Winter Park, CO. 3.7.21
5:30 A.M. came quickly. I wasn’t ready.
I woke up in a stupor. The previous day had started with the grind of my sixth straight day of work, the night had ended in a release of beer, water colors and drunkenly being in love. What would this day bring?
Oh yeah, I was supposed to go skiing today.
60 degrees and sunny six-packs outside Denver after work had made me forget all about my snowtime tee time for the next day, let alone packing for it. Skis, boots, poles were all in the closet, unused for about a month. All the warm gear were underneath the bed, somewhere. It felt like the day was over before it started, a missed opportunity that maybe was never even there to begin with. At least I could go back to bed, sullen and tired but free of morning responsibility for at least one day of the week.
I turned back over into her and easily drifted into a warm and calm semi-dream state. It was … great. But that only lasted for about an hour, before I was thinking about the early birds who were starting to put on their boots and lay their choice of weapons out before them, ready to attack the snow in the dozens upon dozens of resorts, ski hills and backcountry hamlets across the Front Range. Laying in bed I clearly heard the voice of Tahoe Dave in my head (at least I presume it to be him, I’ve never been formally introduced). He ends the morning ski report (sponsored of course by Tahoe Dave’s Ski and Board Shop) on local radio stations in Lake Tahoe with the same sunny California, ski-bummin’ send-off filled with stoke:
“Remember, any day on the mountain is a good day!”
Damn, Tahoe Dave was right. Here I was willingly passing over an opportunity, one of my very few right now, to enjoy the mountains in their wintery glory. Yeah, I hadn’t been ready at the ass-crack of dawn like I usually was and I had the whole kit and caboodle to pack, but those were poor excuses to deny myself the burn of earning my turns outside in this hint of spring weather. Time to boot the lazy juju and rally behind skiing rather than working and sleeping.
Got the coffee going, popped the last remnants of my homemade weed cookie-brownie in my mouth, got the car packed and set-off, all at the perfectly fine time of 7:30 A.M. There wasn’t a car on my street as I headed out and quickly got onto a sleepy I-70. Not too bad. It was kinda nice getting a late start to the mountain.
I’m always battling my natural inclination of wanting to remain still, undisturbed, complacent. It’s been as motivating a factor as anything else that has gotten me off my ass and into the world. It’s my muse in a way. It’s also why I have so much respect for someone like Neil Young.
For whatever reason, that dude has found it in him to produce music — incredible music — for practically 60 years. 40 studio albums, hundreds of songs recorded; that’s a lot of work, a lot of energy, a lot of time he didn’t spend staring at a phone screen, doing nothing. His latest archival release Neil Young Archives Volume II: 1972-1976 soundtracked the morning scrawl through the mountains from Denver to Winter Park. It’s a massive blast from the past from Young’s most prolific and productive time in his career, 131 cuts (half of which had never been previously released) of barnstorming shows with Crazy Horse, ragged country with The Stray Gators, quiet demos and whole albums worth of material. Belting along to “Old Man” with a red-hot Stray Gators in Tuscaloosa, Alabama felt good that early in the morning.
But it was wading into the unfamiliar tenderness of “Pardon My Heart,” the rumbling drive of “Vacancy” or the cute meadow-stomp of “Love is a Rose” that really let me enjoy Young with fresh ears on new tunes, falling in love with his DIY creativity and production all over again. As I reached the summit of Berthoud Pass and saw the backside of the Front Range extend north in a rippling procession of power, I knew I was anywhere but the losing end.
Winter Park is a perfect little nook of a mountain that’s a relative skip away from Denver, built from the same sexy features and wide-open terraces that make Berthoud Pass a destination spot for backcountry skiing. Even better, it embraces that uphill spirit and offers $15 season passes for anyone who prefers walking the mountain instead of riding the lifts. It’s only my third visit, my third run up and down the mountain, but those first two opened my eyes to the advantage of being able to go somewhere quick and easy to get a safe lap as I build up my skiing strength and uphill awareness.
