I whoosh through the three inches of new snow and smile. I do my best to steer my downhill skis in fast, smooth curves. On my next run, I beat other skiers to the same pitch and reverse-match the turns.
Sitting on the chairlift after that run, I noted my creation on the slope below – a series of symmetrical Figure Eights, lacing down the run. I smile at my handiwork.
I am skiing the “backside” at Snowy Range Ski and Recreation Area. To those who, like me, have skied this area for many decades, this is the “new” side. New is a relative term, of course.
When I first started as a ski instructor in the 1980’s the ski area, owned then by Gaylord Wetherill and Edward Stratemeier of Kansas City, was known as the Medicine Bow Ski Area. It first opened in 1960 on the “front side” of the mountain. Due to its name, more than a few first-timers found themselves in the town of Medicine Bow, wondering where the mountain was located. Switching to the name Snowy Range was a smart move.
Back then, skiers went up the mountain via one chairlift and two T-bars, while beginners used a rope tow with handles, called a Mighty Mite.
Our ski school “office” consisted of a desk, tucked away in the corner of the simple A-frame lodge. That lodge met its demise and burned to the ground in the early 2000s. In its place owners Rick and Terry Colling erected the huge lodge that remains today. Compared to the old lodge, it seemed immense and more than was needed. Now, two decades later, that large lodge makes sense given the popularity of the ski area. In addition, there are now separate ski school and ski patrol buildings. Compared to my ski instructor days, it is palatial.
Current owners, Aaron and Becky Maddox, took over 10 years ago, and it’s a popular place.
Likely much of that popularity is due to the high cost of downhill skiing and snowboarding across the region. A day of skiing at Steamboat or Vail, for those unlucky enough to buy a full-price ticket at the window, is around $200. Discounts are available, but only for those planning ahead. Meanwhile, ticket window price at the Snowy Range is still under $50. Planning 48 hours in advance and purchasing a ticket online saves $5.
I was on hand at the ski area this year on their opening day. Due to shoulder surgery last year and knee surgery two years before that, my downhill skiing has been minimal the last three years.
On that first day I didn’t ski much since I hung around the chairlift before it opened, interviewing those waiting in line. I had my fancy camera and then a fanny pack to carry it in when I skied. I focused on photos and interviews; not my own skiing.
I attribute those distractions to a little mishap I had getting on the lift. With my camera slung over my shoulder and the fanny pack in the way for sitting down, I was preoccupied as I glided up to the lift-loading board. I realized my problem too late. I was fiddling with gear and failed to get a solid sitting position on the chair.
In my 40 years of downhill skiing I have never fallen off a lift. I can’t say that any more. I slid right off the chair before it had gone five feet. On the plus side, the landing was quite soft — like falling on a big feather pillow. It was completely pain-free. Getting up in all that fluff was another story. I wallowed while the lift stopped and the operator helped me out. A ski patroller rushed up to ensure I wasn’t hurt.
“The only thing that hurts is my pride,” I told him.
I see why he was concerned, though. I have a new addition to my ski outfit: a huge fancy knee brace. It certainly makes me look more prone to injury.
While the ski area improved through the years, that isn’t true of my knees. Due to a lack of an ACL in one knee, I found myself skiing timidly, fearing my knee would give way at the slightest odd angle. Downhill skiing lost its thrill.
After my most recent outing, though, where I did those Figure Eights and blasted down the smoother runs, I am excited. The brace helps tremendously. My days of hammering the moguls or scouting out untracked snow in the trees are likely over. I’ve decided to change my focus from those earlier years. I can cruise down the smoother runs and, heck, I can even still make nice Figure Eights. There is less adrenaline; more relaxation. It’s fun again, and that’s what matters.
It’s great to be back and to still have this wonderful little ski area practically out our backdoor.