Skiing

Jackson Hole Skiing, January 2019

By Dom Nozzi

I ski this resort with Maggie in January 2019. It was my first ever visit. We find Jackson Hole to have a very steep pitch, which made for very difficult blue, black, and glade runs. Not well suited for Maggie or I. Particularly due to the lack of fresh powder. I could see myself enjoying this mountain much more if there was a fresh layer of “hero” powder.

The tram ride to the summit is memorable. Each car packs in what seemed like about a hundred skiers. Near the top, a resort employee cautions skiers that there is no non-expert trail down. If any skiers are uncomfortable with that, they are welcome to ride the tram back down. After we shoot some scenic photos of ourselves at the summit, dom and maggie jackson hole, jan 14, 2019 (9)Maggie opts to ride the tram down.

I, on the other hand, choose to do battle with the steep mogul runs, which means slow-going and many falls. At one traverse, I notice an uphill climb in BOTH directions. Wondering what to do, notice that if I skied under a lift nearby, I could ride the lift to a place that would allow me to continue skiing down to the base area.

These days, glades are nearly all the skiing I do, but with the very steep pitch at Jackson Hole, I can only tolerate a minute or two in the trees before needing to bail. I end up spending a fair amount of time on a glade slalom course set up for kiddies.

Our last day at Jackson Hole Ski Resort is excellent. But very unusual weather. While the skies are clear again, we have a severe temperature inversion. At the base, the temperature is a brutal -3 degrees Fahrenheit. At precisely the same time, 4,000 feet jackson hole, jan 12 2019 (6)HIGHER at the highest elevation at Jackson Hole, the temperature is a broiling hot 28 degrees!

After each day of skiing, I soak in an outdoor jacuzzi in icy cold nighttime temperatures at our Snow King lodging.

During our drive to and from Jackson Hole, we notice a huge number of highway signs in Wyoming pertain to passing zones, how far it is to the next passing zone, and warnings about passing. I guess there have been a lot of highway deaths in Wyoming due to impatient motorists passing on highways.

Major industries in state appear to be highways, energy, and ranching.

In addition, on Wyoming highways we see lots of concern (via highway signs regarding wildlife crossings of roads). In addition, we see lots of wildlife statues near the roadway. We also see significant concern expressed by the fact that there are several substantially over-designed and over-priced wildlife bridge crossings. I must say, though, that these bridges are much more attractive than the hideous, modernist bridges we are used to seeing all over the US.

We learn that Jackson WY has a VERY high cost of living, as exemplified by the very expensive restaurants. And the very expensive apartments and homes.

Sinclair gas stations apparently have a WY monopoly for gas stations. We hardly saw any other station.

It seems that every time we drive highways in WY there is a huge backup of cars. Fortunately, on this trip, we did not experience a highway debacle.

On our drive back home, we opt for the scenic route through the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. We spot large herds of elk and bison, as well as a bald eagle perched in a tree next to the highway.

Jackson Hole characteristics:

With 2,500 acres of raw, sometimes terrifying lines, Jackson belittles flatlanders and challenges even the toughest locals with 55-degree chutes, wind-scoured bowls, and 5,000 acres of resort-accessed backcountry bordering Grand Teton National Park. (ranked #4 by Outside Magazine in 10/08 for snow and terrain)

  • Terrain: 2 mountains, Apres Vous and Rendezvous
  • 2,500 acres of in-bounds terrain
  • Vertical drop of 4,139 feet (greatest continuous rise in U.S.)
  • Base elevation: 6,311 feet
  • Summit elevation:10,450 feet
  • Uphill capacity:12,096 skiers per hour
  • Open backcountry gate system accesses over 3000+ acres

111 Named Trails on the map

The most (in)famous trail is Corbet’s Couloir. Many who gaze over the precipice simply lose their nerve, as the first move you face is a two-story drop onto a 55-degree slope. If you don’t carve the right turn quickly enough, you come face-to-face with a rock wall.

It is said that the backcountry that most makes Jackson Hole shine. Some say Granite Canyon in the backcountry is one of the most beautiful places they have ever skied. You need to take avalanche gear, and you need to know how to use it. Once you’re beyond the gate, there are dozens of chutes you can take. You need to know where you’re going, as its serious stuff; some of the chutes end in death cliffs.

Here are the photos I shot during our ski weekend at Jackson Hole:  https://photos.app.goo.gl/GZCCKnA4Dj8sjMpV8

 

 

Categories: 2011-Present, Skiing, Wyoming | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Skiing the best snow on Earth: Park City, Alta, and Snowbird

They have been at the top of my “must ski” list for a long time. Park City, Utah was rated fifth best ski resort in the Western United States by Ski Magazine in 2006. Nearby Alta and Snowbird average 500 inches a year of fluffy, dry powder. Alta is considered to have the most reliable, high-quality ski snow in the world, and was ranked Number One by Outside Magazine in October 2008 for snow and terrain.Snowbird ski4 Feb 2014

To say I was exceptionally eager to ski these three ski playgrounds was putting it mildly.

Despite the reputation, I grew worried as our trip date approached. A good quantity of snow fell at the first of the month, but not a single flake had fallen for three weeks. Would our timing be awful again for a ski trip??

Fortunately, there was justice in the world – at least for me on this trip. The day before my arrival, a foot of light, fluffy, soft powder falls on the Utah resorts we intend to ski.

Flying into Salt Lake City from Denver, our plane arrives at sunset, which provided an exceptionally scenic view of the Great Salt Lake, which appeared to be glowing orange as the sun set on it. And despite my living on the front range of the Colorado Rockies, I was surprised by the big, bold impressiveness of the large mountains that surround the Salt Lake Valley on all sides.

As I drive from the airport to my hotel on Interstate 80 and Interstate 15, I notice immediately that Salt Lake City if afflicted with highway GIGANTISM. The interstates are ten to twelve lanes in size. Of course, the ungodly amount of public money that was spent to build these HUGE monster roads did nothing to avert congestion in the region. Indeed, they did the reverse: We know from studies that these massive highways INDUCE new car trips that would not have occurred previously, which means that the Federal and State governments have spent ruinously large amounts of public money to create massive congestion every single day during the morning and evening rush hours. On my first day there, I felt extreme stress, unease, and anger. I was in fear for my life due to the crazy, high-speed jockeying of all the cars on the regional superhighways.

Every day, twice a day, commuters in the area must put up with the huge dose of stress and fright. How do they do it? How do they avoid high blood pressure? Do their relationships with friends and spouses suffer from the daily psychological damage? Is the region better off now that so many new car trips and suburban sprawl have been induced by the 14-laners?

Unfortunately for my Florida ski buddy, he loses a day in arriving, because his flight is canceled due to winter weather. And it is NOT weather in snowy Utah. It is weather in normally sunny and warm Florida.

As I head out to the car from my hotel room in Sandy, Utah on the first morning, stormy weather is still making itself felt in Utah. I come upon another skier who sees me with my gear. He asks what my plans are. I tell him I’m going to ski Alta. He informs me that the Alta website is reporting that the access road is only allowing four-wheel drive cars and cars with chains. I have a small, two-wheel drive rental car. Oops.

Park City6 UT ski Jan 2014Good thing I have run into him. On his advice, I opt for Plan B on the first day, then. Despite no prior plans to do so, I decide to drive out to Park City – a world-class resort I’ve long wanted very much to ski.

My first day at Park City is superb. A large number of exciting runs to choose from, including a healthy selection of tree glades, which are almost exclusively my ski preference these days. Because I am skiing alone, I’m getting on and off ski lifts much faster than I would if I had a ski companion. So on this first day, I ski an astonishing 22 runs – including two under the lights (I made a deliberate decision to ski the resort into the night hours to avoid the crushing highway congestion). Best-ever powder (much of it virgin, untouched powder – secret stash conditions) and tree glades I’ve ever skied. Favorite run: Motherlode Meadows. I get a good taste of Park City, and enjoy it enough to want to perhaps return some day. Here are photos I shot at Park City.

To further delay my return to avoid the rush hour frenzy, I stop at Squatters brew pub for some food and excellent oatmeal stout.

I was later to be reminded that I had once seen that the Canyons ski resort is top-rated for tree glades, and since I did not have an opportunity to sample Canyons at all, there is even more reason for me to consider Utah skiing again.

