Winter’s coming, but that’s not stopping some folks from hitting the slopes right now. Excerpts and lessons learned from a thanksgiving skiing roadtrip in Colorodo Springs. I know it sounds crazy… why not go to the southern beaches for a warm winter, but trust me nothing beats the thrill of skiing when its freezing.
Lesson # 1: To skiers and snowboarders out there: Wear sunscreen.
If I could offer you only one tip for the spring skiing or boarding, sunscreen would be it. It’s a cliche and a bad techno-pop song, but if you’re heading to the mountains this winter, I highly recommend you take my advice. Put it everywhere. Rub it into your hairline, under your chin and on the inside (yup, the inside) of your ears. Bathe in it, if you can.
This was the first thing I learned during a recent ski trip to Colorado Springs in Denver for my recent Thanksgiving break. For those of you who aren’t die-hard skiers and snowboarders, let me explain: the mountains do have snow at other times of year besides Christmas, New Years and Presidents Day. Winter skiing and boarding can mean excellent road conditions, shorter lift lines, more comfortable clothing and cheaper everything.
While your friends are shivering on a beach that’s still a little too cold, you can spend your days off flying down uncrowded slopes on soft snow. But, I quickly discovered, there are a few important things to keep in mind before you hit the road.
Lesson Two: Know the Weather
My vacation got off to a bad start because my friends and I forgot to consult the National Weather Service until the evening before we were supposed to leave. Our travel route, of course, was directly in the path of an incoming storm. The highway patrol predicted that a portion of the road would be closed by midnight. We had to leave immediately, and I hadn’t even started my laundry.
Lesson Three: Horde Clean Underwear
Fortunately, I always have a stash of reserve underwear that’s ready to go. Within hours we were stuffed into a lumbering Mazda my friend Kevin borrowed from his mom (thankfully, the Mazda held all of our stuff) and soon were speeding towards our destination.
While the Summit has closed for the year, you can hop a plane for any southern hemisphere ski resort since it’s winter below the equator. But if you’re stuck in the States, keep your chin up and your board waxed: there’s still some spring skiing left in the States.
Closes June 11 Whistler, B.C. Canada 1-800-766-0449
Open “as long as weather permits” (Usually past July 4th)
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Open year round
Government Camp, Oregon
Closes mid/late June
Usually closes July 4
Lesson Four: Get a Radar Detector
Local police and highway patrolmen tend to be particularly active around resort areas even when it’s the middle of the night and late in the season.
The Colorado Springs Highway Patrol (CH”i”Ps) gave Kevin a ticket for going 81 mph in a 65 mph zone. “Good thing I was going uphill,” he muttered. The ticket put us far behind our already ridiculously late schedule. By the time we finished the six-hour drive, it was 2 a.m. not a problem for young, virile youths like ourselves, but it didn’t go over terribly well with our friend’s parents, who were hosting us at their cabin.
But we had made it, and finally ventured out onto the hill at about 10 the next morning.
While this would be an unacceptably late start on a powder day, it’s about right for spring skiing and boarding.
Lesson five: Know When To Ski
The trails are the most fun when novice skiers and boarders break for lunch. Have a big breakfast or go home early, but stay on the hill between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. It will be worth it.
Winter snow usually melts while the sun is out, then re-freezes when the temperature drops at night. This means that mornings bring chunky, icy snow that makes your teeth chatter when you slide across a groomed run, and the snow melts so much by the late afternoon that it has roughly the same consistency as wet cement.
The trick is to ski enthusiastically during those few hours in between, while constantly reminding yourself that you normally wouldn’t be skiing at all this time of year. Feel how good it is to cruise the hill in your shirtsleeves under a big blue sky. Try to ignore your burning desire for 10 feet of fresh powder. It’s not gonna happen.
Lesson Six: Layer
Wear many layers, with a warm one tied around your waist and you will easily adapt to the ever-changing mountain temperature.
It was easy to pick out the suffering people who made the mistake of wearing thickly-padded one piece suits and were forced to compensate by pushing their massive sleeves a few inches up their arms. The girl in the sports bra didn’t look terribly happy (or intelligent) either.
Lesson Seven: Abandon Your Shorts
Resist the temptation to associate winter with shorts and thus winter skiing with skiing in shorts. Simply put, you’ll look like a dork and suffer when the tempermental mountain weather changes. Or when you wipe out on a black diamond (think sliding into third in shorts).
Bonus Lesson: Bring a Hawaiian Shirt
In keeping with the mix of hot and cold, many resorts have silly, tropical-themed days. With your Hawaiian print shirt, you can try and bum free Mai Tais, just in case it’s luau day.
On luau day, all clothing rules go out the window: it is perfectly acceptable to ride the lift in a coconut bra, hula skirt and ski boots. It is also O.K. to have a late lunch of nothing but Mai Tais.
At its best, skiing and boarding during the spring brings out the most fun and relaxing side of the sport. But while you’re having all this fun, be sure to remember the first lesson about sunscreen. Whether you think you’re the “type that doesn’t burn” or you’re sure you’ll put enough sunscreen on, I guarantee that any exposed skin (and there will be some exposed skin) will be crispier than Colonel’s secret recipe by the end of the day, if you don’t heed my advice. The sun is merciless at 10,000 feet.
Despite my caution, I was having such a good time that I accidentally used regular Chapstick, the kind with SPF zero, while I was skiing.
The next morning, I woke to nature’s giant practical joke: my lips had swollen to four times their normal size, like a collagen injection done with a caulking gun.
And I have big lips. I couldn’t close my giant mouth, much less eat, until I iced it for about two hours. I was about as intelligible as Charlie Brown’s teacher and I looked really, really stupid. One of my friends, who had watched me judiciously apply Chapstick the day before, asked “so were you just basting them?”
So I went to the sports shop, paid an exorbitant sum for lip balm with sunscreen and we skied anyway. After all, I had to get in a few more runs before the spring skiing season melted away, sunburnt lips or not.