Via text message, Heather told me that we had to ski Defiance. That Zephyr was her favorite run. And that Dade would want to do the Elephant Jump. She knew all this because she grew up in Glenwood Springs, and, by her own description, “lived” at Sunlight. She told me via text because I had failed to let her know we were heading to her childhood stomping ground on January 10, 2016 (dammit!). She told me some other things, too — or, rather, called me some other things — but I’m sure you’re more interested in the skiing so we’ll move on to that.
And with all apologies to Heather (don’t worry, she’ll be back, with her skinny skis and chairlift beers), Michelle did make sure to get in touch with Neil, another friend of ours (and college teammate of mine) who currently lives in Glenwood, and was happy to meet us for the day. Which is good, because no matter how big or small these mountains are, it not only helps, it’s simply a lot of fun, to have a guide with firsthand knowledge. Case in point:
We did a warm-up run on Sun King and then bounced down Zephyr before I brought up the Elephant Jump. I hadn’t been able to find any reference to it on the trail map so I figured it was a locals’ thing. Neil’s reaction confirmed my hypothesis. He just started laughing. “I bet I haven’t been back there for a couple years,” he said. “Let’s go.”
I wish I could report how we got “back there,” but it all happened so fast … I thought for sure some dude in a black suit was going to tackle me and tie a blindfold over my eyes and throw me on the back of a snowmobile and take me to some undisclosed location where I’d wake up groggy and disoriented. “Where am I?” I’d ask. “I’m just here for the Elephant Jump,” I’d plead …
Anyway, we cut across a couple runs — Blue Catwalk? Sundance? — and then suddenly, and deliberately, darted into the trees — perhaps at the top of Ferret’s Hollow. There was a small break in the forest, but certainly no signage or even a well-worn path, and I swear Neil looked around to check if we had been followed before he waved us in. “Quick, before anybody sees us,” I’m sure he said.
We made a few turns through the woods and then stopped above a small clearing. “There it is,” Neil said. “It’s a boulder that the snow builds up on. Kids have been coming back here as long as I can remember to do tricks. I did my first helicopter off of it.”
The kids just call them 360s these days, and you can probably guess where this is headed. “Dad, go scout the landing for me,” Dade instructed. “I’m gonna do a 360.”
And he did. And he landed it. Little fucker.
The 360 isn’t a big deal. He does them all the time. But what does impress me is that he’d never been off the Elephant Jump before. He’d never even seen it. So he nailed it blind. He had no idea how much air he’d get, or what the landing was going to be like. Yeah, I told him it was fine. But I tell him that every time he asks me to scout. “Does it look okay?” he asks. “Yep, you’ll be fine,” I say. And then he shoves off. Little fucker makes me proud.
After a two-beer interlude, Neil said he had one more area he wanted us to experience. We made our way back up the Primo lift and then skier’s right to Heathen, a steep, double-black run on an exposed face. Toward the top, there was a cool little depression where we skied through some knee-deep powder before popping up onto the ridge line. It was a fun trail, but Neil wanted us to see it for the view more than anything. And for good reason. From up there, “living” at Sunlight looks pretty damn good.