I pick up my friend that night at one in the morning at the airport. For his first day, we learn that the Alta access road is accessible, so we head there. It is my first experience at Alta. After a pretty good day of skiing, my impressions of Alta is that the resort, while in many ways good, has too many runs that are too easy, and too many that are too Alta ski resort6 Feb 2014difficult. Several chutes/gullies are found here, which I personally enjoy. But on this first day, we find tree glades to be too sparse and too small (in contrast to Park City).

In addition, too many runs require an uphill hike to access.

Given the disappointing features, we decide to sample neighboring Snowbird the next day. We don’t make the decision lightly, as we had just bought a four-consecutive-day lift ticket for Alta, and skiing Snowbird requires us to pay another $30.

As it turned out, our first day at Snowbird was substantially more enjoyable than our first day at Alta. Rather steep like Alta, but the tree glades and chute runs we find are much more to our liking. We enjoy several “dream” tree glade runs (some of our best-ever glade runs) in the secret stashes we discover. The deep powder we find at Snowbird is so forgiving that we find it irresistible to ski even impossibly steep runs (knowing we can control our speed in the powder). We are, in fact, often skiing runs we have no business being on, as they are normally runs that only extreme expert skiers have any hope of surviving.

For the entire day, it snows on us heavily (a first for me as a skier), despite weather forecasts of zero to ten percent chance of snow. As a result, we were essentially “skiing by Braille,” as our vision was so severely limited that we could not see hardly anything in front of us. In addition to the blinding snow, my 16-year old ski goggles (bought at Panorama Ski Resort in Canada) decide to reach the end of their useful life on this day. The scratches on the lens and the loss of ventilated padding (which is thereby regularly filling my goggles with snow), in combination with the snow, gives me the sensation that I’m skiing blindfolded. Not good for a skier like me, who needs to ski at high speeds and in tree glades that require lightning reaction speeds.

I make the call to end our ski day earlier than we had planned, as it becomes apparent that it is just way too dangerous for me to ski without reasonable vision.

We had started our day at Snowbird on their famous aerial tram, which is somewhat disconcerting. The tram moves at a relatively fast speed, is elevated to an unusually tall height, and delivers skiers to the somewhat scary upper reaches of the mountain. This is particularly true for us, as newcomers to the resort, not at all knowing if skiable runs awaited us at the tram summit. Adding to the anxiety, we are positioned at the front of the tram, and at an open window as the tram cuts through bitter cold wind, fog and snow on its way up.

Given the harrowing tram experience, we opt not to return to that lift.

Mike Byerly after sliding down a chute at Snowbird ski Feb 2014We opt for a second consecutive day at Snowbird the next morning (and the $30 added fee). We are thrilled to discover spectacular tree glades. And the combination of brand new ski goggles (which provided what seemed like my best-ever vision while skiing) and the soft, deep powder gives me, by far, the most confidence I have ever felt as a skier. It is no wonder that deep, fresh powder is sometimes called “ego snow,” as I felt invicible. Without fear. Like I was suddenly an expert skier. No matter how impossibly steep or tight the run looked, I found that I opted to ski it without hesitation (runs that just a few weeks ago would have seemed impossible). Cutting fast through big moguls was done with joy and ease. It is said that one must look relatively far ahead (rather than what is immediately in front of you) to best ski moguls and trees. With my big confidence on this day, I find that I’m looking ahead without thinking about it. After all, I have no fear that I will be negotiating what is dead ahead.

My favorite runs at Snowbird? Tiger Tail, Primrose Path, and Black Forest. Favorite runs at Alta? Nina’s Curve,  Westward Ho.

Plenty of soft, fluffy powder in the trees. Steep and deep. Learned that fresh powder means the skier can ski fearlessly. We didn’t hesitate to do runs that would have seemed impossibly extreme in the past. I never felt so confident or so skilled as a skier. It is said that Utah resorts get the best snow on earth. We can now see why.

Overall, as I look back at our Utah skiing, I would say that the skiing is excellent. Both Alta and Snowbird, however, Snowbird ski8 Feb 2014are relatively skimpy when it comes to providing signage for runs. We often had to guess where to go. Both resorts have outrageously steep runs, and the skier is often surprised to find himself looking at a cliff dead ahead. Both are intimidating when you drive into the canyon and arrive at the main parking, as the very steep mountains loom over and around you menacingly. And, unfortunately, both Alta and Snowbird require far too much poling and hiking to reach a number of runs.

Nevertheless, they are both world-class, and I recommend them for other skiers. Photos I shot at Snowbird are here. Photos I shot at Alta are here.

Our last day in the Salt Lake City region is a needed day of rest and healing from our days of rather aggressive, bruising, exhausting skiing. We spend the day sightseeing in Salt Lake City. Once again, the unbelievably huge roadways and confusingly gigantic intersections boggle my mind. Shocking. And as a colleague says, great opportunities for “road diets” (removing travel and turn lanes to improve the obese sizes).

As is typically the case, I’m only interested in visiting the historic areas of the city. Like most all cities, the more recent areas of the urban area are sickeningly car-happy or afflicted by modernist buildings, which leaves placelessness that has no charm. There is no “there there” in such a post-apocalyptic setting.

Fortunately, the modernists and conventional traffic engineers have not yet destroyed areas in or near the “temple square” area, where walkable neighborhoods and charmingly gothic buildings are in relative abundance. Our timing allows us to enjoy the daily noon organ performance at the impressive Mormon Tabernacle building.

Tabernacle2 Salt Lake City Feb 2014

I find Salt Lake City to be somewhat creepy and awkward. Why? Because while walking around in the town center, one frequently gets the impression that locals you meet have a hidden agenda. That the happy, friendly persona I encounter from locals I come upon is ARTIFICIALLY happy and friendly because the local knows happy and friendly people are more likely to persuade non-locals to consider the merits of Mormonism. Proselytization, in other words, seems to be just under the surface of those you meet — and seems to be something you will eventually be subjected to in the conversation.

We also visit the exceptionally charming, gothic “city and county building,” which has lovely faces in each of the four directions it faces. The county courthouse across the street is also worth visiting to at least enjoy the front lobby area.

On the grounds of the city/county building, we find, happily, a secular monument – a surprise in such an obviously and aggressively religious community. The monument reads: “I pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, for liberty and justice for all.” No mention of the relatively recent, religiously degrading and unfair “UNDER GOD.” My hat is off to the City

We visit the Utah State Capitol Building, which sits desolately up on a hill far from any other buildings (or even trees). The inside of the building is magnificent. Do not miss it. We get a tour of Brigham Young’s “Beehive” house. The beehives are seen all over Salt Lake City, and are a symbol of industriousness.

Temple Square5 Salt Lake City Feb 2014A great many monuments, statues of people, water features, and public art are dispersed throughout the city.

As a grand finale, we enjoy great glasses of beer at the Red Rocks brewpub, and have an interesting chat with the pub brewmaster, who generously provides us with a delicious bottle of his Russian Imperial Stout (10.2 percent alcohol).

Categories: 2011-Present, Skiing, Utah | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Skiing Mt Bachelor, Oregon (January 2012)

Because my Colorado Epic Ski Pass allows me to ski at the legendary Lake Tahoe Ski Resort this year, my ski buddy and I decide on making our first visit to this skier paradise. For years, I’ve heard that Tahoe reliably gets big accumulations of snow each year, making for great ski conditions. How can we go wrong?

We book our flight to Reno (gateway to Tahoe).

But we then watch in growing horror and utter disappointment as snow reports out of Tahoe are unimaginably grim. The last time they have gotten so little snow in December and January was in the 1800s. A cruel reminder of our ski trip to Innsbruck Austria in February of 2007, when we learned that Innsbruck was suffering from its warmest winter in 800 years.

Could our timing be worse?

We start scrambling for a new ski venue. Our first choice is Schweitzer Ski Resort — a place I have not ever heard of, but considered to be a pleasant ski destination in Idaho. But while their snow accumulation is not awful, it is also not particularly exciting.

My sister alerts me to the thought that Oregon (where she lives) boasts very good skiing. I first investigate the well-known Mt Hood. But some of the resorts there seem rather pedestrian. My sister points out that by contrast, Mt Bachelor hosts Olympic skiers in training.

Sounds like a good fit to me for excellent skiing.

