Day 1: Why can’t I sleep?

Dec. 11, 2015

Crystal Mountain

Vertical for the day: 35,000

Year total: 35,000

It’s 3 a.m. and I’m awake. Again. The night before my first ski day of the season and it’s toss-and-turn time.

It has been this way since I was a little kid. I was always so excited about skiing that I couldn’t sleep the night before hitting the slopes. I would often go to bed early, hoping sleep would come, but at best it was fitful. Did I remember my gloves? Would I have time to eat breakfast? Would I somehow sleep through the alarm? I was so worried about not being ready in the morning that I tried sleeping in my thermal underwear, thinking that would somehow make me ready sooner. It only made me too hot to sleep.

Now I’m 59 and this same busy brain keeps me awake before a ski day. I close my eyes, turn over, and doze. Next time I look at the clock, it’s 4:30. Turn over again, sigh.  Another check — it’s 4:50 — we’re getting there. Eventually, it’s 6 a.m. and I get up, feeling groggy, a little hungover, but happy to be out of bed after a night of not really sleeping.

After battling rush-hour traffic in Seattle, I’ve driven two hours to Crystal Mountain, secured my day pass, and I’m clicked into the bindings of my Volkl AC-50s riding the first chair. Any exhaustion from the lack of sleep is gone — I’m glancing up at the mountain and thinking about my strategy for tackling the foot of new snow sitting on the slopes above me.

Day 1 looks pretty good. It has been a wild week of weather — 100-mile-an-hour winds hit the top of Crystal two days before. Rain, freezing rain, then eventually snow fell. The winds returned, closed the top of the mountain, and finally, today, with colder temperatures and calmer winds, they’ve opened the top of the resort with a foot of fresh snow.

We get ready to unload, and I head to Rex — Rainier Express, the quad that goes to the top.

I hit the “front-side” — the south-facing gladed run with lots of early season obstacles, but also lots of pockets of powder. It’s good — a little windblown because of its exposure to the aforementioned storms earlier in the week, but the masses are staying away from this more challenging terrain.

My overall strategy on a powder day? Take what the mountain gives you, and don’t be in too big a hurry to leave a proven winner. On powder days, many skiers try to chase the latest fresh snow, waiting in long lines for chairs or terrain to open. I try to be more patient, staying put, finding fresh lines amid the trees.

After six fairly quick runs, I’m thinking I’ve done all I can on Rex. I head to Chair 6, which still isn’t open, but the resort sign says it is on “hold.” I know from experience these signs are very inaccurate, and sure enough, I get to the base of Chair 6 and find it open, with a short line of testosterone-rich skiers waiting. I missed the opening by about 10 minutes, but that’s OK. Only a few skiers have made runs so far.

It’s good. Better snow than Rex, and I blast out nine laps before I know it. Great shots down Campbell Basin, and I ski fast and hard.

Then, a run over the other side of Silver Queen into Powder Bowl, which is also stellar.

By now, I’m starting to feel gassed. Lack of sleep, lack of food. I take a break to have coffee and eat some of the lunch I’ve packed. I’m at 22,000 vertical and it’s Day 1. I’m tired all right, but I decide to go for 10,000 more to get my vertical count off to a good start. So after a quick break, I’m back at it — more runs in Campbell Basin, two more down Powder Bowl, and by 2:45 and 35,000 vertical, I’m done.

Good start to the season.

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