One bluebird morning last February, I did something I'd never done before. Instead of stopping to ski at A-Basin (on a powder day, no less!), I drove right past the resort and continued up the highway to Loveland Pass. Just beyond the parking lots, a gate was blocking the road. Ullr had dumped more than a foot on Summit County overnight, and farther up the pass, the Colorado Department of Transportation was hard at work making the pass safe for traffic, remotely triggering avalanches on the steep slopes above the road with a new network of propane-powered cannons (see "It's a Gaz," p. 9). I was caravaning to the summit with a few other volunteers from Search & Rescue Dogs of the United States (SARDUS, a corps of canine handlers who train and certify dogs for search and rescue operations), and as we waited for the all-clear, we exercised our dogs as the air vibrated with concussive whoompfs.
About an hour later, parked at the summit of the pass, a SARDUS instructor and I powered up and tested our avalanche beacons, shouldered our packs, and walked out onto the snowfields, while a canine handler from Larimer County Search & Rescue idled in her truck with Saker, a Belgian Malinois awaiting certification as an avalanche dog. In the middle of a vast powder-filled bowl, the instructor and I took turns tunneling six feet down into the snowpack, then dug out a crypt-sized cave. I crawled inside, and the instructor blocked up the tunnel and covered it with snow.
Like most people drawing breath, I'd never been buried alive before. So I was surprised at how peaceful the experience was. Even six feet under, sunlight filtered through the snow, and the ceiling of my cave shimmered pastel blue like a grotto. I was amazed not at the silence, but a total absence of sound. Listening to my beating heart, I dozed off. Then was jolted awake by muffled tentative scuffing, followed by manic, furious excavation. Within a few minutes, paws, snout, head, then an entire dog burst through the ceiling, followed by a leather tug toy tossed by his handler. Like a Tasmanian Devil, Saker scrambled for his prize and shot up the tunnel, a freshly minted avy dog.
I don't think I'll ever forget that day. But like most skiers lucky enough to live in this most amazing of places I also can't wait to make up those turns I missed at A-Basin, celebrating its 70th year ("A Legend Parties On," p. 14) and captured so beautifully on our cover. See you on (and hopefully never under ; – ) the slopes!