By Dan Davis trekkerphoto.com
At long last, the Minturn Mile (or is it South Game Creek?)
February 4, 2008 — Margarita mix has stained the notes from my recent expedition to the Minturn Mile, and powder has blurred my photos, but the memories are crystal clear.
Twenty-nine years ago I skied Vail Mountain for the first time, as a three-year-old. Since then I’ve ridden down the mountain on skis, snowboards, telemarks, and even lunch trays, and I’ve ridden virtually every nook and cranny of the Mountain’s clandestine contours – yet it took me until this past weekend to finally ski the Minturn Mile.
Ahem, I mean “South Game Creek” (more on that in a minute). Either way I’m kicking myself (metaphorically) for not having skied it sooner. I’ll admit it, I’m a bozo. But in a way it became a badge of shame for me which, perversely, I wore proudly. Like a 30-year-old who hasn’t seen Star Wars (or a 40-year-old virgin?), I was the one guy left who grew up in Vail and never skied the Mile. I had never skied out along the ridge, hiked Ptarmigan, or edged through the backcountry gate near Lost Boy. I’d never skied to Minturn, and never sipped the mandatory margarita at the Saloon afterward.
In case I’m not being clear here, I’ll re-state it for posterity: I’m a bozo.
A few turns into the cake-icing powder I realized the folly of my “Star Wars” philosophy. About 10 turns of knee-high, untouched pillow-fluff carried me into 10 more of waist-deep snorkel-snow, followed by 5 more of white-out blindness insanity where snow curled away from my chest like a wave breaking on Hawaii’s North Shore. I felt like I was riding an avalanche of softness, or paddling through the siren’s sea foam, or floating through the ninth cloud … or, or maybe I was simply skiing a really nice pitch at the end of another outrageously good day.
Then we hit the run-out, which isn’t bad, but isn’t good either. It’s a long way down through a veritable tunnel of trees and snowbanks, affectionately referred to as “the luge” to those who frequent the Mile (I mean South Game Creek). I passed a few snowboarders struggling mightily along the narrow, flat, track, smiled at their expressions of exhaustion, and thought: “See, THAT is why I quit snowboarding.”
It’s also not the kind of thing you’d want to do when out of shape, or out of breath from the altitude. I’m not saying you have to wait 29 years to ski it, as I did, but those who ride to Minturn should earn it first. And when you’re out that gate, you’re on your own – so it’s a no-whiners-allowed kind of situation.
Technically, the Minturn Mile is the stretch of ridge between Patrol Headquarters and the peak of Ptarmigan. Dear ol’ Louie, the RealVail contributor who’s bountiful knowledge of the mountain is unsurpassed by all but the most seasoned of Vail Mountain veterans, made it abundantly clear that the route down to Minturn is NOT, in fact, the Mile, but is actually South Game Creek.
OK, the guy’s been skiing Vail since 1962 and patrolled there from ’63-’70, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I don’t want to speculate on how much ol’ Louie respected HIS elders when he was a miscreant youth, but in any case, out of respect for OUR elders, we’ll call it South Game Creek.
Others call it “The Money Trail,” because of the steady flow of weekenders who make their way down the mile, spill out into the town of Minturn, and gravitate toward the Saloon for a margarita by the big, bold fireplace which awaits on Minturn’s Main Street. Early arrival is required for good seating (which, thanks to Reid, we attained), and from there on out it’s just a matter of how long your aching feet (and your dwindling pride) can sustain wearing ski boots.
After a toast or two, the RealVail crew hitched a ride home from an unyieldingly generous family member (thanks Mom!) and we got home in time to eat a hearty elk steak, get a good night’s sleep, and prepare for the next ski day which - you guessed it - ended with another trip down the Mile (I mean South Game Creek).
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