My tardiness ensured the Utah Junction parking lot was already full when I arrived, though it was a quick walk from along the road to the bottom of Corona Way. With skins strapped down I started to clip into my bindings on top of the corduroy and felt a headband of warm bliss starting to form around my dome. Right on time. I lowered my headphones over my ears, pressed play on Brijean’s Feelings and started to march up.
At that point, in a lot of ways I was satisfied with myself. I was out in the world, skinning up a mountain, soaking up the sun. I had beaten stagnation for the time being, evolved to a more active plane. And, baby was this music doing it for me.
Feelings is a collaboration between Brijean of Toro y Moi and Poolside and multi-instrumentalist Doug Stuart and it was the perfect way to drift in and out of the simple pleasures of a snowy hike on the gentle tides of their creation. Relaxed and pretty the album is a glistening bounce of lo-fi house, bedroom disco and fluorescent dream wave. I found myself simultaneously getting lost in the bass line of “Ocean” and I tried to syncopate my steps to its rhythm, all while wandering the ridge lines of the mountains around me with my eyes. I felt loose, which was good, I had a long way to go and good vibes weren’t going to carry me all the way to the top.
As Corona Way gently bent it’s way up I started to feel an encouraging burn in my legs. They were warm and I was looking to keep the fire going, so I quickened my pace and changed over my tunage to Love Will Bring It by Young Pulse. Young Pulse is a renowned DJ and producer from Paris and this EP is a pretty punch of disco and glamorous 4-on-the-floor beats. I was pumping fists and bopping hard as I came upon my first plateau at Sunnyside and Panoramic chairlifts on Winter Park’s southern border. I took my headphones off for a second and it was eerily quiet amongst the hundred or so people who were probably down there waiting for the lifts. There wasn’t anyone really talking, just the sounds of chairlifts humming and clattering skis and boards. I don’t know if I found myself in a weird social lull on the mountain or what, but it was as a good a sign as ever that I was better off in my own world walking to the top than taking the lifts with this communal buzzkill. I kept moving right on through with even more pep in my step.
Bluebell was the next leg of the journey, a cruising blue that people were zig-zagging down with style and confidence. It’s these types of runs where you run into the ever present danger of skinning uphill at a resort: getting clipped by someone going down. Let’s be honest, we are the weird ones going against the grain by heading uphill, the runs aren’t made for us. While people should always be aware of what’s down below them on a ski hill, I like to make myself as much as a non-factor on the mountain as I can by sticking tight to the edges of runs, hustling across merge points and holding up my poles near blind corners and ledges to make myself as big as possible for people to see. No close calls this time, but there’s always next time.
I started my last big push at the bottom of the Wildwood Glade. I was worn, excited to know I wasn’t too far from the top and a solid rest. It was in this headspace that I started to really lean into the Type II-lite fun I was having. I was in a zone, one that felt in sync with the saturated focus of producer Fatgyver and his recent release Adventures in Imperfection. It was synergy of music, mind and mountain. My sonics were entombed in this enchanting world of celestial funk, open-air jazz blasts and smooth-grooving beats, driving me up this beautiful mountain with an appreciative focus to use my body as efficiently and effectively as possible. Fatgyver has a snap to his production and an ambition in his compositions that I haven’t really heard lately and I’ll be making plenty of laps in the future with his world bumping in my head.
About an hour and 45 minutes after I took my first steps at Utah Junction I took my last atop the top of Winter Park at Lunch Rock. I was thankful not to be too tired and there was a certain adrenaline shot of energy I got at the top that had me smiling. I treated myself to a little summit beer and took in the scene from my southerly facing chair. Parsenn Bowl looms on the near horizon in its shiny glory, birds flit around the trees and people mill around in a sunny buzz.
I wasn’t gonna get this view from my bed. I was proud of the work I had put in: 1,500 feet of elevation over the course of two miles in under two hours. I had vanquished complacency and reached the top of the mountain with nothing but great beats and great views, all before noon. As I clipped in for the second time of the day, now supremely satisfied with how my morning had turned out, I smiled and knew it was all downhill from here.