Sunday, February 29, 2004
Note to my boss: Dear Boss Man. If you notice that my chair appears to be empty this morning, please don't be concerned. You can rest assured that I am on the job. I am doing my duty -- covering the ski area -- literally. I can promise that today's coverage of Mount Werner will be very thorough indeed. If you need me, my cell phone will be turned off.
Pilot and Today staff
Workers of Steamboat Springs, if you have a powder clause in your contract, today is the day to invoke it. I have just returned from extensive product testing on Mount Werner, and at midday Sunday, there was an abundance of snow on the mountain. Even better, it continued to snow heavily. It is your duty, as a resident of the Yampa Valley, to get up there and pack it. February marked my 25th anniversary in Steamboat, and as Leap Day was the last day of the longest February in four years, it was my last chance to drag my lazy carcass out of the house and remind myself of why I came to this frontier outpost in the first place.
I was not disappointed. Whether you call it pow-pow, poudre or just plain 'der there was a lot of it Sunday. And with luck, there will be more today.
I have a natural tendency to head straight for Priest Creek on a powder day, but I reined myself in a little and started out with a cruise down upper Vagabond to Surprise. It quickly became apparent that visibility would be the No. 1 challenge of the day -- my depth perception was a little fuzzy in the flat light, and I hugged the trees on the left side of Vagabond while I got my feet under me.
Surprise was a treat, as it often is. If there is a ski trail on Mount Werner more aptly named than Surprise, I don't know what it is. The run may be short, but it's always surprisingly good.
This is the number one trail at the Steamboat Ski Area for quickly polishing up your bump skills in nonthreatening terrain. But on Sunday, it was just out of this world, partly because it gets overlooked a lot. Skiing the little moguls on Surprise was like skiing on marshmallows.
If you dream of tossing a little air time into a mogul run, Surprise is the place, and today is the time.
Encouraged by the opening run, I jumped on Storm Peak Express (no lift line to speak of) for a trip into the clouds. The visibility above Four Points was about 20 feet, and when it's like that, there's only one thing to do -- head for the trees. The Closets were bumped out and tracked out, so I sought out a particular line of aspen trees with the perfect turning rhythm. I've been skiing this same line for 25 years, so I sliced up the powder that remained and headed off to see another old friend. Whiteout isn't the ideal hangout for 50-year-old men, but I knew that on a day like this it would embrace an aging wanna-be bumper with a trick knee. What can I say? It was hero snow, and it felt good once again to explode powder bumps and watch the snow pass over my head. Getting a little pumped up now, I took another trip to the top of the mountain and sought out the double fall line between Storm Peak and the old Bar-U-E double chair. Working my way down toward Calf Roper, I found some pockets of thigh-deep snow. Lower down, I swooped in and out of the spruce trees along skier's right on Cyclone. Finally, I caught a ride on the Four Points chair and headed back up toward Tornado.
Again, the bumps were forgiving, and I got into a rhythm. When I heard a little holler of encouragement from the chairlift, I knew I was pushing my luck and decided to head for the barn. But I'm reminded that March is a very special time in Steamboat. I've always connected the third month of the year in the Yampa Valley to an old Broadway musical. You might recall Camelot, in which Robert Goulet and Sir Richard Burton were the protagonists. Burton, in the role of King Arthur, sings a song about his mythical kingdom of Camelot, where rain showers fall only at night and never in the day. At its finest, March skiing in Steamboat means powder overnight and blazing sunshine all-day long.
Or as Burton sang, "There certainly is not, a more convenient spot, for happy ever-aftering than here ... in ... Camelot!" I'm hoping March 2004 will be a Camelot month for all of us in Steamboat.