Mastering the Early Morning Ski Start

Backcountry ski fails in somewhere, Alaska.
Backcountry ski fails in somewhere, Alaska. Paxson Woelber
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Science has yet to comb the human genome to discover what rare strand of DNA is responsible for morning people, but rest assured if you aren’t one of them, you aren’t alone. If you count yourself among those who rage against the coming morning just to stumble out the door, into the car, and come to your senses on the road, then this guide is for you. If you’re one of those disturbingly perky, joyful individuals that considers "sleeping in" any time past 6 am, there are a few tips that might help you as well. Here are five suggestions for rising to occasion and getting to the Colorado mountains in good style—or at least in one piece.

1. Get Organized While Your Brain is Fully Functional

You don’t have to be a morning person, you just have to be prepared.
You don’t have to be a morning person, you just have to be prepared. Zach Dischner

Humans are masters of self-deception, especially when the empty phrase "I’ll get ready in the morning” is uttered. No, you won’t. Your poor sleep-deprived brain will be straining just to remember to put pants on with the zipper in front. You’re asking a lot to expect it to also organize your gear, find your pass, and round up food. This very phenomenon is why you will one day end up paying $26 for an awful slice of pizza and a beverage you’re not allowed to refill at the ski lodge.

Keep It Simple, Skier! Get your act together the night before. Get your ski pass, critical gear, and food in the car the night before (and topping off with a full tank of gas is a brilliant idea). If leaving stuff overnight in your vehicle is risky, pack everything in as few bags as possible and leave it by the front door. Your early morning mind will still be awash in sweet, dreamy delta brainwaves, so be kind to yourself and organize the night before.

2. Weekend Traffic Will Eat Your Soul—How to Avoid It

A few years back, a mocking billboard on I-70 pompously declared, "Hate Traffic? You ARE traffic!". This meant you could now add self-loathing to the collection of negative emotions coursing through your veins as you crawl along the highway at speeds up to 7 mph. Nonscientific studies have shown that if you are not on the road by 5:13am on weekends, you will have signed up to join the quagmire of cars plodding along the highway. Sure, blaming Texans and Californians who don’t know how to drive their rental cars in the snow is satisfying, but it doesn’t get you to the slopes any sooner.

So what to do? First, face reality: ski traffic on weekends can reliably add 1 to 2 hours to your normal drive time each way. This means it’s quite possible to spend more time in the car then you will on the mountain. And just to mess with you, if you do get up painfully early, you may get to the ski area a good hour before it opens (though this isn’t always bad, see suggestion #3 below).

Setting up lodging the night before your ski day is a solid solution and is almost always worth the investment. You don’t have to drain the bank to stay at the resort or ski town itself either, as the nearby mountain towns like Frisco, Silverthorne, and Edwards will have rooms at reasonable prices. Split two or three ways with friends, and you can invest in sleep, less frustration, and a realistic shot at first tracks for around 30—50 bucks out of pocket. This strategy can be employed on Sundays as well, when rates are often a bit cheaper at hotels. Stay the night and drive home on the open highways early Monday morning.

3. Embrace Resorts that Allow Uphill Ski Traffic

Uphill skinning/snowshoeing can help you beat the traffic (and the crowds)!
Uphill skinning/snowshoeing can help you beat the traffic (and the crowds)! Zach Dischner

Here’s the crowning glory for you morning people and those who have the gumption to be on the road by 5 am: as of 2016-17, many ski areas, including Loveland, Eldora, Copper, A-Basin, Aspen, Snowmass, and Winter Park allow uphill skinning / snowshoeing access before lifts open (please consult the specific resort for details). This is an absolutely welcome trend that lets early risers get going before the lifts move—and some places they even let your dogs cruise the mountain with you before they officially open. Not only will you give yourself a nice workout, but early morning mountain views, smells, and sounds are incredibly good for the soul. As an added bonus, the extra energy you burn may allow you to get your on-resort fix earlier in the day, so you can head home before the real traffic begins to coagulate on I-70.

4. Master Nothing at All About the Morning and Ski at Night

Night skiing is rarely spoken of Colorado, mainly because we’re a bunch of snow snobs. It can get very cold once the sun goes down and powder quickly freezes on the mountain, resulting in what can be fairly called "pretty good" east coast conditions. Most areas don’t offer night sessions but a few, including Keystone and Steamboat, have lit runs. On a snowy night, these rare sessions are magical. And even though they don’t offer night skiing, Winter Park and Vail both offer night biking on the mountain—a fun twist that gives added value to your adventure (and can potentially help you miss out on traffic).

5. Take a Day Off and Claim a Weekday

No one will judge you for playing hooky and taking a day to hit the slopes.
No one will judge you for playing hooky and taking a day to hit the slopes. Pierce Martin

Weekdays at most Colorado ski areas (especially ones without lodging like Loveland and Arapahoe Basin) are an undeniable pleasure, one which us working stiffs don’t always get a chance to enjoy on a regular basis. Little to no lift lines, untracked powder that lingers into the afternoon, no desperate rush to claim a table at lunch—it’s a different world. You may even score a respectable parking spot as late as eight in the morning! If you’re craving a full day on the mountain where your frustrations will be kept to a minimum, cash in one of those invaluable personal days and get in your turns on a Wednesday. Remember, if you call in sick to play hooky, you can’t possibly go too heavy on the sunscreen—though, even if you avoid raccoon tan lines, your sense of temporary joy and well-being may just give you away.

Unless it’s a raging powder day, traffic is usually light, meaning you can get out the door at a reasonable hour—as late as 7 am from the metro areas—and still get in a full day. You are also fully entitled to smugly reflect on your co-workers slaving away while you crank out run after run, in fact it’s encouraged. Soon enough, reality will once again issue its daily haymaker of tedium and repetition, so soak up every minute of the mid-week ski day.

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