My buddy and I revise our flight plans so that we are now to fly into Portland. We are then confronted by a quite long night drive along narrow, dark, winding, icy mountain roads as I carefully and nervously seek to navigate our rental car to Bend Oregon, gateway town to Mt Bachelor.

For once, our timing is superb. Just before we arrive at Mt Bachelor, the mountain has been buried by over 100 inches of fresh, powdery snow.

We lodge at a surprisingly affordable and adequate Days Inn in Bend OR. Hot breakfast, hot whirlpool outdoor spa. Snow report each morning for Mt Bachelor – 24 mi away.

Bend is a sleepy, pleasant town full of roundabouts (quite impressive, speaking as a transportation consultant) that mostly have whimsical public art sculptures. The town is full of brewpubs brewing delicious, hand-crafted beer (indeed, we are told that Bend may have the largest number of brewpubs, per capita, in the world). Originally created as a railroad town, the economy was mostly based on lumber. Today the economy focuses on tourism. The Deschutes River passes through town. The name of the town probably referring to the town being at the “bend in the river.”

The Black Butte Porter and Deschutes BrewPub in Bend were both outstanding!

Our first day on the mountain is highly enjoyable. It is a Sunday, yet the number of skiers is sparse. And this is a few days after the mountain received a record dump of fresh snow – over 100 inches of powder.

Puzzling.

One explanation we are given is that people ski a lot, but need a day off (Sunday) to “do laundry.”

While there are a good number of challenging, enjoyable runs on the mountain (particularly the tree glade runs), we find that the black diamonds ski like intermediate blue runs.

On day two, we are happy to hear the great news that the “Summit Express” chair lift, which delivers skiers to the backside (where a large number of double-black diamond runs await) is now open (it was closed on our first day). But we opt to pass on the summit, as we are thoroughly exhausted from a strenuous day of glorious skiing in very deep new powder that had fallen the night before. The amount was reported to be only six inches, but it was clearly 12-18 inches of POW for the places we skied.

I find it joyous that I am able to ski the most virgin powder that I have ever had the pleasure to ski. Previously I had skied only a portion of one run of untouched powder, but on this day, nearly everywhere we ski all day is untouched. The snow feels soft, fluffy, and velvety.

It is as if I am skiing on clouds.

Day three: I have never, ever skied so much virgin, fluffy, untouched powder. Hardly anyone has skied the high-quality glades we ski. Deep powder everywhere means we have a fabulous time in the glades. We have no fear anymore of any glade, no matter how difficult or steep.

My favorite runs (amost all black diamond) on the mountain:

Devil’s Backbone

The unnamed run under the Northwest lift

Dilly Dalley Alley, which is mostly a kiddie run, but the tight little half-pipe is a lot of fun when run at high speed (and emptied of kiddies…)

Osprey

Snapshot (the mountain provides breathtaking views of a valley and snow-capped, mighty peaks on the horizon, although the large majority of runs at Bachelor provide spectacular views)

Sparks Lake Run

West Bowls & Glades

The glades off Rainbow lift

On our last day, in the glorious mid-day sun, we find ourselves sweetly, softly, smoothly carving our way through deep, virgin powder in the West Bowl glades.

Pure bliss.

This link is a YouTube slide show of the photos we shot while skiing at Mt Bachelor:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwlCUNebQD0

Categories: 2011-Present, Oregon, Skiing | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Skiing & Snowshoeing the Colorado Rockies, winter 2010-2011

A big part of moving to a state such as Colorado, which I did when I moved to Boulder in December 2009, is to enjoy the dry, sunny, mountainous setting. For me, that means engaging in a lot more skiing.

So my first order of business upon moving to Colorado was to buy skis. My first set for my first ski season was an old, cheap pair of used Nordica skis. But I soon realized, after skiing them a number of times, that my enjoyment of skiing demanded more quality, so the next year, I purchased an impressive set of brand new Dynastar skis, said to be versatile for all types of skiing and snow conditions.

Of course, for one to do a meaningful amount of skiing in an affordable way, one must by a discount pass. I opt for a “Colorado Pass,” which allows me unlimited skiing at Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, and Breckenridge. It also gives me 10 days at Vail and Beaver Creek.

I am ready for my best ski season ever…

…and as I finalize this page at the end of the ski season in April of 2011, I am quite happy to report that yes, the 2010-2011 ski season was, by far, my most rewarding, unforgettable, and most numerous (in terms of number of ski trips in one year). One happy result was that my ski abilities have improved dramatically. I am now fairly comfortable skiing black diamond moguls. Only a year ago, I had (wrongly) concluded that such ski ability would forever elude me.

Vail, Thanksgiving Week 2010

I have already skied the magnificent resort at Vail (“like no place on earth” is their motto), but it is so stupendous that I leap at a chance to spend a week with my Boulder friend Pat at her time-share in the Vail Valley, even though I’m already scheduled to spend 10 days at a Vail Village condo in February 2011.

Vail is remarkable in size. On the front side, the skier finds an 11,570-foot peak elevation, a vertical rise of 3,450 feet, 193 runs, and 5,289 acres of skiable terrain. It boasts back bowls and glade runs that are said to be the best in the world. On average, Vail gets 350 inches of snow a year.

Fortunately for us, Vail gets its best snowfall ever during our Thanksgiving week in 2010. Our first day there is overcast, cold and snowy, with lots of fresh powder, but the second day features absolutely perfectly sunny and moderate temperatures. Weather could not have been more perfect. I took advantage of the fresh powder by carving black-diamond moguls and flying down the groomed slopes like a speeding bullet on my new skis, which were BEGGING me to ski them to the limit.

It turns out to be my best ski day ever.

On Thanksgiving Day, we enjoy an absolutely delicious buffet meal at Lord Gore’s at the Manor Vail Lodge in Vail Village.

Vail, February 2011

I return to Vail a second time this season with my Florida adventure buddy. We stay at a Vail condo for seven days, thanks to a friend of mine generously allowing us to stay at his condo. In the week preceding our arrival, Vail gets almost four feet of fresh powder. The weather for us all week for our six days of skiing is also perfect: sunny, windless, and cold enough to keep the powder light and fluffy. My friend and I soon identify and repeatedly ski our favorite runs: The Wildcard mogul run at the Game Creek Bowl, Hairbag Alley, Riva Glade, Gandy Dancer, Highline mogul run, Divide glade run at Blue Sky Basin, Champagne Glade run at Blue Sky Basin, Cloud 9 cruiser run at Blue Sky, the Grand Review glades (next to the Grand Review blue run) at Blue Sky, and the glades flanking the Orient Express lift on both sides in China Bowl (including Shangri-La Glade).

This YouTube link is a video of photos I shot during my skiing at Vail in 2010 and 2011: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEOZ_AMxthE

Beaver Creek, Thanksgiving Week 2010

Beaver Creek skiing was wonderful, but because it was so early in the season, a large percentage of lifts and runs were closed, so my taste of it was less than representative.

For the first time in my skiing career, I started seeking out ungroomed, black-diamond mogul runs. Being at the resort early in the season, I found that Beaver was an excellent place to become more comfortable with such runs, as the moguls were relatively small in size. In combination with my new Dynastar skis, I had enough comfort to confidently take on quite a few of these previously scary runs. In the past, by contrast, I dreaded such runs. They were too exhausting and too nerve-wracking.

After negotiating several black diamond runs, I decided to give my quadriceps a break by making the blue “Latigo” run my last of the day. Being a groomer this day, I found myself hurtling down the slope at blinding speed that felt as if I was flying at about 150 miles per hour. The Dynastars were loving the speed, and I found myself joyously shouting “YES!!!” as I raced to the bottom.

One important problem I noticed at Beaver Creek, particularly in comparison with Vail, is that the lifts are noticeably slow and quite prone to stopping. Indeed, at Vail a few days earlier, my morning was able to fit in 8-10 runs. At Beaver Creek, by comparison, I was only able to fit in 6 or 7 runs.

An oddity of the Beaver Creek ski mountain layout that I’ve not seen before: At the main mountain summit, nearly all runs are green beginner runs. Quite unusual.

The Beaver Creek ski resort had gotten rave reviews from friends, so I was eager to try out the resort for the first time. The summit elevation reaches 11,440 feet with a vertical rise exceeding that of Vail (4,040 feet). Skiable terrain here is 1,815 acres covered by 149 named trails.

