By R. Scott Rappold
The first snow of the season hit Colorado's high country over the weekend.
Not graupel, hail or icy rain, but actual snow. The kind on which we'll soon be skiing and snowboarding. Of course, the snow quickly melted. It is, after all, officially summer. But there's still an excitement that comes with the first snow of the season.
The aspens are turning gold and there's a chill in the air that seems to whisper, "Winter is coming." Soon the snow guns will be churning away as Loveland and Arapahoe Basin ski areas launch their annual race to be the first ski area in the U.S. to open.
But if you wait until the season is here to prepare, your first few times out could be rockier than the mountains. The time is now to get in the skiing mindset. We're here to help you.
This is the single most important decision you'll make. If you plan to ski a lot, then a season pass is the way to go, as most pay for themselves (compared to buying daily lift tickets) after just a handful of days. And with more resorts than ever offering free or discounted days at partner ski areas around Colorado and beyond, a pass gives you the freedom to chase powder.
Not everyone has the ability to drop everything when it snows, so maybe a four-day pass is a better option. It'll save you at least half off the window price and make for a great week-long ski trip or a few awesome day trips. Or if you want to explore some of Colorado's smaller ski areas, pick up a Colorado Gems Card, which provides either two 2-for-1 lift tickets or two 30% off lift tickets at each of the ten Colorado Gems Resorts for just $25.
Whatever you decide, don't wait until the season is here, as most pass prices go up once the lifts are running.
Click here to read about all the pass options available this winter.
Don't wait for opening day at your resort to do a gear inventory. Dig it out of boxes and do a mental run-down of the previous season. What worked for you and what didn't?
Check your gloves for tears that can let cold air in. Examine your goggles for scratches that can obstruct your vision. Make sure your boots are still comfortable to walk in. Try on your snow pants and jacket and look for rips.
Your skis or snowboard also need some attention. Experts recommend having a professional tune the surface to cover last season's scrapes and sharpen the edges to ensure smooth turning on that early-season snow. You can also ask the technician to check your bindings to ensure they are still set to your skill level.
One important piece of gear you shouldn't overlook is your car. Unless you're lucky enough to live on the hill, you'll probably be driving on snowy roads this winter. Check your tire tread. When roads are snowy, the Colorado Department of Transportation requires all vehicles to have tire tread of at least one-eighth of an inch. If in doubt, check it with an upside-down quarter. If the top of George Washington's head is in the tread, your tires are probably okay. It's still a good idea to carry chains, cables or a tire sock, because you risk a hefty fine if you obstruct traffic when the passenger traction law is in effect.
The start of ski season is also a good time to replace your windshield wiper blades and make sure you have an emergency kit and blanket in case you get stranded.
Whether you hung up the skis when most areas closed in April or chased the abundant late-season snow into summer, it's still probably been a while since you rode on snow.
Skiing and snowboarding require muscle movements you probably don't use while hiking, biking or rock-climbing, so you'll want to prep with simple calisthenics. Squats and leg presses will firm up leg muscles and help reduce the risk of injury during the season. Lateral side jumps will prepare legs for the movements required to make turns in snow.
Be sure not to neglect the cardio. Using a jump rope or exercise bike or swimming laps are all great ways to prepare yourself for the rigors of skiing.
Another challenge up on the hill is the thin air. Even if you live in Colorado, odds are you'll be skiing where the air contains only half of the oxygen of, say, Denver, so spend some time this fall hiking or biking at altitude to help yourself acclimate. And if you're coming to Colorado from sea level for a ski trip, give yourself time to get used to the elevation before tackling that double-diamond run.
Most importantly, listen to your body, especially early in the season. If your legs are wobbly or you aren't able to make effective turns and control your speed, call it a day. Because you don't want to hurt yourself before you've gotten your money's worth out of your ski pass.