It was a record-hot summer in Colorado, with temperatures passing the 90-degree mark on some 70 days. Wildfires broke out across the mountains, burning thousands of acres of land and several homes. With the constant threat of wildfires, living in the mountains above Boulder, Colo., was unsettling. In the fall, a fire started just down the road, and we were faced with the possibility of evacuating our house. A neighbor recommended we compile a list of things we’d take with us in the event of such an emergency.
My wife wrote down “wedding pictures, family photo album, important papers, jewelry.” I added: “favorite Rossi skis, new Atomic boots…”
Then, miraculously, on Sept. 23 the temperature suddenly dropped by 65 degrees. And it started to snow. And snow. It was a Saturday, and if it kept falling, we would be able to ski the next day.
Nothing compares to the anticipation of the first day of skiing, the simple joy of going through the ski closet to dig out gloves, hats, parkas, pants and long underwear¿and to sort through the tuning box to find the right wax. The drive up to Brainard Lake was cool and soothing, so different from the heat of the past four months. The trees sagged under the weight of the fresh snow, which was also piled on the side of the road.
We were the first diehards to arrive, and I was relieved to see there was just enough snow to cover the trail. We started out and climbed for five miles and 1,000 vertical feet, breathing in this early, fleeting glimpse of the promising season to come. And then it was time to descend.
My nordic gear is of the backyard variety¿semi-wide skis with high-top boots that make you think you can get away with a few telemark turns. In places, the skis glided perfectly, and I’d mix in a little tele move. But then there were the bare, rocky patches, where basketball-sized boulders threatened to throw me upside down and then cushion the fall.
I crouched low, feet apart, gripping my long ski poles at the halfway point, just managing another semi-telemark past two startled snowshoers and a yellow lab who had materialized around a bend in the trail. Now I was in the homestretch, really moving, feeling confident, almost grabbing a tuck. The technique was not pretty, but it was effective, sort of like the form I used three decades ago on my first ski descent with leather boots and cable bindings on a small hill in a city park.
After barely surviving the final steep stretch, I came to a stop at our car. The adrenaline rush was over, and I had that exhilarated, tired-in-a-good-way feeling you always have after the first day. My wife arrived a few minutes later, having wisely elected to walk the last section.
When you read this, it will be mid-November, and ski resorts will be opening with manmade snow. Not long afterward, the first powder day will beckon. It’s going to be a very good winter. I can feel it.