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October Turns at Arapahoe Basin

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Last week, I stopped by A-Basin to log my first runs of the season. Most years, I admit, I’m not too excited about early season skiing. I’d rather ski late into the spring when more terrain is open and there’s tons of elbow room—and all that delightful soft spring snow. But I realized I’d never skied in October before. It seemed like a lark worth chasing.

 

Sure enough, the experience was surreal. The parking lot was bone dry. No ice and snow, no mud or spring puddles. As I booted up, the scent of wood chips warmed in the sun made me think more of starting out on a summer hike than hitting the slopes. Weirdly, it just didn’t smell like skiing. At the base, I found small cadre of diehard skiers making laps on the Black Mountain Express chair. There were two runs to choose from, and I alternated left and right for a half-dozen laps.

High above, East Wall scraped a blue sky, but it looked nothing like it does deep in winter. It was dusted in snow, but you could see the rocks and cliffbands usually covered in white. In the opposite direction, the view of Loveland Pass and the Continental Divide was a startling vista in hues of tan and brown. Bikers clad in Lycra and motorcyclists were still riding the pass.

I saw skiers in tank tops and bikinis. Plenty of T-shirts and hoodies in the terrain park (that A-Basin can get a terrain park up and running before November 1 is, in and of itself, impressive). The day was sunny and warm. It felt like spring. Everybody was stoked. The common refrain on the chairlift was, “Can you believe we’re skiing in October?! This is crazy!” Most of the skiers and riders I ran into were Colorado locals. Folks from Summit County and the Front Range.

Midweek in October at a ski area feels a little like Adult Swim at the local pool. I saw just two kids all afternoon. Maybe they were home schooled? Or maybe they were playing hooky, too. (I, for one, was playing hooky from work.) Not that I don’t love kids. I have three of them. But it was a decidedly different vibe. Like we were all sneaking in a ski day when we should have been at the grocery store buying candy corn and fake cobwebs to decorate our front decks. The day had a touch of the illicit.

It wasn’t blower powder and it wasn’t chalky January snow on a steep high alpine cirque. But it was carving turns in snow—in October. And that’s one for the bucket list.

When I got home, I told my kids I’d gone skiing. It was a giddy confession. They were mad. Envious. “You did not!”

Yes, I did.

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Tips for Early Season Skiing

  • Go midweek if you can. You’ll have more room to wiggle (or wedel, as they say in Austria).
  • Don’t bring out your brand-new boards. Coverage is usually good, but it’s not unheard of to encounter a rock or two. If you have rock skis or an old snowboard, this is the time to use them.
  • Tune up those rock skis. Early season snow is primarily man-made, which can get a little slick in spots.
  • Wear thin socks. After wearing flip-flops all summer, your feet may feel a little pinched in ski boots. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it by December.
  • Enjoy the gorgeous fall weather and have fun!

Helen Olsson is the author of The Down & Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids. She blogs about outdoor adventures with kids at maddogmom.com