The flurries started coming down in the headlight beams. Travel weary and wound tight, I was itching to get out of the car. We had spent twelve hours crossing the humdrum Great Plains in four-door confinement. I wanted to break free, breathe biting air and smell sappy evergreens. Just an hour away from John’s condo in Silverthorne, we got the news: twenty-four inches of fresh powder just started falling on Vail.

After a good night’s sleep (on a surprisingly comfortable foam mattress) we rose early to get to the mountain.

Vail is huge. Not that I could really tell, because the snow coming down obscured everything that wasn’t 10 yards in front of my face. We parked, put on our boots and walked to the bus. After the ride we hauled our gear up and across an overpass and through the resort base town to get to the lift. My chest ached from the high altitude.

Good grief, Charlie Brown, the snow! Fluffy, heavy, powdery white EVERYWHERE. I never thought I could get enough powder, but this day I was in over my waist. My skis weren’t designed for powder and it wasn’t long before I got frustrated.

In addition, my boots were loose. Even after buckling them as tight as I could, my feet were still swimming. Trying to carve through the powder turned into a small nightmare. My feet would try to turn my skis, but the skis would lag. I’d catch an edge and down I’d go. On top of it all, I’m not the best skier. Especially by “out west” standards.

Around noon we went inside one of the giant lodges to warm up. I was tired and pouty. Kirk could barely get me to smile.

I resolved to make what I could of the afternoon. I tried my best to get through the powder. Kirk patiently gave me periodic instruction. He tried to get me to stop flailing my poles around, keep my chest up and face my body down the hill.

At the end of the day, my legs burned. On my last run I was sure they would give out and send me careening wildly out of control down the hill, rolling and rolling into a giant human snowball.

I was absolutely exhausted. Did I really want to do this again tomorrow? I was disappointed with myself. Was I really considering not skiing?

We were quiet with fatigue on the way home. Then John said, “So, how about A-Basin tomorrow, guys?”

“Sounds good,” said Kirk.

Nevermind. Tomorrow, I would ski.

The next morning we walked outside into a whole new world. The sky was crackling blue. We could see the mountain tops. Even though we had arrived a day and a half before, the snow storm had prevented us from seeing the landscape.

“Look at it Kirk,” I said. “It’s Colorado!”

The half-hour ride to Arapahoe Basin took us deep into the mountains. Tall, steep peaks flanked us on both sides. Then the base came into view. There was a small parking lot with a few dozen cars, a couple of lodges and the lift. That’s all. It was as if I pulled into Crystal Ridge in Wisconsin. The locals go to A-Basin to avoid the large crowds, glitz and glamour of Vail or Aspen. It’s the smallest big mountain around.

Kirk and I flew down a bunch of groomers. We went to the back bowls and carved up the powder. This was so much fun! The slopes seemed to have perfect steepness, the snow just the right depth. We never had to wait in line. Before 11 a.m. we felt that we had already skied our money’s worth.

I fell head-over-heels for Arapahoe. I’m sure the gorgeous sun we had that day set the mountain in a more favorable light, but I don’t mind letting the weather buoy my perspective. (I just need to remember to give Vail a second chance.)

At noon we grabbed our packed lunch from the car and took it halfway up the mountain to eat it at the Black Mountain Lodge with a view. After hitting a few more runs, we returned to the lodge just before 2:30 p.m. to grab a beer before they closed.

After my rough day at Vail, I was so grateful for the wonderful time at Arapahoe. It was too bad both couldn’t be perfect, but the slightly sour first day made the second that much more sweet. ☼