WORDS: Devon O’Neil
This winter was a white blur in northern Colorado. By mid-February my home resort of Breckenridge was ahead of the record pace established three years ago, when the ski area measured 522 inches of snow. Alas, we finished at about 440. The resort extended its season by a week. When I caught my last lift on closing day, April 27, it was snowing so hard I could barely see my skis.
So you might say waking up to a measly inch of fresh snow on Sunday, May 11, after a night when many forecasters predicted at least a foot to fall, I should not have felt too disappointed. However, nothing vexes a powderhound like a phantom storm. I harrumphed and went back to sleep.
The snow picked up around 9 a.m., enough to give us hope for a decent run or two that afternoon. Maybe the frozen crust would even be covered up. My wife and I sat around the house all morning, waiting and fidgeting while cabin fever set in. At 12:30 p.m., we lowered a chicken into the slow cooker. The sky kept puking as the bird began to sizzle.
I tried to nap but couldn't, even while watching the NBA playoffs. I walked outside and shoveled our deck, partly to get out of the house and partly to check the consistency of the snow. It was the first time I realized that we might be in for a rare experience whenever we got out of the house to go skiing.
By 3:30 p.m., we could take it no longer. It was still dumping and visibility was poor above treeline, so we packed our bags and headed to the ski area. I felt like a werewolf finally emerging under the full moon. Trees were caked. The air was still. Main Street was empty. Temps were in the teens.
I wondered if we might bump into others who had bided their time like we had. Sure enough, shortly after pulling up to the trailhead, an old friend arrived and took the spot next to us. We skinned up through what felt like a nuclear blizzard. The snow had arrived warm and wet but had since turned into fairy dust, the kind that makes breaking trail through 16 inches feel like nothing.
Before we left the trailhead, my wife had asked if I would be OK just doing one run. She was worried about the chicken. "Maybe," I said.
We passed four more werewolves de-skinning at the top of the steep climb and leveled off toward our destination under E Chair. Two weeks earlier, this terrain had been riddled with moguls. Since then a pair of storms made the bumps disappear, leaving a perfect base for today's snow.
I dropped in and almost choked halfway through my first turn. My wife followed, then our friend. None of us could believe the powder. At the bottom, my wife said she no longer cared about the chicken and began reattaching her skins for a second lap.
The next day included a 2,000-foot north run off Peak 8's summit, then another down Horseshoe Bowl. Blower snow on super-fat skis. Grins of amazement.
The storm, which finally abated Monday night, highlighted a remarkable three weeks of skiing for the northern mountains of Colorado. Arapahoe Basin reported fresh snow for 10 straight days—in mid-May. Loveland closed after a week when it received 37 inches.
But nothing trumped that Sunday and Monday. Two friends who have lived here for almost 30 years said it was the best May snow they had ever skied.
Lift ticket: Free in May
Vertical: 3,400 feet
Average snowfall: 350 inches
Best May après: Your tailgate or the Breckenridge Brewery