We’re embarking on a chilly start to the new year. But since new years are for new resolutions, I’m getting a jump on my promise to get out and ski every single day that’s humanly possible — even when the thermometer scares the bejeezus out of me.

The air is crisp and full skin coverage is mandatory. With December’s 100″ of new snow,  the slopes are laden with universally packed powder that’s prime terrian for cruising. The key is to go up to warm up. An inversion remains strong here in the Yampa Valley, with a 20-30 degree temperature gain as you head toward the top of the ski area. That puts the air temp just above zero at the summit. A blazing sun is hitting the slopes and turning the sky deep blue. Truly, you can see forever, so hot chocolate warm-ups guarantee to be mesmerizing in front of the Hazie’s windows. For those who might (a-hem!) need a bloody mary on this New Year’s Day, the view from Four Points’ bar will prove equally as pleasing.

Warm-up bumps on Surprise.

My theory on frigid-weather skiing is to keep moving. Bumps started the day right. Off the gondola, I headed for corduroy at the top of Vagabond before I cut right to the moderate-size moguls on Surprise. That three-pitch run got my legs pumping and my temperature rising before I ventured up Storm Peak Express to the top of the mountain.

The sun on Morningside is irresistible. Head straight over the ridge to soak it in. This is the land of the grey jays, and the fluffy little birds were busy reveling in sun-drenched pines this morning. Everything up there is bathed in bright sun that is quickly moving its way over to the runs off Sunshine and Sundown lifts. Dip in and out of the pines. Greet the suspiciously friendly birdies. Go ahead and enjoy a few laps on Morningside before you spend the rest of the day exploring long cruisers like High Noon to Westside, Heavenly Daze to Ted’s Ridge, or a trip from the top of Morningside via The Ridge, Flying Z and Dropout.  These are the long runs that will keep your heart pumping and your digits warm.

A solo sunny lap in the land of grey jays: Morningside. #GOPRO
A solo sunny lap in the land of grey jays: Morningside. #GOPRO

The Yampa Valley lost a legend this week. Not a skier — a rancher. Elaine Gay was 97 when she passed on Wednesday. She baked a mean pie, wrote books, told amazing stories and successfully ran, with her late husband, one of the most stunning ranches in this valley. She was a rancher who fought alongside skiers for the very nature of the landscape that exists here today. She was our Queen of Conservation, and visitors and locals can thank her for working tirelessly to protect the character of this special community — a place that remains home to cowboys and cosmopolitan skiers alike. From atop the ski area, a a gorgeous view over the south valley extends toward the Flat Tops Wilderness; a relatively quiet corridor of haymeadows and tree-covered mountains surrounding Lake Catamount is one particularly sweet fruit of her passionate toil. She loved this valley dearly. It was my great honor to know her. Every day, it’s our great fortune to work and play in a beautiful valley that her uncompromising integrity helped shape.

Elaine Gay
On the ranch with Elaine Gay and her grandson, Todd, a few summers ago while interviewing Elaine for a story in High Country News.

This morning I set out to ski with a heavy heart, especially after driving past eerie  frozen cottonwoods along the river near Elaine’s ranch. She loved this landscape deeply. It sustained her, and I’m forever grateful for the legacy she passed along. This is the landscape that will continue to sustain the rest of us.  I let the brisk fresh air and epic views wash over me like a  healing salve as I stood atop Storm Peak and looked over Elaine’s  nearly century-long domain.

It’s a new year. May yours be happy, healthy, filled with fun and brimming with wisdom.

Bring it on, 2016.

Jennie Lay, Telemark skier

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