May 19, 2015
Arapahoe Basin ski area base at 10,780 feet. I’d purchased an online lift pass from Liptopia (highly recommended) that included two discount beer coupons and a $15 lunch.
Getting out of YMCA of the Rockies took longer waiting for the cafeteria to open. After snarfing down breakfast I hurried to A-Basin to arrive by 9:30 AM, the start of the Golden Hour when the snow ceases being icy from the night’s freeze and is not yet water-logged from sun melting. Come on folks, this is May 18th! A-Basin gets 350 inches of snow in a typical year. It is the only ski area that is still open for business and will be until June 8th this year. Saner people have moved on to their summer mountain sports of hiking, biking, camping and white water rafting. There may be snow above 7,500 feet, but that doesn't stop the early birds maximizing their time in the mountains on the trails or water.
The lift lines at A-Basin were non-existent and the skiing was great at higher elevations. Fast groomers and open southern ski bowls lured what I estimate were 90% expert skiers and boarders. There were an amazing number of expert, very young, women skiers .It's no longer a male dominated sport. I met one of the beginners on my last run of the day.
I first time I skied A-Basin was in 1963, but I’ve only skied it a couple more times since preferring many other Colorado resorts like Vail and Breckenridge. After 50+ years the slopes felt different: less intimidating, warmer, easier, but still challenging. After a couple hours trying what seemed like new runs to me I headed down to lunch. The cafeteria was closed in order to herd patrons to the more expensive bar restaurant. Good but pricy Calzones and 1554 Black Lager beer.
As the afternoon wore on the snow got wetter and wetter until at the base one had to steer the skis as if you were water skiing in melting snow cones. You start to think it would be easier to ski wearing pontoons rather than skis. Wet, heavy snow can stop you in your tracks even on a very steep run. It can be dangerous, especially for beginners. Such was the case on my last runoff the day. I stopped by this cute 22 year old that was being abandoned on the hill by her better skiing relative. “What if get hurt she deplored?” I offered to follow her down the remainder of the trail. She took off barely under control. It was only her second day ever skiing.
As we progressed the snow got stickier and heavier with every turn. Eventually her skis went one direction and she went the other followed by a loud pop in her right knee. At rest her skis were pointing downhill. She tried to get up and somehow did before she could stand no longer and for the longest time just kept careening out of control gliding and bouncing on her derriere with outstretched hands trying to grab the slope to stop. I shouted repeatedly to just lie down to affect a stop. Eventually she did. I flagged a skier down to send for ski patrol.
A patrol arrived in about 5 minutes. In the interim I got to practice my Wilderness First Aid incident assessment protocol just relearned just three days prior and transferred the info to the patrol upon arrival. The young lady’s relative finally appeared on scene as it began to intermittently rain and snow and was persuaded to take the victim’s skis and poles to the bottom and inform her husband.
With that drama over I made my way to the hill bottom, passed on the second discounted beer and packed-up to drove 3.5 hours to Craig, CO to get a week’s worth of groceries and then drive the final 90 minutes in rain to “Camp LoDore”. Long day! The Dufus Brothers were very glad to see me and clung to me all night.
Arapahoe Basin received another 20” of snow that night. That gives me three weeks to return before the ski season is over…Hmmmm...