Closing day

Paul Savage and Tracy Walker ski together on Closing Day, marking Savage's 131st day. He skied every day of the season. (Courtesy photo)

It was a winter filled with ups and downs, and for aficionados of the ski hill, that was literally the case. Up they zipped on gently humming chairlifts and down they skied, flying through fresh powder amid hoots and hollers, zigzagging through bump runs, slicing down groomed slopes and sloshing through spring corn. Despite a season of uncertainty due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Sunday marked the official end of the 2020-21 ski season, a day of celebration liberally flavored with extra enthusiasm and gratitude after last year’s unexpected closure.

All in all, skiers and snowboarders flocked to the resort for 131 days this ski season, according to local skier Paul Savage, and he should know: he skied every one of them, from Donation Day the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to Closing Day on Sunday. For Savage, the feeling of skiing can be summed up in a word.

“Freedom!” he said. “To get back to some normalcy was such a joy.”

Savage, who skis a monoski, noted that the season also marked a record number of ski days for the adaptive athletes who stayed at his house, which he affectionately calls the “Mono Posse Clubhouse.” 

“Three hundred seven days sitskied from those staying here,” he noted of the Mono Posse Clubhouse, which he customized for full wheelchair accessibility expressly to host adaptive athletes.

For many skiers, reaching the end of the full ski season was in itself a victory, something to celebrate. Tracy Walker, an avid skier who works at the library, expressed gratitude that the ski resort not only was able to stay open all season but that they required the use of masks in lift lines. For Walker, skiing offers a way to clear the mind, tap into the present moment and enjoy the mountains, something she felt was “more important than ever” this year.

“What I love about skiing is that I am totally in the moment,” she said. “I am not thinking about bills or housework or work or anything except how lucky I am that the ski area is my backyard and what run I am skiing. I breathe it all in.”

Walker wasn’t alone this season in cherishing the sense of freedom, beauty and release from the year’s stresses provided by skiing. The sport is beloved by many for precisely that, a sentiment shared by local bartender and avid skier Julia Hughes, who skied 105 days this season.

“I love the freedom of flying through open fields of powder and exploring new routes,” she reflected, adding, “Skiing feels like a sport where improvement is always possible, which lights up my brain and inspires me to keep going back out.”

There was even a sense of the return to a semblance of social normalcy, occasioned by chatting with strangers on the lifts, even if separated by an empty seat of space and kept somewhat anonymous due to masks and goggles.

“It was one of the first times since the start of the pandemic that life felt normal because I was finally meeting new people again, both from Telluride and from other locations,” Hughes said. “Usually, those brand new connections are made at the bar or coffee shop; this year, I found them on the ski resort. I still don't know what those people look like, but I expect we'll eventually recognize one another around town.”

While many expressed their deep gratitude for the mountain employees whose work and diligence kept the resort running despite the season’s multitude of new challenges, for others, it was really all about “moguls, going really fast, and the Enchanted Forest.” That was the case for three-year-old Scott Sprackling, who enjoyed his third season of skiing this year.

For Scott, his favorite thing about the ski season, he said, was “not face planting,” though he added that his “nose isn’t bleeding anymore.” 

His mother, Angela Sprackling, noted that on his last ski day of the season, he experienced his first high speed tumble, from which he recovered quickly thanks to the stash of marshmallows in her pocket.

On Sunday, as the lifts spun to a halt at the end of Closing Day, the feeling of elation was palpable as costumed skiers and riders reveled in the completion of another ski season, especially after the tumultuous ride of the past year. It may have been Easter Sunday, but it was also a beloved Telluride holiday: Closing Day.