This YouTube video shows more photos from my day at Beaver Creek:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_xYs5jBURk

Breckenridge, December 8th

My last ski experience at Breck is 5 years ago (2005). My memories of Breck are fond, so I’m eager to visit again. Sure enough, Patty and I immediately find joy on the slopes. We start off on a black-diamond glade run, and the fresh 10 inches of powder that have fallen over the past 24 hours feels oh so silky smooth. Ahhhhhh…

The weather on this day is nearly perfect. But while the snow is good, I am reminded of my previous experience at Breck, where I am disappointed to notice that the “blue” runs are more like beginner “greens” due to their relatively mild pitch and large width. Even many of the “blacks” at Breck ski more like “blues.” Indeed, many of the “black” and “blue” runs finish, for much of their length, as designated “bunny greens.”

In defense of Breck, however, I should note here that my skiing on this day is early in the season, and Peak 10 is not yet open. Here, one finds quite a few “black” runs that appear, from a distance, to be rather demanding. Also, unlike in 2005, I decide the wind is too fierce to ride the T-Bar up to the heavens, where one finds a large number of “black” runs downslope from North Bowl. My favorite runs on this day are the blue Northstar (a relatively steep, high-speed blue) and the black American run.

The summit elevation reaches 12,998 feet with a vertical rise of 3,398 feet). Skiable terrain here is 2,358 acres covered by 155 named trails.

Interestingly, Breck boasts the chairlift (Imperial Express) with the highest elevation – 12,840 feet – of any lift in North America.

This YouTube link shows more photos from our day at Breck: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4jXcEvTHZM

In early January, my girlfriend and I spend a wonderful two days at the Lodge & Spa at Breckenridge, an outstanding, affordable bed & breakfast featuring superb rooms with a gas fireplace and spectacular views of Breckenridge mountain, two outdoor spas, a nice breakfast buffet (included with the modest room cost), and a short van ride to the slopes. My two January days at Breck are both quite good. The first day was a bit chilly and windy, but the second day made up for it, weatherwise. This time, I find the weather conducive to my riding the “expert-only” T-Bar up to the clouds, and rocket down the Pika run.

Arapahoe Basin (“A-Basin”) December 28th

After weeks of trying, I finally find someone in Boulder to offer me a ride to ski one of the “I-70 Ski Resorts.” As an aside, given all the skier-related traffic clogging I-70, and the many car crashes along that treacherous stretch, it is disgraceful that there is no convenient, affordable public transit to these ski slopes.

Our day of skiing is outstanding. Superb weather, dry and fluffy powder, and some fun ski runs at this resort. A-Basin, I learn, has a selection of relatively wide, mostly tree-less (A-Basin is mostly above tree line) intermediate “blue” runs, a large number of rather narrow advanced “black diamond” runs, and very little in between. So narrow are many of the black runs here that I would be tempted to call them “double-black diamond” (extreme) runs. I also noticed that A-Basin does not seem to provide much in the way of trail maps. I saw none at the ski lifts where they are ordinarily found. For the first time ever, I ended up skiing without a map. Furthermore, the trails and lifts could have been better signed.

The summit elevation reaches an impressive 13,050 feet with a vertical rise of 2,270 feet). Skiable terrain here is 900 acres covered by 105 named trails. It’s relatively high elevation means the resort tends to open early in the ski season and stays open relatively late in the season.

All in all, A-Basin is a worthy place to ski, but there is room for improvement.

This link shows a photo movie of my ski day at A-Basin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AaY2mrHSyVM

Keystone, January 8th

Having largely retired in 2007 at age 47, I have grown into a habit of leveraging my more flexible schedule to skirt around the crush of weekend warriors heading out for their weekly snippet of adventure. Unfortunately, I was having quite a bit of trouble finding a ride to the ski slopes this season, so when I attend a Boulder ski meetup at Rio Grande Pub, I leap at an offer to carpool to Keystone on Saturday – particularly because I had not yet been to Keystone in over five years. While the skiing and weather turn out to be wonderful at Keystone, the traffic on I-70 is so bumper-to-bumper – both in the morning heading west and in the evening heading east – that I vow to never again ski the I-70 ski resorts on a weekend ever again. It is disgraceful that the state of Colorado and the ski resorts don’t provide even the most basic level of public transit to the slopes. Nearly every day during ski season, I-70 is a crush of slow-moving cars and numerous car/tractor trailer wrecks. The drive to the slopes takes twice as long as it should, and tempers flare with skiers stuck in traffic (many of whom will undoubtedly decide to never again drive to the I-70 slopes.

Obvious solutions include the installation of a train along the I-70 corridor, as well as installing a time-sensitive electronic tolling system so that one pays more for using the highway at high traffic volume times. See, for example, my essay on the need for tolling.

The summit elevation reaches 12,408 feet with a vertical rise of 3,128 feet). Skiable terrain here is 3,148 acres covered by 135 named trails.

Eldora, January 20th

Made my first-of-the-season to Eldora on Thursday. Deepest powder I’ve ever skied in. Felt like I was skiing on clouds. The powder allowed me to fly through moguls like an expert (because the powder was “forgiving” my mediocre mogul skills). My most confident day ever on the slopes. Handy that I am able to reach this ski resort by walking 10 minutes to a bus stop and taking a free, 40-minute bus ride to the resort.

The summit elevation reaches 10,800 feet with a vertical rise of 1,600 feet). Skiable terrain here is 680 acres covered by 81 named alpine and Nordic trails.

This link shows more photos from my skiing at Eldora. When it brings you to the Picasa photo album page, select “slideshow” in the upper left:

http://picasaweb.google.com/walkabledom/EldoraSkiResortJan2011#

A short video showing me skiing the Muleshoe Run at Eldora:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCcjB6tv-MY

Dom skiing the Cascade Run at Eldora:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUI12SYjv74

Dom skiing the Corona Run at Eldora:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBPripi5AgI

Snowshoeing to Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, January 29th

Rocky Mountain National Park provides a paradise for snow shoe enthusiasts in winter months. One especially impressive example is the short and highly rewarding trail to Emerald Lake. On a Saturday morning, I join a sociology professor friend who asks me to join him to snow shoe to this jaw-dropping venue. The hike is full of scenic splendor. While the Rockies are exceptionally postcard-stunning in the summer, when they are graced with white snow, their grandeur is simply astonishing, sharp and unforgettable. Indeed, I find myself so wowed by the snow-capped mountains around us that I decide to break a “rule” I have about adventures: Life is too short and there are too many things for me to see in the world for me to repeat an adventure. But I find myself insisting that my girlfriend Ann join me. Not only do I repeat this adventure, but I do it the very next day, no less. A sure sign that this is a “must” for those who snow shoe.

How impressive is Rocky Mtn National Park? Nearly one-third of the 265,770 acres within the park is above the treeline (found at 11,400 feet). The Park holds 72 named peaks above 12,000 feet in elevation (the highest being Longs Peak at 14,259 feet). The Park is split by the Continental Divide. The Park contains 359 miles of trails, 150 lakes and 450 miles of streams.

This link shows a photo movie of our hike: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09IABSyVZmY

Snowshoeing South Boulder Creek, James Peak Wilderness, April 17th

Late in the snow season for 2010-2011, I sign up for a group snowshoe hike on South Boulder Creek in the James Peak Wilderness. My expectations are low. After all, how good can snowshoeing be in mid-APRIL?

It turns out to be my best snowshoe experience EVER.

We hike for four miles on top of South Boulder Creek. Shockingly, not a single time during our 4.5-hour hike do any of us in our group go crashing through the snow into the ice-cold creek water rushing below us for those 4.5 hours.

The snow and snowshoeing are magical. Approximately six feet of relatively fresh snow covering the creek we trudge over. A winter and creek wonderland of gorgeous snow mounds and virgin snow.

This link shows a photo movie of our hike: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZF9uAtONMA

Categories: 2001-2010, 2011-Present, Colorado, Hiking, Skiing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Skiing Winter Park, Colorado (2010)

A friend of mine visits Colorado from Gainesville FL, and he happens to be planning to ski at Winter Park Ski Resort. This turns out to be quite fortunate for me, as I’ve been wanting to have him visit me in my new Colorado home, Winter Park has been near the top of my list for skiing in Colorado, and I have a lift ticket for Winter Park that needs to be used before the end of the season a few weeks away.

