After a hurried breakfast of oatmeal and fresh fruit at the Inn, I had a brisk walk to catch the 8:20 bus from Breckenridge Station to Arapahoe Basin (A Basin). The ticket line moved fast and before I knew it, I had arrived at the base of the Lenawee chairlift after riding up on the Black Mountain Express. Until mid morning, the conditions were a little less than desirable. A 15 mph wind paired with constant snowfall brought the temperature to a brisk 8 degrees. Around noon, the heavy clouds parted slightly and, for the first time, I could see the mountains encompassing us.
Soaring peaks surrounded the basin on 3 sides, punctuated by glades of pines and the long scars of the chairlifts. The infamous East Wall dominated the resort- towering over 13,000 above sea level on my left; the world renowned Pallavinci Chutes to my right. Every time I gazed at the East Wall, I felt cold stab of fear in my heart. Sheer cliffs and slopes angled over 50 degrees have added A Basin to some of Colorado’s most sought after extreme terrain.
Due to frigid temperatures and moderate winds, I took a break in the warming hut off the Norway Lift. I had spent most of the morning riding the Norway Face and Knolls before breaking for lunch. My lunch today consisted of a rather stale Starbucks bagel that I had purchased last evening. Following lunch, I made the traverse from the Lenawee lift, over to Cornice Run where an 8-10 foot drop takes you down onto the West Wall. I made that run several times, enjoying the moment of flight before falling prey to earth’s gravity once more. The near constant snowfall kept the runs nicely covered with light, airy powder.
As the day wore on, my gaze kept shifting to the lower portion of the East Wall. I had seen a few skiers and snowboarders brave the Land of the Giants (a rock and ice filled obstacle course) before arcing gracefully across the Lower East Wall and finally dropping down onto Wrangler. In a burst of adrenaline, I strapped in and rode Humbug to the East Wall gates. Before me lay a field of drops, ice chunks, exposed rock faces, and chutes-affectionately named Land of the Giants. As gravity pulled me downward, I realized the enormity of the situation. The field looked a lot longer from the gate than it had from the lift but before I knew what was happening, muscle memory took over. Short, choppy carves for the initial descent, then deep carves around rocks and ice, followed by a straightline across the Lower East Wall. For the finale, a descent through some moderate glades and a smooth traverse onto Wrangler completed the exhilarating run.
And then, reality struck in the form of a migraine. It happened just after my run through the Giants, my vision starting to change-everything becoming unbearably bright. Knowing what was happening, I headed down to the lodge where I rested with my eyes covered until the bus back to Breckenridge arrived. I downed some medication and dozed off on the bus. Although my day was cut short, I felt quite content with how the day had gone (albiet the feeling came later.)
Alyssa, who hails from Center, had driven from the San Luis Valley to Breckenridge to meet up for supper and then to drive us both back to the Valley. Downstairs at Eric’s was our chosen meeting place and I walked there straight from Breck Station. After we said our hellos, we ordered beer batterd onion rings and caught up on each other’s lives. Soon, my Garbage pizza with garlic crust arrived, as did Alyssas’s Bacon and Green Chili pizza. Oh, how I love that pizza! We made quick work of our food, paid, and headed out to the shops along Main. It had been snowing intermittently throughout the day and toward evening, the snowfall increased; we decided to leave, but not before a stop at the beloved Stephen C. West Ice Arena.
As we walked through the double doors, a wave of nostalgia hit me. The familiar scent of the rubber floor mats and hockey bags was reminiscent of days gone by.
When I revisit those memories, I am sitting in the cold bleachers watching a hockey game. Below me, players in silver and purple cut across the ice in an undulating rythym in pursuit of the puck. I can hear the clank of a cowbell as a woman cheers on her husband; the slash of sticks and the buzzer signaling the end of the period. The memories shift and my family skates along hand in hand, laughing over a long forgotten joke. Why is it, that here at the rink, I feel so close to my Dad? Maybe, it is because when I walk the same corridors as he did- I feel an echo of the past.
The road conditions had not improved much as we drove out of the city limits. We took the pass slowly, not wanting to lose control of Alyssa’s VW Beatle. Without incident, we reached Salida where we stopped for coffee at McDonald’s. After we got our drinks at the drive-thru, we realized we had a major problem. The driver’s side window was stuck wide open. Something had caught in the door and prevented the window from rolling up. Mind you, it was 14 degrees outside and we were yet an hour from home. So, over to Walmart we drove. After a dash inside to find plastic sheeting and duct tape, we sealed off the door as best we could and headed towards home. With only a few minor adjustments, we soon found ourselves speeding along southbound 285. Honestly, I was rather impressed with our aerodynamically sound plastic/taping job. It was no small relief though, as we pulled into Mike and Nada’s driveway. Before long, Mike’s arrived home from Mark’s and the house was filled with mirth as I recounted our latest adventure. All too soon, the clock hands crept toward midnight and everyone retired for the night.