In Defense of Early Season

As skiers we belong to a unique group of people, but not so special that we don’t feel the need to sub-divide our community further into even smaller fraternities.

early season at Gore

There’s the divide between skiers and snowboarders. There are gear sub-groups: telemarkers, AT skiers, mono-boarders and the almost defunct snow-blades. There is west vs east, terrain vs snow snobs and of course resort versus backcountry.

Debates between groups can be endless: dedicated, passionate skiers are naturally ardent. They want others to understand and validate, if not share their passion. I’m no different.

skiing in the sun
Dreaming of a long season

Lately I find myself in the midst of the unsolvable quality versus quantity question, specifically in regard to early season skiing. Is it worth the effort it takes?

Recently on Facebook I saw the statement that “early season is overrated and spring skiing is underrated.” I don’t disagree with this, but in my opinion, it misses the point. In fall, I’m jonesing to ski and spring skiing is the farthest thing from my mind.

early season skiing
Rippin the hardpack

The other day I called a buddy to ask him to ski. “They only have manmade snow. It’s gonna suck and they only have 8 trails open.” I shake my head. It’s not gonna suck.

I believe these guys are missing out. Conditions are far from perfect most days, even in January or February. Sure it can be icy or chunky; but early season skiing can surprise. I ski when I get the chance, any chance.

early-season-snowmaking
EDeO under the guns

Those early trips can help get your leg muscles back into shape and revive your skills. It will hone your technique so when conditions are awesome later, you can make the most of it.

Plus you know you’ll feel good afterward. Even if the snow isn’t perfect, if I’m off my game and ski badly, if it rains, I’m still happy I went. It refreshes my soul. Why would I wait for that?

opening day
Opening Day 2010

I continue, often in vain, to make my argument. Is spring skiing better then early season? Sure it is. The snow is soft, the sun is warm and the casual skiers are gone. When somebody tells me they prefer quality over quantity, I quote Stalin. “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

I’ve been out a couple times this season in spite of a lack of natural snow and scary high temps. The snow was soft, the liftlines were short and the sun was warm; felt like two more spring days under my belt.

So let’s hear it, agree or disagree? Post in the comments. I’m ready.

27 comments on “In Defense of Early Season

  1. Sorry, just isn’t worth the drive and expense. I’m not doing four to five hours and paying absurd window prices or even Liftopia rates for what’s out there now. But, what’s out there now is ridiculous, so, I guess it’s all relative. I’d travel for 30% to half a mountain with the guns blowing. Guns are fun, if it’s cold enough. But, c’mon, it’s really pathetic up there right now.

    April in Colorado is my favorite, and I guess you can consider that Spring skiing. Tourists are gone, even Denver locals are soaking up the sun down there and easing out of skiing. Weather is never super cold, and dumps are numerous.

  2. I hear you. I would never claim that three trails at Gore is better then April in Colorado. I think my point is that we’re not choosing between the two. I have to choose now, without knowing how the rest of the seasons gonna go, wether to ski or to stay home. For me its an easy choice.

  3. Totally agree with you. I ski every chance I get. No matter what the conditions are. If you’re always chasing the “perfect day”, you’ll miss the rest. I’m a race coach. So fortunately, I get to be on snow most days. I’m from a small mountain that has night skiing. I sometimes coach in the morning, then jump in a car and drive an hour and a half and pay for a ticket just to get some long runs in. Because I love it.

    Skiing whenever, wherever, regardless of conditions is what makes you appreciate the bluebird, or powder days that much more. Or finding a lonely hill that got groomed mid-day, seemingly just for you. Or being offered a free ticket in the parking lot on your way in by a stranger that just wanted to get a few early runs in. Or having a beer with an old timer and swapping stories for an hour in the bar. Or stopping to help up a kid who fell down, and having them thank you like you were a superhero. Or packing up the car at 2am with 4 friends, and gear, to drive 6 hours north to get first chair during a storm. Or having a parent thank you for teaching their child something that gave them confidence, and made them smile. I could go on forever. So many great experiences that I would have missed if I didn’t go skiing that day. In 30 years of skiing, I have so many great memories. Most of which have happened to me on the vast majority of days. It’s not the 1% of “perfect” ones. It’s the other 99% that make it all worth it.