Winter Park skiing turns out to be surprisingly impressive.

Winter Park features an excellent “back bowl,” and very good glade runs on both the main mountain face and in the bowl. At the Resort, one finds quite a few ski runs, lots of chair lifts, and relatively good signage. The blue runs are relatively demanding and scenic. The only downside is that like Loveland, the black runs are ungroomed, which keeps me off the blacks.

Winter Park contains 142 trails, over 3,000 acres of skiable area, 25 lifts, one run that is 4.6 miles long, and over 3,000 feet of vertical drop.

There are an enormous number of mogul runs. We have heavy snow all day, which reduces visibility and slows me down.

Nevertheless, I enjoy the Mary Jane run, as well as Edelweiss, Bluebell, Jabberwocky, and Lonesome Whistle.

Another slow-down we find on this day: on both the drive to the Resort that morning, and the drive back at the end of the day, we are forced to drive 10-15 mph on a twisting mountain road leading to and from the Resort for quite a long way. In both cases, we find ourselves behind a vehicle at the front of the line that is driving at a snail’s pace due to fear of sliding on freshly fallen snow. One would think that common courtesy would prevail and such a person would pull over and let other, more competent, drivers pass. I think there needs to be a campaign to educate people on driving on mountain roads around here!

On balance, though, Winter Park is good enough for return visits. Since all-day skiing only allowed me to ski a fraction of the runs, the resort is worthy of 2-4 days of skiing. One guy I spoke to from Texas says he prefers Winter Park to all other Colorado resorts.

Categories: 2001-2010, Colorado, Skiing | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Skiing Steamboat Springs, Colorado (February 2010)

For years, I have been eager to sample the highly-touted Steamboat Springs ski resort in Colorado. Famed for what they call “champagne powder,” the mountain promises to deliver excellent ski conditions.

My ski buddy is to fly in from where he lives in Florida. We agree to meet at the Enterprise Rental Car desk at the airport, where we will pick up a reserved car to drive to the resort. After an hour of waiting at the airport desk (and not being able to call him, as he stubbornly refuses to own a cell phone), he calls me from where HE has been waiting for the past hour – the Enterprise desk at their remote office away from the main airport terminal.

Soon, we are driving west towards Denver and the many ski resorts awaiting just west of that city.

We arrive at the Steamboat Springs rental gear shop just before they close at 8 pm on a Sunday night. Fitted for gear, we check in at our low-cost Comfort Inn hotel.

Our first day is Monday morning. It turns out to be, as Mark Twain would say, “the worst of times. And the best of times.” Skiing that first morning is awful, as the mountain is shrouded in a heavy, windy, icy fog all morning. Along with the fog is a heavy snowfall. Visibility is about eight feet.

Due to the poor visibility, the moguls are hidden from view, which makes higher speed skiing rather treacherous.

While this morning is one of the worst skiing experiences of my life, the afternoon turns out to be one of the best. The clearing skis bring out a gloriously bright sun. After a morning of not being able to see where I am going, this dramatically improved visibility brings me recklessly high levels of confidence. I’m flying down the slopes now at blinding speeds. Soaring with a big smile on my face. Things couldn’t be better.

Quickly, we learn which runs are our favorites. We most enjoy See Ya, See Me, Rainbow, and Vagabond.

Despite the heavy snow on this first day, Steamboat suffers so far this season from an unusually below average snowfall. While most runs show good coverage, we do see occasional grass and rocks exposed on runs due to the thinness of the snow.

Our second day greets us with a full day of perfect ski weather. We take full advantage of it. Perhaps too much, as I suffer from a serious case of “toe bang” on both big toes. So painful that I can barely walk. Regretfully, we decide to abort our ski trip two days early. I vow to find a way to avert the injury in the future. Presumably by purchasing well-fitted boots. I’m too young to retire from skiing!

Overall, we find that the signage at Steamboat leaves something to be desired. Mediocre directionals in the sense that often, intersections fail to have a sign indicating which way to go to get to a run or a lift.

Another problem we find: The astonishingly high price for lift tickets — $95 per day, with unusually limited numbers of ways to find discounts. We also learn that on top of the high cost, the resort allows the wealthy to pay $60 more each day in order to experience “first trax.” So unlike nearly all other resorts, where an early start allows one to ski virgin runs, Steamboat requires one to pay over $150 for such an experience.

Nevertheless, Steamboat provides exceptional, numerous “glade” runs. We find ourselves joyously sking soft powder through what appears to be a nearly infinite number of wooded runs in the Morningside Back Bowl at Steamboat.

Overall, I would rate Steamboat an “8” out of “10.” A very nice place to ski.

This link shows more and better photos from our trip. When the link brings you to the Picasa photo album page, select “slideshow” in the upper left.

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534/SteamboatWinter2010?authuser=0&feat=directlink

Categories: 2001-2010, Colorado, Skiing | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Skiing Copper Mountain, Colorado (January 2010)

Having just moved to Boulder CO from Richmond VA a few weeks ago, I naturally feel a compulsion to take advantage of my new proximity to the snowy white powder of snow found in abundance at the many ski resorts in the region. No longer am I obligated to fly to ski. Now, for the first time in my life as a skier, I am able to travel by road. I immediately find myself eagerly plotting out routes and route distances to ski resorts I’ve always wanted to ski. I am thrilled to learn that there are over 10 resorts within a reasonable day trip drive from Boulder. Quickly, I look into buying ski gear and discount lift tickets, now that I feel as if I’m going to be skiing at least five times a week each ski season.

First order of business, though, is obtaining the coveted Boulder bus system “EcoPass,” which provides free rides to the Eldora ski resort an hour from Boulder (not to mention rides throughout Boulder, as well as to Denver and its airport). Indeed, Boulder is the only small American city I know of where a bus pass is highly coveted by nearly all community residents – in stark contrast to other small cities, where a bus pass is of no value to anyone other than the “no choice” riders who are very low income, don’t own a car, or both.

The EcoPass is weeks away from arriving, but I am unable to wait for it. Another option I fortunately discover is a DenverBoulder SkiCarpool.com listserve, where a large number of skiers regularly seek out riders to share in the gas cost to drive to a ski mountain.

Happily, an option soon arises on the listserve. A woman is seeking a rider for either Winter Park or Copper Mountain, which are less than 100 miles from Boulder. I have never skied at either ski resort, so I send a note to her, and in a few days we are departing from my house at 6:30 am.

We decide, only a few miles from Winter Park and Copper that we will opt for Copper. Difficult decision, as both mountains are similar in quality and today have nearly identical weather forecasts and ski conditions.

Our decision turns out to be a good one. Copper, with an average of 282 inches of snow each year, has 2,450 acres of skiable terrain, 2,600 feet of vertical drop, and an abundance of 126 marked trails.

Despite weeks of unseasonably sunny, warm weather in Colorado, on this day Copper provides us with wonderful ski conditions, and even provides us with a few inches of falling fresh powder in the afternoon.

Despite this being my first ski day of the season, I confidently start out on a black diamond, and am surprised to learn that even though the trail – Formidable – is relatively demanding, I ski it exuberantly and happily. I enjoy Formidable enough to ski it three times as the day progresses. In fact, I am surprised to find that despite being an “advanced intermediate skier for the past several years, I find myself somewhat bored on the blue runs and tending to seek out mostly black runs on this winter ski day.

The design of Copper is helpful for a newcomer to the mountain, as it is “zoned” by skill level. The east side is mostly advanced skiers, the middle zone is for intermediate skiers, and the western side is mostly for beginners.

The chair lift speeds seem average at Copper, as is design which minimizes the need for skiers to engage in “poling” to ascend uphills. One problem I notice is that the directional signage is somewhat worse than average. On a number of occasions, I find myself needing to guess or recall from memory whether the unsigned trail I am looking for is the trail I am heading for. Many times, there are no directional signs pointing to named chair lifts.

All in all, by the end of the day, I decide to give Copper Mountain a “7” on a scale of “1” to “10.”

