Change over

Well I guess I have held out long enough, this site has been sold to Google and they are changing the way the site works. For one thing they are are requiring people to have a google account to log in, which so far I have resisted and have not done. Today when I logged in it basically said this was the last time I would be allowed to use my old account, so I guess that means next week I have to switch over. I don't know what that means yet and I don't know what kind of changes it may mean for you all. I think the address is the same, so we'll see what happens next week.

Otherwise I had a cold most of the weekend so I was pretty lazy. Saturday was very windy, in fact many of the lifts in Vail's bowls had to close and I heard A-basin had to close the upper lifts all day. I took that day as errands day and to try and get over my cold. Sunday I slept in and then headed up to Beaver Creek for a few hours before heading back home to thaw out the frozen Lou Malnati's pizzas I ordered for the Super Bowl. I had 6 of my friends over to watch the game and savor the miracle of Chicago Pizza via nationwide delivery. They pizzas really warmed up well, and everyone enjoyed them. The sausage was a big hit, everyone thought the patty that covers the whole pizza was pretty cool. For dessert we had Eli's cheesecake, which I ordered with the pizzas. Its not cheap, but it was a worthwhile treat to help celebrate the Bears being in the Super Bowl. Its too bad they didn't win, but I think they have a team that has the potential to get back again soon, so hopefully they will. At least a few of my fellow Syracuse alums got to win, Marvin Harrison and Dwight Freeney especially. Now that football is over its time to start to turn our attention to college basketball, March Madness is only a month away!


Climbing and Skiing

Since that big storm we got two weeks ago it has pretty much been dry around the Vail area. Some warmer temperatures the end part of last week helped to further reduce our snowpack and ensure that skiing conditions would be less than adequate all weekend long. What to do? Well fortunate for me, two of my friends had some climbing plans in the nearby Tenmile Range this weekend and I was more than happy to skip a ski day to join them. We met up Saturday around 8am at the Mayflower Gulch trailhead. This trailhead is accessed by a paved road that is accessible year round as it is the main north-south route to connect Leadville and I-70. We started up the snowcovered old mining road in our snowshoes and shortly thereafter left the road to follow a snowshoe track along side the creek. Our goal was Crystal Peak (13,852'), a peak I had climbed before a few Augusts back. In order to get to Crystal, first you have to follow a fork in the creek drainage that takes you past the base of nearby Pacific and Atlantic Peaks. After a steep climb along this side creek we were in a large flat basin at around 12,500' where we trudged on through the snow. Soon we were past the neighboring peaks and ready to begin our ascent to the 13,220' saddle connecting Pacific to Crystal. There was enough snow here to connect patches of snow and leave our snowshoes on but we decided to store our snowshoes in some rocks for the rest of the climb. The upper ridge was mostly rocks as the wind had blown the snow away from the ridge crest. We followed the ridge over a 13,500' false summit and to the true summit where the cold winds kept us from taking much of a break. After a few photos it was back down to the saddle and our snowshoes where the wind was really blowing now. We put our snowshoes on and got down to a nice calm area in the flats before taking a break. The rest of the hike out was uneventful and we were back at the trailhead with daylight to spare at 4pm. After dinner together in Frisco we parted ways and my friends headed back to Boulder.

Sunday I got up early to meet some other friends from Boulder and some other areas to ski at Vail. We met up at the top of chair 3 and our group of 6 headed out to the back bowls. The snow here was just as expected, crusty. The bowls face south and had been hammered with the warm sun the week before only to freeze up now that the weekend had brought a return to chilly temperatures. We decided to head to Blue Sky Basin and find some areas where the sun doesn't get to the snow and were able to find some much softer and more enjoyable areas to ski. We took a break to barbeque at the picnic area atop Blue Sky and then started to work our way back to the front of the mountain before heading home around 3. Even though in some areas the conditions were less than ideal, Vail is so large that there are always some pockets of good snow to be had! It was a fun busy weekend out doing the things I like best, hopefully a few more of those will be in my future this winter!


Back to School

Its great to see the Bears in the Super Bowl again! I am going to order some pizzas from Chicago to have them shipped up (you'd be surprised how many of the pizza joints ship their pizzas) and possibly an Eli's Cheesecake for dessert. Its been a good year for Florida, winning both the NCAA Basketball and Football championships so maybe the luck of the Gators will be on Bears QB (and Florida alum) Rex Grossman.

