Itâ€™s 5:45 a.m. when I finish loading my car and pull out of my driveway in Boulder. The sky is dark but there is an ambient glow from the brilliant full moon hovering overhead.
I remind my drowsy self that I could easily sleep for another hour before starting what might be a typical work day.
But itâ€™s Opening Day at Arapahoe Basin and Loveland and, while Iâ€™m not a zealot who has any intention of getting on one of the first few chairs of the season, Iâ€™m super-stoked about skiing for the first time since last March. More on that in a moment â€¦
Skiing in October is a Colorado phenomenon and a rite of passage for many of the diehards who live here. Typically, those two resorts will turn on the snow guns in late September and by mid-October open one, maybe two medium-length runs at mid-mountain. It isnâ€™t anything like the epic, deep-powder days you relished the previous season or even the warm, bluebird days you enjoyed in the spring, but itâ€™s a significant happening every fall that signals the coming of winter.
And one run or not, thereâ€™s something very enchanting about being on skis (or a board) for the first time in months thatâ€™s worth exploring. Especially if you have a new season pass you canâ€™t wait to use. Or new gear. Or you just need a break from work, school or various other responsibilities. Or whatever.
The common denominator for the several thousand people who make early season pilgrimages like this one is that they all want to feel the rush again â€” that inexplicable sensation of gliding down a Colorado mountain on snow, feeling the wind in your face and the fresh air in your lungs. To those who have experienced it, thereâ€™s nothing else quite like it. And when you go five or six months without it, you need it, you crave it, you yearn for it.
And thatâ€™s exactly why I was speeding up a near-empty I-70 early Wednesday morning with my skis, boots, poles, helmet, goggles and a duffel bag full of ski clothes crammed into the back of my SUV.
By the time I reached Exit 216 for Loveland Pass, I had decided I was going to start my day at Arapahoe Basin and then come back and make a few runs at Loveland before heading back to the real world.
When I pulled into the A-Basin parking lot behind about 50 other cars, I found plenty of people who were just as geeked as I was about getting on snow. As a Summit County radio station blasting â€œBurning Down the Houseâ€ from the Talking Heads, everyone was gathering their gear amid 20-degree temperatures as if it was a mid-winter day.
When the Challenger lift started running at 8:30 a.m., you could feel (and hear) the excitement that had been pent up all summer. Before long, I was arcing my skis down the High Noon trail and living large with a permagrin glued to my face. Sure, itâ€™s an intermediate run thatâ€™s typically an afterthought on the way to the bottom of the mountain. But the soft 18-inch base (and not a single exposed rock) made for smooth sailing under my sticks. And thatâ€™s precisely why I was here.
As of today, Iâ€™m exactly five months out from surgery to repair the ruptured Achilles tendon in my left leg. (Stupid softball injury!) When I got hurt in early May, I realized all the ambitious plans I had for summer â€” hiking 14ers, mountain biking trips, running a half marathon and a weekend trip to Santa Fe â€” were immediately out the window.
As soon as that sunk in â€” roughly the time I woke up at hospital â€” my focus immediately shifted to skiing. I spent the rest of the summer working my tail off swimming, biking and going to physical therapy to get ready for what I experienced today and the big-snow days that will certainly follow.
After four runs at A-Basin and one more at Loveland, I bolted back to Boulder, texting friends in Chicago, Seattle and Denver along the way to ask them what they were up to at their offices â€” only to follow up with a photo and a vivid account of my morning.
Iâ€™m fired up to have gotten a jump on the season, especially given the rehab I put in over the summer. My modest but realistic goal is to get at least 50 days on snow this year, and this gives me a running start.
My epiphany while driving home? Itâ€™s going to be a spectacular winter, and winter is still two months away.
Brian Metzler is a freelance writer from Boulder. His work has appeared in Best Life, Menâ€™s Journal, Outside, Ski, Skiing, Freeze (RIP!), Runnerâ€™s World, Freeze and the Rocky Mountain News.