Categories: 2001-2010, Colorado, Skiing | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Skiing Crested Butte, Colorado (February 2009)

I set out to ski the legendary Crested Butte late in February 2009. Our flight from Richmond departs very early on a Saturday morning. Everyone is bleary-eyed (I had only gotten what seemed like five minutes of sleep the night before), but eager to start the adventure that awaits us. Life is too short to sleep…

We change planes in Dallas, and I cannot help but notice the dramatic change in the passengers. Flying to the ski-crazed area of Gunnison, Colorado means that I am now in the midst of people who are obviously more rugged. More cowboy-looking than those flying to Dallas. These are The Beautiful People, wearing their expensive dark brown leather cowboy hats and boots. They live in expensive homes.

Immediately upon arriving in Crested Butte and reviewing the mountain ski trail map, I find myself asking, “Have I gotten in over my head here?” A disconcerting number of trails are double-black diamond, which is a bit intimidating in Colorado: The Land of Serious Skiing.

How serious? On the day of our arrival, we learn that today is the last day of the annual US EXTREME Skiing Championships, held every year in Crested Butte, which provides many suitable, impossible-to-ski trails for the most talented, suicidal, have-no-fear skiers.

Earlier at the airport, for example, we are looking at a wall map of the ski runs, and a guy who appears to be a native informs us that one of the double-black runs I point to is infamously known to have the steepest pitch of any named ski run in North America. Gulp.

Sunday morning is my first day on these slopes. Today I am to learn what the general Crested Butte experience consists of. A great many of the trails are rather easy greens and blues. There are also a great many double-black expert-only trails. And there is very little in-between.

I therefore find myself frequently on trails I have no business being on over the course of my week here. Scary, but I am forced to sharpen my skills as a matter of survival.

Nevertheless, my first day is a wonderful, endorphin-loaded day of excellent skiing.

My favorite runs on the mountain, I learn, are International (a black diamond cruiser run that is wide but often quite steep), Ruby Chief, Resurrection, and North Pass. We also enjoy some of the many quite steep tree glade runs on North Slope, and “Double Gap” trail off the East River Lift.

In general, I am to learn that the Resort has a relatively large number of missing trail signs, which leads to a number of wrong turns and scratching of heads.

The snow-covered mountains on the horizon, as we look across the grand sweep in front of us at the tops of mountain lifts, are blanketed with deep, fresh powder that has just fallen on this western side of the Continental Divide. Crested Butte has gotten over 260 inches of snow for the still incomplete season by the time we arrive.

On Monday, I am awakened early by the thumping sound of large snowflakes pelting our condo window. As my email alerts from the Crested Butte Mountain Resort had told me nearly every day in the months preceding our trip, “it’s snowing in Crested Butte!”

Looking out the window as we eat breakfast this morning, we decide the snowfall is too heavy to enjoy skiing in. “Plan B” is to go snowshoeing. So we go to the Nordic center in town to rent snowshoes for my buddy Mike (I have brought my eBay-purchased snowshoes along with me in my travel luggage).

We set off in deep snow toward the thick pine forest nearby. At 10,000 feet of elevation, the snowshoe tracks we follow up the very steep slope (no switchbacks??) have us very quickly out of breath. We meet locals heading down the slope and they inform us that the trail normally switches back and forth along the grade, but today the official trail is hidden by the snow.

We opt to terminate following the tracks up what seems like a cliff, and instead start moving cross-grade. The hiking becomes much more enjoyable and less strenuous. The deep powder we walk through feels like a “cloud walking,” and the forest is pleasantly silent. We shoot some brief video footage which our commentary alleges is showing us on the third day of a lost-in-the-wilderness hike. We are out of food and water. Things have gotten desperate.

We somehow find our way back to the center to return the rental gear. We are off to the Elk Avenue – the Crested Butte main street — in search of locally-crafted microbeer.

Once again, the day ends with a long soak in our condo spa. And today, the soak is more entertaining than normal, as the heavy snowfall has not let up after starting over 16 hours ago. Our outdoor spa therefore deposits a layer of snow on our heads as we sit happily in the steamy water. We look like Q-Tips.

Tuesday starts with a dream-like First Trax run down International. Rocketing down the slope, it is the fastest I have ever skied in my life for such a long distance.

We are generously treated to a pro bono ski instruction by a very nice woman who works at the shop where we have rented out skis. I fall several times, as our helpful instructor largely fails to break my very bad habits. I am also hobbled by the enormous inconvenience of having one of my ski bindings out of alignment, which makes it nearly impossible for me to snap back into the ski. And that means a lot of my energy is drained. Particularly when my seemingly endless efforts to snap back in means that I lose my adventure buddy and the instructor, who wisely give up on me and head off on their own.

But even with the brief instructor assistance earlier in the day, I have become a much better skier by the end of the day.

And when she caught up with me later in the day and re-set my bindings, my ski day was excellent.

That night, Mike and I go to downtown Crested Butte, where the annual “mini-Mardis Gras” is to be held. We spot an opening on the second floor balcony of The Eldo Brewery, the only pub said to brew their own beer on premises. We soon confirm this by sampling an outstanding “Abominable Strong Ale” and a Scottish Ale as we enjoy the parade. Later, we are unjustly accosted by a local authority, and barely talk our way out of being jailed for alleged misbehavior during the festivities.

Curiously, Crested Butte main street contains an astonishing number of real estate offices. Clearly a booming business in this town. At least it was before the housing crash.

Our Wednesday weather turns out to be outstanding for skiing. I notice after our Tuesday tutorial that I am happily a better, more confident skier on moguls and relatively ungroomed slopes.

Disasterously, we boldly decide to give the dreaded Teocalli Bowl a try. Signs here warn those taking the lift to its summit that only expert slopes await the skier. Our overconfidence once again puts us on an exceptionally steep, wooded glade run. After a number of tumbles and rolls to the bottom of the valley, we learn that the skier must hike out.

Uphill.

Seems easy to hike the short, modest hill. But at over 10,000 feet of elevation, our lungs are starved of oxygen, and we are literally GASPING for air after about 10 steps. Every 20 or so steps, we must stop and catch our breath. Finally, we make it to a skiable location, but my chest is heaving and screaming in pain. I am completely exhausted. This explains why there was an emergency call box in the valley. How many unwary, unprepared flat land skiers had to call to be rescued from here?

Despite the exhausting nature of Wednesday, Thursday is even more brutal and demanding. Yet it is also the most gratifying day on the slopes.

More so than on previous days, we test the limits by attacking so called “expert only” slopes. My sore, bruised body by the end of this battering, eyes-wide-open day is testimony to the difficulties we faced all day.

Great powder, great weather. Uncrowded. What more is there to ask for?

Near the end of the ski day, we sample what Crested Butte calls a “super pipe.” A massive, freestyle “half-pipe” of snow used by acrobatic snowboarders and skiers. But instead of doing triple somersaults and quadruple 360s, we simply ski up the very steep, very icy, very tall walls of the pipe.

Not realizing what we have gotten ourselves into, we are immediately reaching a terminal velocity that unnerves me. I now know the experience of being a bullet being fired down a rifle barrel…

We also try out a few “terrain parks” to try out (small) jumps, as we have never done so before.

Our last day features fierce, ferocious, bitter cold wind and raging snow. So ferocious that most all skiers find themselves fleeing from the mountain just before lunch hour to seek refuge. The wind is so intensely blowing up the mountain that I find myself nearly at a standstill trying to ski down a very steep black diamond slope to escape.

Yet despite the cruel morning weather, I squeeze in a number of additional runs in the more hospitable afternoon conditions as I bid farewell to Crested Butte. On to the charming downtown of this mining town established in 1870 for some dinner and locally-crafted beer…

After a week of being tested by some of the best that Crested Butte has to offer, I now know that this mountain requires the skier to stop on a dime. And frankly, I am unable to do so reliably.

“International” becomes my favorite run here, and I find myself starting and finishing with that run each day to pump me up.

This link shows more and better photos I shot on this ski trip. When the link takes you to Picasa, select “slideshow” in the upper left for the best view: https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534/CrestedButte?authuser=0&feat=directlink

Categories: 2001-2010, Colorado, Skiing | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort, West Virginia (2009)

My spouse treats me to an expensive weekend stay at a condo on Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia for my birthday. It is our first trip there, and I am eager. Snowfall for the season has already topped the all-time high for the Resort. And we are bringing our two naughty puppies to join us for the fun.

Weather forecasts a week before our trip are disconcerting. While snow is forecast early in the week, a strong warm front is expected to arrive the day after our checking in on Friday.

