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Skiing in Colorado; Knee-deep powder, aspens glistening with new snow

By Margaret HenselSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / March 16, 1982

Waiting for a cab at Aspen Airport is a far stretch from standing on Broadway trying to flag a Checker. The night I arrived the air was dry and light, a silver sliver of a moon waning in the deep, black sky. Standing by a snowbank, my bags piled around, the surrounding mountains offered a kind of welcoming embrace amidst the vast space and starry skies so characteristic of Colorado's mountains.

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Not one to ignore so powerful a lure, along with the promise of tomorrow's skiing, I gathered my gear and was off down the road toward Highway 82, then left up Brush Creek Road to Snowmass. My last visit to this area was over 10 years ago, and it was obvious, even at night, that things had changed a bit. Along valley foothills once black against the night, were now clusters of private homes glittering like glass birdhouses. Further toward the village (Snowmass is now officially a town), what had once been a few condominiums had mushroomed into what looked like a sparkling city in the darkness.

The plan for Snowmass, as far as I could figure, is fairly straightforward: the majority of the condominiums are clustered along the ski slopes with the village serving as a reference point. This makes door-to-door skiing one of the delights of the resort. But the simplicity of this layout can be deceptive, especially at night. Having talked with a number of visitors who have unintentionally ended up on a grand tour, it seems a good idea to equip yourself with a map with your destination well marked--before you arrive.

A light scattering of snow had begun to fall as we pulled into the drive of Crestwood Condominiums, a series of lodges clustered around a central office just a breath away from the slopes.

After checking in I got to talking with one of the porters and asked the inevitable question of new arrivals: ''How is the skiing?'' His grin spread wide across his sunburned face. ''Incredible . . . 45 degrees . . . sunny and with powder up to your knees on the Burn.'' (The Big Burn is a particularly popular skiing area.) Listening to him, I was in raptures, visualizing great sweeping turns, powder spiraling in sparkling plumes against the sky.

Depositing the bags in the foyer of my apartment, the porter departed with a cheerful ''Good skiing.'' Rather than being disappointed about having missed what had undoubtedly been the greatest skiing of the year, I figured there was probably enough left over for tomorrow. . . .

The next morning I wasn't disappointed when I opened the curtains and looked up at a Colorado blue sky and a scattering of new snow across the hills. Maybe the snow was not up to the knees, but it was fine for a start.

While the kitchen of my condominium was equipped with everything from blender to wire whisks, I hadn't had time to go out and get groceries or avail myself of the Crestwood's grocery-shopping service. So after suiting up with the usual long underwear, assorted turtlenecks, bib overalls, sweaters, socks, gloves, and hat--looking like a child in a plump snowsuit--I trundled up to the lobby and on to a buffet breakfast at the Stonebridge Inn.

Suitably fortified with scrambled eggs, hash browns, orange juice, and fresh melon, I snapped into my boots, stepped into the bindings, and was off to the lift to test ski skills more than a bit rusty since my student days at the University of Colorado. But skiing, as it turned out, is much like riding a bicycle--once you learn, it's not easily forgotten, it just takes a bit of reminding various parts of the body to work in unison. Fortunately too, Snowmass is a forgiving mountain.

From chairlift No. 2, I looked down on rolling, wide trails and groves of aspen with branches still white from the evening's snow. Every once in a while, the wind picked up and shook the limbs, sending cascades of shimmering snow dancing in the sunlight. After warming up a bit on a trail named Velvet, it was up to Sam's Knob, elevation 10,620 feet, via one of Snowmass's 13 chairlifts.