  4. “The white ribbon of death” is really a joke, but seriously every level of skier on the only route down. Kids in the freestyle program flying over whales, others jonesing for snow, and others that haven’t skied in two years. I’m guilty I’ve been to Gore on opening day and closing before. End of season sometimes 100% coverage places close because people are mowing lawns. I don’t like mowing any more!

  5. Yep, I’m a pass for early season conditions. Too many hours to drive, too few pairs of skis (ie: 1) to justify gutting the bases, too many other things to do on 70* day in december. I don’t need a powder day every time I click in but I’d probably prefer to hike in the conditions your describing.

  6. Everyone has a different story. We’ve got the week off and arrived in the mountains tonight. For me it beats the flatlands anyday. Then again our costs are largely fixed. We have a place and season’s pass. If you don’t count eating out, the only real cost is gas.

  7. It’s money in the bank. You want to rip it when the skiing is good? Get your turns in early. Find that special spot on the side of Quicksilver that you blow by in Feb. Its skiing and it’s good…

  8. Yeah, Harvey, that’s the key. When I had a pass and an already paid for house membership, well, no whoop. Even then, can’t stand rain and/or fog.

  9. Anyone who complains about a day of skiing isn’t a real skier. Early season at Hunter has been one trail and I’ve been having a blast: soft snow, big bumps, and a great vibe. I waited all year to go skiing and I’m happy to be back on snow!!! Put your negativity away and just have fun skiing. You gotta take what you can get. I literally was skiing in mud, heavy fog, and rain at Hunter today and yeah, the conditions sucked, but I had a great time because hey, it’s better than not skiing!!!!

  10. For us it came down to economics and crowds. We got feedback from the early season at Killington, long lines and the snow though fun, might not be worth the investment. This from people we know that work there. If it were just me skiing, heck I wouldn’t care but, a family of 4.. Well, a day skiing on a not your home-mountain can set you back a few greenbacks

  11. I’ve had maybe 2 really crappy days of skiing in my life. Once when I was getting over the flu and once when I just couldn’t hit the kick wax, it was 32 degrees F and snowing.

    Due to climate change early season nordic skiing is now a hit or miss proposition. At this writing, unwilling to drive the 400 miles to Craftsbury VT to ski on 1 km of manmade. That’s it for early season in the northeast at least until this week’s weather event.

    I miss the days when we could get big days in mid November and early December.

  12. Why do eastern skiers set the bar so low for skiing? It’s ok to admit that this season is awful. I don’t think I’ve ever skied spring or early winter conditions this bad. I like biking but I’m not going out in -20* windchill. I like eating but I’m not going to eat mystery lunch meat on a stale white bread. There are standards for everything in life. This year some people seem to be placing the skiing bar in the mud.

  13. Funny you should bring up biking. I hang out in a bike forum with absolutely obsessed people. I mean, I retired and wound up just breaking 3000 miles this year, although I had little late start, due to a knee scope. Still, I was out there a lot, starting in May. Trust me, it takes a lot of time and effort to break 3000 miles. And yet, there’s people in there, non racers, who claim 9000 miles. Like, all year, all conditions. Bike, bike, bike. Rain, snow, bitter cold, stifling heat. Probably no friends, unkempt living space, I think they have jobs. It’s sorta neurotic. Where’s the fun? There are other things in life, you know.