We experience a pleasant treat on our drive up the winding road leading to the resort. For the first time in my life, a relatively large red fox scampers across the road just in front of our car. So close that my spouse gasps for fear of my hitting the fox. Fortunately, I avoid him (or her).

I make a hasty decision, given the warm front, that our best bet is to squeeze in as much outdoors as we can on Friday. So as soon as we throw our bags into the condo, we are strapping on our never-before-used snowshoes for a quick hike. Our puppies are more than happy with our decision. This will be one of their first-ever experiences frolicking in snow (one is a husky mix, so she is particularly thrilled).

After our trek (where I learn that my snowshoes need some knife “surgery” to open up a larger hole for my shoes), I learn to my dismay that the resort no longer offers half-day lift tickets for skiing. I only have plans to ski a half-day this weekend, so I balk at paying $70 for a few hours on the slopes.

But a new option is discovered. The resort offers $38 lift tickets for night skiing. So I change my plans…

In no time, I find myself on the Silver Creek slopes, and am surprised by the modest lift lines. And the excellent condition of the powder on the slopes – despite the lateness in the day.

The favorable conditions means that I am flying down the runs at recklessly high speeds. With a big smile on my face and several joyous shouts. :^)

For my first run, I blindly choose a run called “Spur.” My heart starts racing nervously, though, as I get my first glimpse down the slope. To my mild horror, the run is a “terrain park” that seems to consist of huge ski jumps and nothing more. And I am already committed to the run, since alternative runs are a very inconvenient uphill slog.

I toss caution to the wind and start hurtling down, not knowing whether I have anywhere near the skills to survive what lies ahead. Fortunately, there are tiny twists and turns around each of the intimidatingly high jumps, and I happily and surprisingly skillfully zip around each one. Spur becomes my favorite run of the night.

I’m rapidly going up and down the runs and lifts. I’m having a ball on nearby Cascade and Fox Chase runs, as well as Spur, as darkness falls and the stadium lights illuminate the slopes.

My skiing on this night ends sooner than I have planned. The nighttime air is rather bitterly cold. And I am anxious to get to the condo to join my non-skiing spouse to help her cook a delicious, romantic meal that we will eat in front of a warm fireplace.

That night, we begin to notice the “wildlife.” While Snowshoe Resort uses a bunny rabbit as its symbol on flags and signs, we quickly and repeatedly learn that the mountain is seemingly covered with deer. Every time we turn around — in our condo, on the road or on trails — we see a crowd of them near us (and our excited puppies, who love chasing them!). I’m no zoologist, but it appears that Snowshoe has a deer over-population problem.

On Saturday morning, we are greeted by a sunny, warmer day. Clearly, if we are to hike, we need to start first thing in the morning to avoid, as much as possible, the near certainty of slush later in the day.

We choose to sample the Cheat Mountain Ridge Trail, which skirts the eastern side of Snowshoe Mountain. Our early start means we see almost no one in our 8-mile roundtrip hike. We pass by the Sunrise Cabin, aptly named as its long eastern face and wood porch basks in a glorious morning sun. We vow to one day reserve this very secluded, romantic lodge in the future.

At the mid-point of our hike, we come to the Snowshoe Fire Tower. Unable to resist, we take turns climbing the many stairs to the top. After all, despite warning signs I have always seen in the past for towers (“Climbing to the top of the tower is strictly prohibited”), the tower here almost begs us to climb, with a sign telling us to “Use the tower at your own risk.”

Our puppies try to follow each of us to the top, but we turn them back due to the danger to them. We soon find, however, that it is also a scary ascent for humans on this day. High winds give me the creeps as I climb each flight of metal stairs. “Will these strong winds knock down the tower?” Nervously, I hold on to the railing the entire time I climb to the top, feeling like a scaredy cat.

But the climb is worth it. In the look-out cabin at the top, the view is panoramic and grand. We get a magnificent view of the entire region. Wow.

By the time we return to the condo, we are tuckered out by the wet snow hiking in snowshoes. After enjoying the some of the Ceurvo Winter Games (mostly homemade cardboard “race” toboggans), we head for the expansive heated resort pools and spas for 45 minutes of soothing soaking.

We return to the condo for our second night of a cooked spaghetti and putenesca sauce dinner, and a delicious Italian Calabrian red wine (which, as a Calabrian, I am particularly proud to enjoy).

With 60 trails, a summit elevation of 4,850 feet, a 1500-foot vertical drop, and three high-speed lifts, Snowshoe is known for being one of the top ski mountains in the eastern US. We intend to return. And my spouse has promised to take up downhill skiing again so she can join me on the frolicking slopes.

On Sunday morning, our plans for one last short hike are quickly abandoned. We awake to what appears to be the mountain enveloped by a cold, very windy rain cloud lashing sheets of icy rain at us.

But all in all, our weekend was a delight. And we look forward to coming back.

 

 

Categories: 2001-2010, Skiing, West Virginia | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Skiing Sun Peaks, British Columbia (February 2008)

United Airlines flies our Richmond Ski Club group from coast to coast on a Saturday morning in early February. Our destination is Sun Peaks in British Columbia, Canada. I am excited by this opportunity to ski British Columbia for the first time, and the fact that my ski companion has never skied in the west. He has never skied the soft, dry powder that I have enjoyed for a number of years. With no more than normal snow conditions, it will be an unparalleled experience for him.

As it turns out, what awaits us is far superior to “normal.”

Our flight lands in Vancouver, a city recently ranked the most livable city in the world.

Surprisingly, we get through baggage and customs relatively painlessly. No strip searches. No lost baggage (skis in this case).

We board our bus and are disappointed to learn that our trip will be two hours longer than expected, as we must by-pass a massive avalanche that has occurred on the major highway between Vancouver and Sun Peaks (the bus ride now becomes a seemingly endless eight hours in duration).

As a result, our trip to Sun Peaks starts at 5 am on Saturday. We are not to arrive at Sun Peaks until 9 pm. Quite a lengthy trip in this jet-set age…

As it turns out, this two-hour diversion is anything but disappointing. Instead, it would be the first in a line of fortunate events for us. Why? Because the highway is the only major road serving Sun Peaks from a major city. By being closed for the entire week we were at Sun Peaks, a large number of skiers were unable to get to the resort. Particularly in the afternoons, we would have the entire mountain to ourselves.

(Adding to our good fortune was that the highway would re-open the day we return to Vancouver after our week of skiing. Timing does not get any better.)

On our first morning at Sun Peaks, Sunday greets us with dry, cold, Canadian air. We look out of our hotel window and are thrilled to see ample snow piled high on nearby rooftops.

The pre-trip information about Sun Peaks assures us that the snow and conditions we see will be unequaled. Sun Peaks boasts 3,678 skiable acres on three mountains, with 121 runs that includes twelve gladed areas.

At 2,891 feet, Sun Peaks has the biggest vertical drop in the interior of British Columbia. And British Columbia is world famous for its light, dry powder to lubricate this big drop.

Here, one finds the second largest skiable terrain in British Columbia, and third largest in Canada.

Can’t wait to strap on those skis!

We start by easing into skiing. We select a green “bunny” run. We soon discover that at Sun Peaks, the green and blue (intermediate) slopes are much more demanding than I have experienced in the past. Black (expert) runs are wild-eyed, and the double blacks are a challenge for the best skiers in the world. Indeed, my one (unintentional) sampling of a double-black (the dreaded “Green Door” run) later on this first day ends disastrously. I fall and summersault and crawl more than I ski down this staggeringly difficult run.

That will be the last time I miss a turn…

I soon learn more about Sun Peaks. While the signage for ski runs is not perfect here (a few difficult-to-understand intersections lack signs), it is better than average. Our hotel – Cahilty Lodge – is a highly convenient ski-in, ski-out facility. A short hill carries us downslope to the major lifts from just outside the hotel door. The Lodge is also a short, easy walk through the village to the ski rental shop and a decent selection of breakfast, lunch and dinner restaurants.

The mountain ranges we observe in the region when we ascend to the top of the mountain are not particularly spectacular, but they are nevertheless impressive.

On Monday morning, small and dry snowflakes greet us as we emerge from our lodge. I had learned as a small boy in upstate New York that smaller snowflakes are an indication of larger accumulations of snow. I am therefore eagerly anticipating days of joyous skiing from a big dump of snowfall.

The snowfall lasts all day.

