You know it’s spring break, when most of the cars you see are sporting red and white Colorado license plates.  Red and white plates being the ones attached to the SUV or sedan coming straight from the rental car lot at Denver’s International Airport.  The Toyota Camry that is clean as a whistle tooling along the Peak to Peak highway.  Because you just know no local’s car will ever look that clean.

You also know it’s spring break when you are following a pick-up truck with a Texas license plate and they are driving really, really slowly over Berthoud Pass.  Like 15 miles per hour slow on a 40 mile per hour stretch.  Because, geeze those mountain roads are super scary with no guard rail, when you come from the flat lands of Dallas or Houston.

And you know it’s spring break when all the parking lots at the local ski resort are full before 8 a.m. on a week day, and there hasn’t been new snow for days.  In fact, we haven’t had a real powder day in weeks.  So you know it’s not the locals filling those parking lots, because we reserve our early wake ups and playing hooky for “POW.”

I knew it was spring break, when I was assigned to teach a 4-year old girl from Florida at ski school.  And when we went to lunch, I found the little girl had her ski bibs on backwards with the zipper going up the back, thus preventing her from going to the bathroom.  Summoned for help with an outburst of tears and sniffling, I scurried to the girls bathroom.

Thankfully, another instructor and I were able to remedy the situation by pulling off ski boots and doing a quick yank off, flipping bibs around and back on in the span of a minute.  Of course, that was better than last year, when I encountered a 4-year old with her left ski boot on her right foot and vice versa.

You know it’s spring break, when you see lots and lots of skiers showing up in blue jeans, and what look like motorcycle helmets and the kind of goggles you’d expect to see on a crop dusting pilot from the 1940s.

One woman confronted me with her two daughters and son, and when I asked if they were wearing sunscreen, I was met with a befuddled look and a “Huh?  Why would they need sunscreen?”  Being from New York City, shaded by ski scrapers, she didn’t see the need.  To which I responded calmly, “Because we are at 9000 feet, and the sun is very strong.  Without sunscreen, your kids will get a very bad sunburn within 30 minutes.”  Fortunately, us ski instructors are prepared for this type of scenario and usually carry a tube with us in our ski parkas.

You know it’s spring break, when these visitors from points south show up with about 15 layers of clothes on, when the weather forecast says its will be 45 degrees and sunny.  I usually wear a t-shirt under my light inner jacket, even then knowing I’ll be roasting by noon.  As my 5 year-olds are crying, “I’m so hot!”, I discover wool long underwear, fleeces, down jackets, with face mask, as the sweat rolls off their brow.

I’m not complaining though, really.  I’m the lucky one who gets to live in this insanely beautiful place that other people spend thousands of dollars to come visit for one week of the year. Besides, for all the slow driving and silly questions, our spring visitors are usually unfailingly polite.

And who can blame them for driving slowly as they take in the incredible views of the Rocky Mountains?  Patience and gratitude — that’s what it takes to endure the next three weeks.