This weekend I headed up Beaver Creek again on Saturday to get some skiing in. Mostly I stuck with some of the steeper chutes and tree runs seeing as the majority of the mountain was really bumped out. We haven't any more snow to speak of since the previous weekend's big dump and its been really cold lately. It was so cold though that the snow managed to stay fairly soft, it wasn't getting a chance to melt during the day so those sub-zero overnight temperatures didn't really ice things up. I poked around the area where I lost my ski again, but still no luck. Ski patrol has a ski, but I haven't gotten through yet to see if its mine or not. Maybe I'll get lucky and its been found!

Sunday was the field training for my avalanche class. The classroom part started Monday, and continued through Saturday evening. We learned a lot in the class room about avalanche phenomenon, snow science, backcountry travel and gear but the real meat of the class is putting it together in the field. We hiked up Vail Pass to a nice steep slope that resembles a popular East Vail chute where people like to ski. We set up a couple of different stations and then broke into groups. My groups first station was the "hasty search", a mock rescue exercise. The instructors set up a couple of scenarios and we had to search clues in the snow to try and find the "victim" (which was a buried backpack). First there were a couple of poles, by following the line between them we could determine that the "body" carried to a certain area where we searched and were able to dig up the pack. The second scenario there was nothing but a handkerchief and a set of tracks leading to some trees. There in the trees was one of our instructors posing as a victim. In this scenario he was dazed and walked away and passed out, but he had a partner. By interviewing him we could determine where his partner was likely do be despite no other clues and again dug up the pack. The next station we got to bury beacons in stuff sacks and use beacons to search for them. In general we were able to find them all in less than 2 minutes! Sure makes a beacon seem worth the price as they seem to be a quick easy way to find a buried partner if there was ever an accident. We also had a station to practice a probe line (used when there is no beacons) and also one to dig test pits in the snow to see how the layers have settled. The test pits were really interesting, and by conducting the different tests our instructor was able to determine that the slope was safe to ski, but with a risk of sliding on a hard impact such as a fall. In that situation a group should only ski that face if everyone felt they could ski it without falling. We ended the day with a mock rescue scenario which acted as our "test" and combined many of the skills we had learned. There were 4 victims, 3 with beacons but one without. We split the group into those who would use their beacons to search and those that would investigate clues and use probes to find the 4th victim. Two of the beacons were found in less than 3 minutes, the 3rd in about 8 minutes and it took almost 15 minutes to find the one that had no beacon. Sure does make you want to buy a beacon if travelling in avalanche terrain, they were all rescued quickly and would have been alive had it been a real rescue! It was an intersting class and one that anyone considering backcountry trips in winter, whether to ski, hike or snowmobile, should definitely take!