  14. I raced for most of my life. Starting at the age of 9. 10,000 miles a year was the norm and I have many non racer friends that break 10,000 miles by the end of summer. I stopped racing about 4 years ago – and do miss the fitness but, am not missing the long hours in the saddle. A normal week would be 350 to 500 miles a week. And surprisingly, before my wife and I started to ski again, I would break 2000 miles a month from November until January – then FEB it would usually dump,killing whatever fitness we had. Now I am lucky to do 3000 miles a year – though totally achievable and I think this year I got to that. If winter warms up again, I might be investing more on the bike this winter than the skis though we will see. Hoping winter sticks around…

  15. Follow up: Skied the past 3 days at Bretton Woods, in NH. Absolutely worth the 6 hour ride. It snowed most of the time we were there. Found a great hotel, for about $100/ night. So glad I decided to go. Drove up with a former athlete I coached through high school. Had a great time, and even got to stop at an old friend’s restaurant in Phoenicia (Tavern 214) for a world class meal to wrap up the trip. Another wonderful few days akiing, that I would have missed, had I stayed home.

  16. I had a blast a Gore today. Not sure we can still claim early season.

    It’s like Zach said above, find a spot you like and work it. The bottom half of Showcase was it today, well worth skiing, for me.

  17. I’m with Harvey on this one. Literally. I joined Harvey on a few of those “blasto” runs yesterday after having just met him on the slopes through one of my ski buddies. We had huge grins on our faces and we were definitely getting our skiing “yayas”….. I can totally understand those who, perhaps don’t find less than great conditions enjoyable and I can understand those who are worried about ruining their expensive equipment. However, when the calendar tells my subconscious that I’m supposed to be skiing, I need to ski otherwise the resulting cognitive dissonance is depressing and unbearable. Yesterday, I found a cure in the form of the Adirondack Express II chair lift at Gore Mountain …YAYA! I repeat: YAYA! ( admittedly, I have a special pair of skis which I don’t mind putting a few more nicks in).

  18. I probably have close to 15 days in thus far. There’s skiing that’s good and skiing that makes you good and appreciate good skiing. I worked hard in the off season to come out strong and I’m not going to let weather hold me back. I have the same basic formula as Harvey, place and pass at Gore with lots of vacation time I don’t burn up the rest of e year. I skied with Harvey yesterday and lower showcase skied about as good as any “normal” condition midwinter. I also took my family to Snowridge Sunday and it was a hoot. Nothing like watching my 9 y.o. Shred 24″ of pow to the amazement of clumsy adults searching for their lost skis as he cruised by. As Mattchuck aptly said a few years back, “old man yells at clouds” as he put that classic pic of grandpa Simpson up for us all to reflect upon..

  19. I’m not a skier and never was, although I have been on skis occasionally. It’s like any other outdoor pursuit, the more time you spend at it, regardless of season, a couple things become evident…you get better at it, and develop an appreciation for the changes in the outdoors with the seasons.

    Like fly fishing, those who reserve their skiing for the best times often have to endure the madding crowds. I wouldn’t exactly call that “quality.” Enjoying your particular outdoor sport whenever you have an opportunity to do so is reward in itself.

  20. I was wary of opening day conditions at Plattekill yesterday (1/8) so saved my new skis for another day. I was more than pleasantly surprised — speaking of the quality vs quantity debate — by the very wise decision at Platty to have only one trail open but that trail’s conditions were mid-season excellent — not a rock, not a bare spot, not an icy patch in sight. And I only had to share the trail with 20 other people, half of whom were ski friends from seasons past.

  21. I definitely agree with you. This year I went skiing on black (white) Friday, at Jiminey peak, and it was a great decision. It was 60 degrees that day, and the trails were about 60% covered from side to side. It was awesome. There were three different ways down the mountain which was quite impressive. I love Jiminey Peak. They have awesome snowmaking, and better temps for it too. When it comes to marginal temps, Jiminey can kick Hunter’s ass! And Jiminey is right off the end of the Taconic, so they have the NYC advantage as well. Black Friday was a great turnout this year. Even though they lost most of the snow they made for that weekend, everyone who showed up pretty much payed for it, and we’re all just as excited as I was to get those Thanksgiving turns in.

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