I was fortunate to spend the opening weekend in Utah at Solitude, Snowbird, and Snowbasin. While conditions varied from a killer powder morning to tracked out bumps to slick patches one thing was consistent. It was opening weekend and everyone was stoked to get out after an unseasonably warm fall and a bit of a late start nationwide. It doesn’t matter where you are, opening day brings out true enthusiasts even if the only thing open is the white ribbon of death. It’s exciting to dust off the gear and feel that burst of cold air on your face as you take that first run, even if it means dodging bare spots. Opening day can be a blast but it can also be a bit chaotic. Here are a couple things to keep in mind as you join your resort for their first go at it of the season.
Early Season Conditions Exist
Ok, let’s start with the obvious. In your head, you know that a 15-inch base isn’t much but when you see that grass covered with snow, it’s game on. You’re excited and probably riding faster than you should and before you know it you hear that sound, rocks scraping and gouging your base. At least in this scenario, you stayed upright and didn’t end up with rocks scraping your face. The point is, things are likely looking much better than they really are. Someone told me over the weekend that 50″ in Utah compacts to about 10″. Those trees that look like a blast probably are, until that rogue log sends you flying face first into the snow. Things haven’t packed down yet and are going to be boney. In summary, take it easy, you have a whole season to wreck yourself.
Run Options are Limited
This is important to remember for a few reasons. First and foremost it means runs will be crowded. Keep your head on a swivel because everyone from Racer Bob to First Time Timmy will be charging (or snowflaking) down the same run at the same time. This also means that conditions can degrade fast because of the sheer traffic the limited runs are getting. Forgiving powder runs can quickly turn into challenging bumps and icy patches will quickly show up on those speedy groomers. Your next run might not be quite the same as your last so pay attention and don’t hit lit like you’ve been there before.
No, Seriously, EVERYONE is on the Same Run
While resorts do their best to open a variety of terrain, during the early season they’re generally going to open what makes the most sense for the most amount of people. That means Timmy might be on a run that’s a bit over his head. While he may have tackled that smooth groomed blue at the end of last season, this year left ungroomed after the first dump of the season, it might be proving to be a bit more challenging. When there’s a choice of 3 runs, boredom trumps sound reasoning and people will wander outside of their normal come off zone. The moral of the story? Be a bit more aware on that casual lazy blue than you normally would.
You’re Out of Shape (and a Bit Older)
Laying on the boat and attending all those barbecues might have been fun but it didn’t do anything for your skiing. That’s right, you may have put on a few pounds and you probably didn’t work those leg muscles like you should have. That being said, you’ll likely get tired and a bit sloppy quicker than you’re used to. Be aware of this and once again don’t overdo it. Listen to your body’s cry for help and don’t push it to the point where you end up with a season ending injury.
Everyone Forgets All of These Things
Even if you’ve read this you’ll likely get out on your first run and the sheer excitement of a new season will take over. Still, try and be conscious of these things because no one else will be. It’s kind of like learning to become a defensive driver. You’re safest when you assume everyone else is a crazy person. Keep a safe distance, look uphill before crossing and try and be aware of the skill set of those around you. Stick to the edges in crowded areas, wait for open spaces and try and stay at a reasonable speed. You made not be able to control everyone else, but you sure as heck can stay as far away from them as possible.
It may seem like I’ve focused on the negatives of opening day and early season riding but that’s not my intent. There are a few things in this world that get me quite as excited as strapping in for the first time. Opening day is a blast, and while things can be a little chaotic the mood is great and the air is filled with energy. At one point on Saturday, I looked down from the chair and counted 7 different people ejected from their skis or cartwheeling with their boards. It was carnage, but they were all smiling and laughing. Enjoy your first day out this season, just be conscientious and safe so you’ll have many more days to come.