USA: Secret super powder
"WHAT'S the difference between a snowboarder and a vacuum cleaner?" asked J.T. Thompson, a wizened ski-bum and my guide at Colorado's Winter Park ski resort. The two other skiers on the chairlift waited for the punchline with anticipation as I, the sole snowboarder, sighed wearily.
"Where you attach the dirtbag!"
The grey-haired veteran instructor tilted his head back and let rip a string of hearty roars, joined by the other two. Skiers are like pack animals - quick to gang up on one who isn't their own. Try as I might, I struggled to find a comeback to their constant barrage of snowboard-mocking one-liners, but my brain was preoccupied with trying to keep warm.
We were heading up the Panoramic Express, a speedy lift that would take us to the Vasquez Cirque, a treeless plateau 3.5km above sea level. The -25C wind didn't care that we had flown 16 hours to ride the more than 1200ha of skiable mountain. Instead, it whipped itself into an angry rage, firing a billion microscopic icicles through my jacket. I pulled my hood tighter and tried to breathe some warmth into my scarf. It wasn't easy drawing breath from such thin air.
Then we were off down the run, frenzied snow flurries reducing our fellow mountain-goers to ghostly silhouettes. Five minutes later, we hit the treeline and the blizzard was behind us.
Here, the trails opened up as wide as two football fields, letting me scream down the track.
The resort is made up of three ski areas - Winter Park, Mary Jane and Vasquez Cirque - which combine to create a huge play area over the mountain, about 100km from Denver.
Some advice: hydrate. The giddy altitude had me awake in my comfy Zephyr Mountain Lodge bed not long after midnight with the inside of my mouth feeling like it was upholstered in sandpaper.
The next morning I took a short van ride to Carver's, a local secret: a busy little cafe with a low roof and high standards. The waitress brought forth a plate laden with treats from heaven. As she approached, a thousand angels sang and a brilliant white light shone down on the table from on high. She said "I gift thee a plate of waffles." Well, that's how I remember it. Other phrases like "golden clouds of dough", and "dizzying eruptions of flavour" also spring to mind.
After that religious experience, we were dropped off at Grand Adventures for a spot of snowmobiling, under the tutelage of Steve "Ampa" Cook, an affable American gent who warned us to stay on trail - the 250kg machines tend to sink in deep snow. Driving a snowmobile is exactly like driving a quad bike, except instead of kicking up a mixture of dirt, mud and dung, we cast elegant plumes of powder behind us.
Next stop was Devil's Thumb Ranch, a 52-room lodge on 2000ha, about 20 minutes from Winter Park, where a huge fire raged in the centre of the grand, circular dining room.
This is where the high-flying execs visit for conferencing between ski runs, or where families come to get away from youthful high jinks at Winter Park. It's known for its spa treatments, and an hour's post-snowboarding deep-tissue massage was just what the doctor ordered.
Our ride to dinner was announced by the jingling of sleigh bells. Two giant black horses stood to attention behind a sleigh ready to tow us to the Ranch House Restaurant as the sun set over the snowy plains, turning them alternate shades of violet and peach and, inconveniently, freezing the froth on my glass of beer solid.
The final day on the snow dawned with icy conditions, but the lack of wind soon had me forgetting about the chill factor. Left to my own devices and free from pesky skiers, I pushed my speed higher with each run down those groomed tracks.
All that fresh air even helped me think of a comeback to J.T. and his snowboarder jibes. "Why are most snowboard jokes one-liners? So the skiers can understand them."
Kieran Nash was was a guest of Winter Park Resort.