covid (and I got tested a lot) and I never got sick. That proved we could be safe outside of our homes and safe in and around the socially distant crowds at resorts. In turn, this proved that scientists are smart and know their stuff and could be trusted and were not, in fact, idiots, which was stress-relieving since the pandemic illuminated the irrefutable fact that idiocy seems to be the number one skill possessed by all the folks who were running The Show. Yay, science! Thank you, super-smart nerds, for being super smart and saving our bacon with your big ole giant brains filled with wisdom. Idiots, clear a path next time.

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Skiing also gave us a respite from what can now only be described as a hurricane of What-The-Fuckery. Like, remember doom-watching CNN during the election? I know everything there is to know about Maricopa County now. How about the “All Lives Matter” freedom fighter dickalopes not giving a shit about the cops murdered at the capitol? When I was watching the surreal news of the insurrection, I kept wondering when Snake Plissken would saunter into the frame. Or maybe one of those apocalypse S&M characters from Mad Max.

What about murder hornets, the confirmation of aliens, and a goddamn parallel universe? 2020 gave us all of that. How about the fly on Pence’s head, Tiger King, the wildfires that were…everywhere? What about having to say, “You’re still on mute” in your 57 bajillionth Zoom meeting that should’ve been an email that really should’ve been a Google search? Through all of it, we had skiing; regular, by the book, reliable skiing.

Last fall, at a time when I am typically dusting off and tuning up my ski gear, having ski dreams, watching ski flicks, putting my head in the freezer to train the summer softness out of my mustache, and generally just frothing at the mouth for another glorious winter, I was on the fence about even buying a season pass. I wondered if it made financial and societal sense. Resorts would likely shut down early, maybe there’d be a huge spike in cases and it’d be irresponsible to ski.

The backcountry would be overcrowded then and it’d be unsafe to ski there. I was so unsure I got myself a Nordic setup for crying out loud. Thankfully, I had the good sense to buy a pass anyway because I needed skiing in my life, this year more than ever. I needed to believe that it would all be OK. Skiing made that feel possible. No epic amount of snowfall or extreme terrain or all-time conditions or anything else that happens from this day forward will ever compare to the “Holy shit, we are actually skiing” feeling we received on opening day and every single subsequent day until Closing Day this spring.

The 2020/21 ski season was, and will always be, the greatest season any one of us has ever and will ever have. Until the idiots fuck it all up again. See you at the next quarantine, pals. Bring bleach.