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Next Season

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Four days after what my friends in the Vail valley called the best two powder days of the season, 50-degrees of Fahrenheit and high Rockies sun reduced conditions to a conglomerate of frozen granular and carve-hindering slush.

Spring snow is always a welcome sight at the end of a shallow season. However, the second week in April shouldn’t be when Blue Sky Basin is at its best.

Not that minuscule lift lines and vacant, wide-open groomers don’t have a lot to offer those burdened by east coast conditions, I couldn’t help but notice that the vibe in Vail was that the 2009-10 season was a serious drag.

From waitresses in Frisco to real estate agents in Eagle, the mood was a mix of reluctant acceptance and edge-of-your career recessionary fear. Sure, there are slow seasons in resort country. But a slow season in the midst of a historic recession is another lift line entirely.

Vail Village was decorated with more than just a couple of “everything must go” banners and two locals in my quiet Eastern European-themed hotel bar, which I’m still not sure was even officially open, were toasting the season’s end.

Questioning moves for next season, they danced around local village politics and who knew who as the lone flat screen showed Phil Mickelson translate a pine straw handicapped lie into a certain birdie. The fact that a Masters broadcast was so easily heard in a ski resort bar was almost all the evidence one needed to arrive at a safe assumption about these guys’ collective seasonal take-home.

I watched as they watched, hands tight around half-empty bottles of Grolsch. In between staggered sips and half-sighs, the mood shifted slightly. Maybe, like Lefty, they still saw a chance to get out of the woods.

“Next season,” said the one on the end.

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