By the end of the day, we find ourselves skiing in deep, fluffy, soft powder. More wonderful timing…

Early in the week, we notice a break in the weather. The “top top” is where the skier takes the main lift to a second lift – and even a third lift to reach the very pinnacle of the mountain. Usually shrouded in wind and clouds, we hurry to the top top. There, we are met with the comical spectacle of a scene only Dr. Seuss could have drawn. Conifers that have been relentlessly whipped by high winds and deep snow appear to be more like snowmen than trees (see photo).

How good was the skiing on Monday? In my estimation, the first six runs we sample are the six best runs I’ve ever experienced in my life. So good that following one of these remarkable runs, I turn to my ski buddy and inform him that if we had only done that single run this week and nothing else, the entire trip would have been worthwhile.

On this exhilarating second day of skiing, we stumble upon a small group of skiers who are gathered around Nancy Greene, a well-known Canadian Olympic Ski Champion (named the female athlete of the century for Canada). The diminutive Ms. Greene, who I find charmingly down to earth despite her fame, is offering to lead a group of skiers around the mountain.

Before finding her, I joke to my ski buddy that should we come across Ms. Greene, I will “show her up” by skiing circles around her (“She will be left in my ski dust, Mike”). As it turns out, not only do I NOT show her up, but I show myself to be the clumsy skier I am. I end up falling twice during her guided ski forays. Both times, she notices someone has fallen down behind her. She asks if this were true as the group gathers around her after a run, and I sheepishly admit that I had fallen. She asks if a “snow snake” had gotten me. She then proceeds to offer me tips on how to avoid another “snake” encounter. So much for shaming an Olympian…

By Tuesday, we hit upon a strategy that becomes our mission for the remainder of the trip. We arrive at the ski lifts 20 minutes before they open for the day, which puts us into the dream position. On our first two runs for each of our remaining days, we are laying down “first tracks” on virgin runs that have not seen a single skier since they were groomed to perfection just a short while ago. Essentially, we are skiing where no skier has skied before, as James T. Kirk would boldly say.

For me, First Tracks runs means at least one thing: Blinding speeds. I find myself skiing faster than I have ever skied in my life, and am doing so without a single worry, as there are no imperfections to upend me. On a number of these virgin runs, I am skiing so fiercely fast that I realize my life would come to an abrupt end should I fall. Adrenalin is blasting through my veins.

Because the surface of the run is flawless, and I find no need to slow down. So I continue the terminal velocity of my rocket descent.

At the bottom third of several of these majestic runs, the exuberance is so uncontrollable that I am shrieking with joy. I meet up with my buddy at the bottom and scream that the run we just did was killer sweet. He heartily agrees. We laugh out loud and hurry to the lifts for another astonishing, unforgettable run.

Sun Peaks, we are to learn, has an incredibly high percentage of fantastically enjoyable runs. Only once or twice in our five full days of skiing did we come across a less-than-stellar route. And in those cases, the problem was simply that they had not been groomed for some time. Our favorite run turns out to be Second Growth, a wondrous glade run. Other excellent runs are Delta’s Return, Mid-Life Crisis, I Dunno, Still Smokin’, C.C. Riders, Runaway Lane, Cruiser, Blazer, Exhibition, Broadway, OSV (where the Austrian Olympic Ski Team trains), Sunrise, Sun Catcher, Roundabout, and Rambler.

One black run known as Sting stands out. On Tuesday morning, we are the first skiers on this freshly groomed slope. The groomers report this morning indicates that this run is the “Groomers Choice.” It is simply the best ski surface I have ever experienced. For on top of the groom was a fresh yet thin layer of fluffy powder. I have never skied so energetically high-speed, carefree and joyously in all of my life. Simply perfect.

On each of our five days, the snow remains light and fluffy. As advertised.

A lesson we learn: NEVER mention to another skier on your morning chair lift that you are intending to ski a groomed run off the lift. Like a mining “claim jumper,” skiers hearing this information will often make a mad dash off the chair for this slope, to be the first to ski it (ahead of you). We had this happen to us two or three times, and we vowed to be mum in the future (hand signals only!).

For both Tuesday and Wednesday, we have become so efficient in navigating the ski area that we find we are able to sample runs on each of the three sister mountains before 10 am. A sign of a compact, well-designed resort.

Another amenity we learn to enjoy are the great many “glade” runs on the mountains. These runs are rather technical due to their relatively steep pitch and the need to negotiate around a number of tall conifers. In particular, we enjoy 3 Bears, Cahilty, and Granny Greens as top-notch, frolicking glades. I find myself making sharp, tight, high-speed turns through the trees, often needing to crouch low to zip around and under low-lying branches.

We find ourselves skiing these runs repeatedly in the glorious afternoon sun. Addicted to glade exhilaration.

For many of our runs, we are surprised by how enjoyable the 5 Mile run turns out to be. Despite its designation as a green bunny slope, 5 Mile enables the skier to effortlessly reach rather high velocities and maintain speed continuously. No exertion necessary. A very impressive, carefree “cruiser” run. I end up polishing my ski skills, mostly by striving to keep my skis and legs close together.

On Thursday, we hike Snowshoe Nature Trail all morning. Today is a ski injury/exhaustion recuperation day for us. Regrettably, we opt not to rent snowshoes, as the glades and open fields we pass by are covered with deep virgin snow. Oddly, we don’t see any snowshoe tracks going off into this powder. All hikers seem to want to stay on the hard-packed trail, rather than enjoying the cloud-walking sensation of snowshoeing in deep snow.

That afternoon, we opt for dog sledding with Alaskan Racing Huskies. When we arrive, the huskies are gathered in a large group, each chained to a small, nearby doghouse. Curiously, the 30-40 dogs all move in synchronized unison, as if in a ballet. When one would get excited and dart back and forth, all of the others would join in and mimic this.

I have never in my life seen dogs so desperately eager. Eager to pull a sled. Their high-pitched screaming and impossibly high vertical leaps into the air informed us that they would do ANYTHING to be selected to be hitched to a sled.

We opt to have me lead the team first. My buddy is to take his turn later. During my run, I am “cited” by the manager for allowing too much sled speed on a particular downhill. Oops.

The marquee event at Sun Peaks is the Fondue Dinner and Torch Ski Run. I have signed up for this as far in advance as possible, as the event sells out quickly, and I am certain it will be unforgettable. Coincidentally, our Thursday night (the event is held every Thursday) happens to be on Valentine’s Day. The event begins with a trip up the chairlift to the Sunburst Restaurant on the mountain. Upon arrival, we are treated to a delightful fondue accompanied by live acoustic music. The menu includes a variety of meats, seafood, breads, and vegetables to accompany the oil and cheese fondues. The meal is followed by a decadent dark chocolate fondue dessert with a selection of fresh fruits. After the meal we break up into small groups, don headlamps, and effortlessly, gently, resplendently cruise down the torch lit slopes of the seemingly endless 5 Mile ski run.

Simply delightful. Out of this world.

I’m not a religious person, but I now know what it is like to die and go to heaven.

As we reach the bottom of the run, I wish this would never end. So much so that I have the urge to return to Sun Peaks EVERY Thursday…

Like every other after-ski evening here at Sun Peaks, I slide into the soothingly hot and steamy spa that sits just outside our hotel. AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

On Saturday morning, we are greeted with the wonderful news that the avalanche has been cleared and the highway is open again, after seven long days of hard work. Our bus zips through the very steep and towering valley where the avalanche occurred, and we see evidence of several smaller avalanche slides in the vicinity. The valley contains huge volumes of fearsome, smothering snow, and our bus driver informs us that this area can get snow year-round. I hold my breath, as I fear that one false move will set off another tumultuous fall.

We arrive in Vancouver just after noon, and unload our bags into a luxury hotel in the heart of the downtown. For our few hours of afternoon, we walk the waterfront along the seawall trail. First stop is Canada Place, then the impressive old growth trees of Stanley Park. We return to the impressively bustling shopping street known as Robson Street. Finally, we arrive in the historic, charming Gastown. Stop at a microbrewery for a sampler of their excellent beers, then finishing at Chinatown, where we grab some authentic Asian cuisine.

We have had the time of our lives.

Click on this link to see a video of the photos I shot on this trip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmpuLoeWSe0

Categories: 2001-2010, Canada, Skiing | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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