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The Virtues Of Cord – Corduroy Skiing and Riding in Colorado Ski Country

12-23-18 (02) Corduroy Curtis DeVore
Fresh Corduroy at Copper Mountain – Curtis DeVore 

Ripping fresh, early morning corduroy delivers a unique sensation on skis that is different from the sensation of floating in powder by a long shot, yet it’s nearly just as grin-inducing. For the first few runs of the day, the trails are covered in a layer of crisp white ridges left behind by the overnight snow groomers. It looks like the ridges of corduroy pants or crinkle-cut potato chips but magnified 100 times. As you carve turns through the ruffles, you can feel the vibration in your feet and hear that signature sound of ski on corduroy snow—a kind of tremulous zithhh, zithhh.  

I had the good fortune to get “first tracks” a few weeks ago at Winter Park as part of the ski industry’s SIA/WWSRA On-Snow Demo, a gathering of ski and snowboard makers, retail shops, and assorted journalists. I rode the gondola with Nick Sargent, the president of Snowsports Industries America (SIA). We’d all just been in Denver for three days in a convention center at the Outdoor + Snow Show under fluorescent lights drooling over next season’s hot products.  “It’s nice to get back in the mountains and get some sun and wind on your face,” said Sargent, “and remember why we love to ski so much.” Too true.

Fresh Corduroy at Aspen 

And though there was no powder that day, we really did get first tracks. Winter Park’s new(ish) gondola whisked us 1,700 feet to the top, and we took a fast lap on Cranmer. The slopes were empty, so we could open up the throttle a little. I could feel that corduroy vibrato from my toes to my knees. Sargent is a former ski racer and World Cup ski tech, so, you know, I had to try to keep up. The other beautiful thing about laying tracks in fresh cord is that, although it’s firm in the early morning, the surface is eminently edgeable. Later in the day, when the snow gets skied off, it’s not so easy to hold an edge.

That vibrating sound you hear when skiing early morning corduroy might actually be therapeutic. Sound therapy, also called “vibrational medicine” or “sound healing” is a practice wherein the resonating sounds of objects like Tibetan bowls, gongs, tuning forks, or Australian didgeridoos is used for healing and pain relief. It’s purported to relieve anxiety and promote relaxation. Practitioners say it works because you not only hear the vibration, but you feel it. I’m telling you, skiing corduroy snow is good for your soul. 

This season, I’ve also skied early morning cord at Eldora and at Aspen Highlands. I’ve been at Copper when they drop the rope on the noon groomer, where you can get a similar fresh corduroy experience—albeit softer and quieter—in the middle of the day. Copper keeps one front-side trail, usually Fair Play, under the American Eagle lift, roped off until high noon, so those skiers who repeatedly hit the snooze button can still enjoy perfectly manicured slopes.

Lower Hades Groomed 15
Lower Hades Trail at Purgatory Resort 

Of course, powder is fabulous—we can all agree on that—but not every day is a powder day. As devoted skiers and riders, we have to embrace all snow conditions. Glen Plake, skiing’s iconic Mohawked skier, thinks so too. In a recent article in Ski magazine, Plake offered this diatribe:

“Something that drives me nuts is this frantic, inhuman addiction to a powder day. I can’t stand it, it drives me frickin’ nuts. It’s just crazy how people are about powder now…. While it’s wonderful to have the spectacles of the sport—those once-in-a-lifetime Warren Miller moments—we need to realize that those are just spectacles.… I think we need to rediscover why we ski. We need to understand the joys of the actual sport itself, not the snow conditions.”

With my fixation on corduroy, I suppose I am reveling in yet another specific snow condition. But I do love (nearly) all conditions. Powder, cut-up crud, a crisp groomer, chalky high alpine snow, soft spring mashed potatoes, and corn snow. I’ll be honest, though, I’m not so fond of marble-hard ice, even though I grew up skiing on the East Coast. My edges just aren’t sharp enough.

There’s another combo of snow conditions that’s even better corduroy. A layer of fresh snow on top of pristine corduroy. During this last storm cycle, I caught another day recently at Winter Park, where about 4 inches of fresh sat on top of a perfectly groomed surface. You could feel that little corduroy vibration underfoot, but this time, it was muffled by a plush layer of velvety snow. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Helen Olsson

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