Wake up early and dress warm. Grab coffee and a quick breakfast. Save a couple bucks by topping off the tank in town. Chase the moon west and leave inky Denver in the rearview. Skip the tedious weekend traffic on I-70. Navigate the 90-mile route on Highway 285 instead. Skirt the crowds through the mountain towns of Morrison, Conifer and Bailey. Focus on the twists and turns and embrace each opportunity to soak in the beauty of this less-travelled path. Meander along the South Platte River in the pale of pre-dawn. Beat the burning sunrise to Kenosha Pass. Gaze over the crest at the breathtaking expanse of central Colorado beyond.
Pump the brakes as you slide into slumbering Fairplay. Right-turn north on to Highway 9 which will steer you to your ultimate destination. Ascend through sparsely-populated Alma, highest incorporated town in North America with an elevation of 10,578 feet. Downshift for traction on the icy climb up Hoosier Pass, even higher. Surmount the Continental Divide and take precaution as you slalom down the other side. Express your gratitude for the snow plows fanning textured sand. Adjust your objective for the day as you look out over the surprise; an unreported and unanticipated foot of fresh snow covering the valley below.
Descend carefully into the town of Breckenridge with its rich mining history and cowboy storefronts. Traverse the base of the resort to the Gondola Lot. Park with enough space for you and your neighbor to get ready. Stretch your legs, loosen up, breathe deeply, drink some water, have a snack. Layer your gear as this mountain often blows cold. Strap on a helmet. Pause briefly at the base and greet the other riders entering the gondola.
Cable up to the bottom of Peak 8. Take a couple quick warmup laps and dial in the fit of your gear. Listen for the spontaneous woo-hoo of a pristine powder day in Colorado. Go higher, steeper, deeper, find stashes up to your hips. Snap pictures and be grateful, not every day can be this good. Give thanks the mountain is not crowded with holiday novices. Hydrate with more water. Warm up at the lodge with something stronger. Select your favorite draft beer or a glass of cab. Compare notes with the Midwesterners at the bar. Air dry your gloves, jacket and helmet. Outline an essay in your mind. Sip a whiskey neat. Tighten up your boots and ka-chunk back out to the lift.
Take more aggressive lines and carve deeper turns. Seek bumps and small kickers to launch. Make mental notes: the pillow-softness of the snow, the profound stillness of the mountain, the bracing warmth of the whiskey. Push yourself ever so slightly and take full advantage of the conditions. Grip the T-bar to the summit. Practice turns bobbing up and down in deep powder. Jump-turn the steepest pitches. Squeeze in a late-afternoon lift ride. Depart your comfort zone as the sun blinks over the peaks.
Decide your legs have had enough, make your way down to the gondola, pop off the bindings, unbuckle the boots. Enter the frosted capsule, watch the shadows creep across the town, grind back down to the lot. Shuffle warily along the frozen parking lot to the car; tired, one measure of soreness, two measures of satisfaction. Confirm you have enough gas, extra water and some more snacks for the 90 miles home. Warm up the car, put on comfortable shoes, redress anything that is wet with snow.
Travel back the way you came. Merge with the afternoon traffic out of Breck, low-gear Hoosier, pausing only briefly to admire the dusky views. Pass the snow plows carefully with a wave. Turn left this time at the street light in Fairplay. Steadily rise with the long incline through Jefferson up to the aspen-studded crest of Kenosha. Remain crashless on the day; no falls on the blacks, no pulled muscles in the parking lot, no icy spinouts on 285. Read: Truckers, you are not down yet. Twist down past the Evergreen exit, the pines at Parmalee Gulch, the pocket community of Indian Hills. Emerge unscathed where the mountains meet the plains. Re-enter the atmosphere of west Denver and scare up an early dinner.