A couple of seasons ago, my son and I spent Super Bowl Sunday chasing each other through the powder at Vail, where we enjoyed one of the best days of a good season. I don’t remember who won the game that day. I don’t even remember who played, but I know that I’ll never forget that day of skiing.
Here’s how I wrote it down at the time. First published at New West.
By Bob Berwyn
It’s just about kickoff time for the Big Game. But we are nowhere near a television as Dylan lets himself fall to the snow at the bottom of Vail’s Vista Bahn.
“I can feel my heart beating in my lips, dad,” he says with a big grin, lying prone, rosy-cheeked with frosted blond hair peaking out from under his helmet and over his goggles.
We’ve just finished an extensive tour of Colorado’s biggest ski hill, delving three mountains deep into some of the finest powder we’ve skied all year. The snow has been piling up for weeks, 31 inches in the last seven days, and after skiing fresh lines nearly all day, we’ve decided to hoist our own private epic flag, tying a ragged red bandana to the car antenna for the drive home.
It’s the best day of the season for both of us, and that’s saying something, especially for me, just coming off a week that included several powder-filled days in Taos, along with a short hut trip to Francie’s Cabin, in the Summit County backcountry.
My nine-year old is coming into his own as a skier this winter. I don’t know if it’s the new Ninthward twin tips or the recent lessons he took through the Summit School District’s winter rec program, but Dylan is skiing with an easy confidence and newfound panache that makes me think the last five years worth of teaching him fundamentals is paying off.
We’re on the hill by 9 a.m. and head straight for the Back Bowls, starting with a run down Forever, off Chair Five, the renowned High Noon triple chair that may soon be replaced by a detachable quad. Dylan yard sales about 10 turns into the classic run, but quickly shakes it off and shadows me down through creamy powder bumps to the catwalk at the bottom.
“Let’s do it again, dad,” he says. “Let’s try that top section right under the chair. I think I saw some jumps!”
It doesn’t take much convincing. It’s one of my favorite spots at Vail, and even on a gray day with storm clouds rolling in from the southwest, you can sense the grand vista of the Holy Cross Wilderness peaks out across the canyon.
We work our way east across the Back Bowls, a powder playground that stretches about six miles across this part of the Rockies. Milt’s Face to the Sun Up lift, then down through the scattered glades on Over Yonder and finally to Genghis Khan, where we hug the tree line to find better visibility. It’s a classic path through some of the best skiing in the state, and we barely stop to catch our breath because the snow is just so fine.
Watching Dylan thrive in the powder snow and the cold, stormy weather is like drinking a magical elixir, that elusive potion of eternal youth. It’s not that I don’t still get a kick out of skiing powder myself. Heck, I’ve been doing it almost all my life, nearly every chance I get. But I slacked off recently after I weighed myself down with some serious emotional baggage the last couple of years. And just when I thought I was snapping out of it, I went and added another load. Long story, but the upshot is that it became been a little tougher to find that carefree spirit.
But skiing always does the trick. And today it busts loose in spades. The yodels come easily as we blast through soft powder bumps in Dragon’s Teeth. Dylan shushes me, feigning embarrassment, but later on the chairlift, I catch him humming the same tune.
We stop at Two Elk for a short lunch and toe-warming session before heading for Blue Sky Basin, where the snow is even softer and deeper. After a quick ride up the Skyline Express and a traverse along the top of Pete’s Bowl, we drop into Resolution and snake our way through a couple of tight lines in a fairyland of snow-covered Hobbit trees. It’s the perfect terrain for Dylan, little single-track passages where we duck under low branches and cavort through a series of whoop-de-dos until we reach Pete’s Express for another ride up the hill. We don’t stop until, to our disappointment, the lifties drape their yellow ribbon across the maze entrance.
For the grand finale, we head back to the front side and Mach it down Whiskey Jack until we find the entrance to Hairbag Alley, a sinuous little drainage adjacent to, but well-hidden from a highly traveled intermediate run. I’ve been telling Dylan about this gem of a trail the last few days and it lives up to our expectations. It’s not the steepest run at Vail, or the longest, but in the fading light and intensifying snowfall, it’s deserted. We make it our own, playing follow the leader as we frolic in the little pipeline, shouting our yahoos and yee-haws to the wind whipping among the tips of the moss-draped spruce and firs.
We catch the Northwoods Express just before it closes and I let Dylan lead the way most of the last run. He’s solid and relaxed on his boards and as I chase him through the fluff, the joy and exhilaration shows in every turn. It’s infectious, and as we ski the same line again, I suddenly see the world as I did when I was his age: A simple, beautiful place, full of magic, laughter, love and joy.
Skiing is strong medicine, and I need more of it. I’m still wearing my smelly polypro as I write these last few lines, and I think I’ll just leave it on and jump back into my ski clothes in the morning. A quick peak outside on the deck confirms the forecast. It’s dumping once again, and by the looks of it, at least another six inches will pile up before daybreak.
I’m not going to pass it up.