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Closing Week Powder at Aspen Highlands

grinMy knuckles were as white as the view out the windshield of my middle-aged Toyota Corolla. Cars and trucks littered the ditches. In the opposite lanes traffic stood still, sequestered behind a jackknifed semi trailer on I-70.

It was April, and I was on my way to Aspen Highlands to witness a little bit of what Closing Week means in one of Colorado’s more celebrated spring destinations.

With one of heck of a late winter, Colorado was getting dumped on. I urged the car forward a bit faster, itching to strap a board to my feet. The speedometer ticked up to 30. Eyes peeled to the blinding whiteness I followed tire tracks through the blizzard and dreamed of bottomless powder.

I checked my rearview to see my editor Yoon’s rental car vaguely outlined in the blizzard. I smiled to myself as I imagined him alone behind the wheel, both praising and cursing the snow.

The Arkansas boy was proving to be a solid mountain driver.

He had called just a week ago and told me he was making a late season dash to Aspen Highlands to check out the “closing week scene.”

His pitch had all the signs of a high-end press junket: swanky destination, fine accommodations and a vague story idea that would be difficult to craft into a compelling tale.

After much debate and mental anguish, I shuffled my schedule to clear two days to be filled with driving and as much snowboarding as possible.

I crossed my fingers, checked the forecast and got ready to make my girlfriend jealous. I was going to Aspen.

But first the Snow Gods demanded a sacrifice and that was the drive. If you’ve never driven through the Rocky Mountains in a balls-to-the-wall, full on snowstorm, you’re missing one of life’s sublime little miseries. The snowstorm torments the driver, who simultaneously wishing for it to let up and dump harder. With each change in the weather, the safe driver in you is at odds with the snow lover.

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So by the time we got there, flakes the size of teaspoons tumbling out of the sky, I was thoroughly stoked to not have any more existential battles to fight for a while. Let it dump!

I smiled at Yoon and we jabbered like school kids seconds before recess as fresh flakes covered us on the lift to the top of Loge Peak.We looked below at empty runs of powder.

Aspen Highlands was a new mountain for me, and I was about to see it for the first time under buoyant two-foot blanket of pow.

Every athlete knows The Moment when a season, a career or a lifetime of competition, training and enjoyment crystalizes into perfect bliss. Situation is ideal, the challenge very distinct and the body is just barely able – and does – pull it off.

That was my first run that powder filled spring day, all floating and dropping and never turning. Deeply buried moguls had turned into shelves of four-foot drops cushioned like trampolines.

There was nothing hard to land on, just avoid the trees and fall down the mountain.

The long, slow drive had eaten most of our day, but the two hours we played on Aspen Highlands sit high on my list of best Moments in my sporting life.

We got a good night sleep in Aspen and were up for first chair the next morning. Even though snow fell into the early evening and there was plenty of fresh powder, the next day just couldn’t compare with those few amazing turns during two hours at Aspen Highlands.

We climbed Highlands Peak for a final run of the trip and experienced a full range of spring conditions – from powder to full on slush – on our way to the base.

We had a beer before departing and watched a full on snowball fight take over the base-area patio.

The snowball was moving fast, hurled with force by an athletic looking lift operator about 60 yards away. I snatched up my beer at the last second as the snowball splattered on the table nearly upsetting my cobb salad.

The party that is closing week was back, only temporarily paused for the amazing snow day we’d experienced.

It was time for me to hit the road.

By Sean McCoy


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