The rush begins with the Boeing’s descent, threading the summits, the white stuff on the Colorado slopes is the opposite of the white stuff we flew over departing Miami`s shore. On the ground in Eagle, the nearest commercial airport to Vail, Scott, my ground transport driver says it’s a 50-minute ride to the Sonnenalp hotel in Vail, grabbing my bags he`s proud to forecast 1-3 inches for my stay.
At Sonnenalp, check-in is a breeze and the bellman whisks me to my junior suite, in record time, I change out of my cotton and denim and into PolarFleece, Thermax and Goretex. Downstairs it’s a right turn out of the hotel’s driveway, another right on the main street, 6 blocks later it’s another right, under the covered bridge and I’m chatting with the local ski tech who’s been told to expect me by the Sonnenalp`s ski concierge, whose on-site office is downstairs here at the Bridge Street Skihaus where my board and boots await. As the tech measures me, I tell him I would like a nimble, responsive board, nothing severe, setting the bindings he– asks if I, “ride reverse a lot,” my reply is, “not on purpose.”
Fitted out and waxed up, it`s a few steps more to the ticket office where I redeem my pass and scan the lift line wait-times, everything is green so I can stick to the route plan I made via the mountain`s app. I hop the gondola, and on the ride up, three locals share two critical pieces of Colorado info:
One, in business, a fresh snowfall automatically preempts any scheduled meeting; And two, for pleasure, you have no friends on powder days, so if your BFF is sick in town, busy or working, there is neither shame nor blame when the partner heads onto the mountain for as many runs as they can get in. Out on the mountain, if your group is mixed and a snowboarder takes too long to strap in off the lift, the skiers will likely see the slowpoke next at après ski.
I reflect on these rules as I strap in for the lift that will take me the rest of the way to 10,900 feet, secure in the knowledge my slower than molasses going up a double diamond in Winter’s pace isn’t, “harshing anyone’s mellow.”
Up top I figure Hunky Dory is a perfect run, because that`s how I feel: A solid groomed blue whose steep is made completely manageable by a perfect amount of new snow. Off Hunky Dory I give Look Ma, a diamond, a wide berth and slip onto Ben’s Face then into Chaos Canyon and onto Avanti, Giant Steps would have been a giant leap for me as it’s another diamond, so I put that run on my right and head for Bear Tree via a short catwalk.
Success! I’ve avoided looking like a Floridian-Jamaican on what can only be described as the appropriately named advanced runs Tourist Trap and Klickity Klack, which I assume is the noise tourists who get trapped make as they “yard sale” their gear and clothing at the end of a nice long slide and impromptu rest. Well, my adrenaline is just short of that kind of excitement.
Next time up I hop on the Riva Bahn Lift, heading for a few more intermediate runs and gaining insight from a particularly wise elementary school-aged kid who tells me his brother says when you get tired on a run, you can, “rest on the lift,” I tell him his brother sounds like a very smart guy.
As my 3-foot tall chair mate’s instructor laughs through his gaiter, I think he’s, so young and close to the ground, he has no adrenaline, I on the other hand have ended up over my head either led astray by expert skier college buddies hopped up on Schnapps, or by sheer inattention to the trail signs on Diamonds and Double Diamonds because I wasn’t paying enough attention, so heading down Northwoods and Choker Cutoff I think maybe I was a touch hasty dismissing those portable oxygen canisters for sale back at the rental shop, because up here at 9,600 , gravity works just fine, but the oxygen content is pretty hard to find, and strangely enough it’s great news for me because I`ll be a superman back home in thick tropical air.
With the snow really coming down I head over to Mid-Vail, a lodge about halfway up the mountain, for a hot cider. I reemerge to heavy snowfall, and the grooming that ended late the night before has worn off leaving me with a refresher course on respect for gravity and inclines, as I head across the mountain for the Lionshead half of the Vail Resort area.
The snow is so light even a lad from Miami can keep the nose pretty well above the fresh coming down Ridge Route to Eagle’s Nest, down to Bwana onto Safari over to Cheetah and pick up Simba to complete my day in Lionshead’s Alpine jungle.
It’s getting late and I catch what’s close to the last ride of the day on the Born Free Express Chair that allows me to get back over to the Vail side where I turn over my board to the Sonnenalp ski concierge, feeling sorry for the poor guy who had to work inside as I played the day away. The adrenaline slowly comes down as I enter the hotel. It’s good to have a cozy landing spot after experiencing a nonstop adrenaline rush all day.