In the years 1996-2000 BK (before kids), skiing at Thanksgiving was an annual tradition for my husband and me. We would head for Steamboat, rent a condo with a few of my siblings and assorted friends, drink way too much and ski and snowboard enough to work off the turkey and pumpkin pie. Some years, it snowed more than others, but mostly, we were skiing on a few runs on firm corduroy. But we didnt care. It was November, and we were skiing.
If ever there was a sign that the mountains werent quite ready, it was the year we saw a large black bear waddling across the slopes. The beast would get about halfway across the hill when a skier would come zinging by and scare it back into the woods.
Sometimes I think perhaps we shouldnt be skiing until the bears are snoozing in their caves. Ironically, most skiers and riders cant wait to hit the slopes when only a few ribbons of white lace the mountain, but in spring, when ski areas have their total acreage open and the snow is either a creamy consistency or layered up in powder from a springtime storm, most people hang up their boards, lured away by warm-weather sports like mountain biking and golf.
Every year, I tell myself to save my days for the springbut I never do. Like most fanatics, I ski at Thanksgiving. But it does have its benefits. Admittedly, I regularly ski myself into shape during the early season. November and early December is when I get my ski legs under me.
Last week, my husband and I took the kids to Copper for our familys first day on snow. Riding the lift up, we wondered if we would remember how to turn. (We did.) I contemplated the possibility that my boots had shrunk over the summereither that or my feet got fatter. Below us, ski racers from all over the country scribed perfect arcs, leaving railroad tracks in the snow.
Copper is an early-season magnet for the ski-racing set, including the U.S. Ski Team, which takes over the Super Bee lift and the slopes beneath it. On the terrain off the Eagle Lift, where we were skiing, the caliber of skier was high. I figured my kids were learning just by watching all the good technique from the lifts. Terrain was limited, but we dusted off the cobwebs and tested the muscle memory of our quad muscles.
On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, my older son and I headed to Loveland, where my younger son was training with the Eldora Mountain Ski Club. Hed been boasting about the team logging 17,000 vertical earlier in the week, which seemed impossible given the potential for early-season lift lines.
We prepared ourselves for the post-Thanksgiving rush, but it never came. We were on the lift at 8:30 a.m. and had logged five runs by 9:30 under sunny skies. We kept at it until noon, never waiting more than about two minutes to hop on the chair, loaded by a friendly fellow with a shockingly bright red Mohawk. We even caught a rope dropping on a brand-new run.
On the lift rides up, with views of a snowy Continental Divide spread out before us, I decided it was infinitely better to be out in the fresh air than home binge-watching reruns of South Park. Seriously, this is what my teenager is into these days.
The other positive thing about skiing early is that you get your act together. Every year, we forget something critical in those first few days. Season passes, boot heaters, goggles. One year my husband showed up at Copper with no ski pants. He was standing in the parking lot in his long johns rooting through his ski bag and scratching his head. Not good. More than once, Ive made it all the way to the lift only to discover a thick layer of storage wax on my skis. Equally not good.
When we got to Loveland, I realized Id forgotten my sack lunch. I was pretty sad about it, because the best ski lunch of the season is a sandwich of leftover turkey, stuffing, and my homemade cranberry-fig sauce. All was not lost, however. Lunch at the recently remodeled Loveland Grill is surprisingly reasonable, compared with most destination ski area menus. I had a pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw for a wallet-friendly $5.95. My son had the mac and cheese, French fries, and cinnamon bun the size of a softball for around $10.
Those two early days on snow are something to be thankful for and a good warmup for days to come.
Helen Olsson is the author of The Down & Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids. She blogs about outdoor adventures with kids at maddogmom.com