The Snow Gods were smiling on us this ThxGiving. We scored cheap flights to Denver, a great schedule, and the storms rolled in just before we arrived bringing the best late November conditions in a decade. Like Tony Abbott reminiscing about the quality of life in 1954, we were as happy as pigs in the proverbial. We also scored a great deal on a condo at the base of Keystone, mere staggering distance from the Peru lift – our access to serious ski fun for the first two days.
A lot of Keystone’s terrain was open, but there were solid protrusions on anything that wasn’t groomed and was vaguely steep. We took a few rock hits on day one exploring the terrain on the front side as well as the Outback. The snow was in great condition luckily, just a little low. On Friday, with the wonders of East Coast style gun pow, they opened North Peak early, with three runs in pristine condition. We headed straight to the new terrain, lapping furiously and expecting the hordes to arrive any minute. They never did. We racked up 6000m vert by 11.30. It was a ripping morning, requiring a tasty burger lunch recovery. Laps of Spring Dipper and Wild Irishman rounded off an excellent day under the big blue western sky.
Saturday seemed a good day to explore more hills, so the rental truck was pointed towards Copper Mountain, a mere 25 minutes away. The snow cover there was definitely better than Keystone, with the open runs well covered, soft and carvey. It was a great roaming ski day, with killer bumps all over the mountain to test the legs. The threatened crowds never arrived, the sky stayed blue, and the day simply whetted my appetite for a mid-winter return when the full mountain was begging to be tested. I liked Copper a lot. And it wore out my early season legs.
About 10 years ago we spent a basically crappy day at Breckenridge in mid-February. Vail was covered in great snow – Breck was a rocky, loggy, wind-swept mess. This, along with the rumors of constant crowds, made me reticent to return. Ever. But this season Breck had more snow than Vail, and the reports from locals were good. So on Sunday I headed over. The reports were not wrong.
The lower terrain at Breck is cruisy and high-speed fun, with a few bumps and gullies to explore. Once I got my bearings and found the T-Bar, this ski season cranked up a notch or three. No locals I rode the T-Bar with could remember it being open in November. From the top, one trail led to North Bowl, where filled in runs like Forget-Me-Not were excellent. Exiting left off the T-Bar led to the wonders of Horseshoe Bowl. There were ribbons of rock bands to negotiate to get in, but with few people and excellent snow and visibility, the treasures below were worth the effort. Steep, wind packed lines were wide open. in fact, the substantial wind was blowing straight up the hill, proving vicious face-shots from any skiers who were turning below. Every single turn was a delight. From the bottom of the bowl, dipping, winding routes through trees led back to the T-Bar, a two-minute wait, and another lap of heaven.
I could’ve spent the day lapping Horseshoe Bowl, it was that epic. But with so much terrain open, exploration was tempting. And exploration turned out to be a good idea once I found the steep shots through trees off the back of Peak 9. Deserted, north facing, precipitous lines were magnificent, perfect for high tempo rolling turns down the fall line. This was great skiing. For November, it was remarkable.
I’m now so tempted to spend a few days at Breck, mid-week, mid winter, on a good snow year. I suspect Copper and Keystone might be pretty fun too. Let’s see what this season’s snow brings. You never know.
Keystone 7900m, 7900m
Season Totals: 6 days. 44,200m vert,