Deep Snow

Well Monday was send drawings to the town for building permit day. Finally the big push on the project is out of the way, but there will be plenty of questions to answer as we move forward I am sure. They switched contractors for one thing, which means our office is going to have to help them catch up. Construction won't start until April, so hopefully by then everything will be squared away. Despite a lot of hard work since coming back from Chicago, I have been managing to get up on the ski slopes on the weekend. Last weekend we got a lot of snow, in fact Friday it started snowing heavily after work and all through the night. There was over a foot on my car in the morning, and Beaver Creek was reporting 16". I headed up early and was able to get some first tracks on Screech Owl and Bald Eagle before heading into the Royal Elk Glades. There was good fresh stuff there as well, but it didn't last. Beaver Creek was the big bread winner last weekend for snow, Vail "only" got 7" and the resorts east of us barely got an inch. It snowed most of Saturday too, so conditions stayed soft but unfortunately everyone in the state it seemed had come to Beaver Creek. There were actually lift lines for the Grouse Mountian chair, which I have never had to wait more than a minute or two to ride. In fact when I got back down later in the day all the parking lots were full, they were parking up and down US 6 and even on some of the roads in Avon. It probably didn't help that it was a holiday weekend as well with Martin Luther King Day on Monday. All of this snow was a lot of fun, but it was also really deep. So deep that when I headed up to the Alta Chutes I ended up catching my ski on a layer of denser snow and popping it off. I figured I would turn around and see it sticking out of the snow, but no such luck. I dug around the whole area where I thought it would be for over an hour and still didn't find it. I ended up sliding down then skiing out on the catwalks and service roads on one ski. I filed a report with lost and found in the hopes that maybe someone will come across it and bring it down. If not, maybe someone who finds it will at least prop it up against a tree. Sunday I went back up, skiied a few runs and then headed over the area where I lost my ski to poke around with an avalanche probe in the hopes of being able to find it. I also flagged some trees with surveyor's tape so that I can remember the spot in future weekends. I poked around for another hour plus but again no sign of the ski. Either I am looking too low, or it slid down the mountain much lower than I thought and it was below me. I'll keep skiing that area and keep my eyes open, if no one finds it I can hike up there in June when the snow melts (yes, June... May will still have snow!) and get it then. Luckily it is above an area with a hiking trail and shouldn't be too hard of an area to get too in summer. Those tree flags will come in handy then for sure! This week I am taking the Level 1 Avalanche Seminar and Sunday is our field day where we get to dig test pits to analyze the snow layers, and also bury backpacks with beacons and practice rescue. When complete we will have a test and get our certification. Just one more skill to help keep me safe in the mountains!


Consolation Prize

I'm sure many of you know that the week before Christmas was a rough one on the Denver area. Particularly on the airport, and anyone trying to travel Wednesday-Friday while the airport was shutdown. I unfortunately was part of that group, having a Thursday morning flight. Luckily my flight was cancelled the night before and I never had to make the 100 plus mile drive to the airport. Of course rescheduling flights during one of, if not the, busiest travel times of the year is no small feat. It was very difficult to get through to my airline, in fact I never even got into their hold system, I always got "all of our carrier circuits are busy", meaning there was not even an open line for me to be put on hold! So I went with plan B, try and find a totally new flight. I was successful in finding a flight on Christmas day out of my local airport (20 miles away) for almost the same money. I even eventually managed to get through to my original airline and get a full refund. Of course this meant a change to my vacation schedule, and I was now in Colorado for 4 more days than expected. What to do? Well after working Thursday and Friday, ski of course.

It was my sort of consolation prize, and the slopes were wonderfully uncrowded. I even was able to hike up the ridge above Mongolia Bowl and get some fresh tracks in at Vail on Saturday. The lack of crowds meant virtually no lift lines, in fact even at Vail I rarely had a wait over 1 minute the entire time. Sunday my friend Drew (also "stuck" in town from the Denver storms) went to Beaver Creek with me and once again we had no lift lines. There was also a brief morning snow squall through the area that dropped 4 inches or so on the slopes. The winds drifted much of it between the moguls and there were some great soft turns in the Rose Bowl as a result. It may not have been what was orginally planned for the weekend before Christmas, but it was a heck of a lot better than all the poor passengers who had to spend all of their time sleeping on cots and suitcases in the Denver airport, and for that I am lucky!

Christmas Day did not go quite as smoothly as I had hoped. Unfortunately the plane I was supposed to be on had mechanical problems in Chicago and was going to need to be replaced. It was going to take them 4 hours to get a suitable aircraft, and my lateness was expanded. When the flight finally took off it was smooth, and after all was said and done I landed over 106 hours later than my original flight at almost 7pm. I met my parents at the airport and headed home for a late Christmas Dinner and then we opened presents. The rest of the week was nice, my mom was off work and my nephew off school. Tuesday my aunt was off work too and we all got to hang out and check out post Christmas sales. Thursday my nephew, sister and her boyfriend and I all went to see Night at the Museum. We all really enjoyed it, it was funny and really cool to see the "history come alive". Friday I headed down to the city and got together with some of my friends that I hadn't seen for a while. I stayed at my friend Mike's house and Saturday we and a few other friends all got to hang out again. Then it was one last dinner out with the family and off to bed for the Sunday morning flight. New Year's Day it was business as usual, skiing at Beaver Creek. While Denver was hammered with snow, we were ignored and conditions were a little thin in places including rocks, stumps, logs and dirt patches in some areas. Now that traveling is done for a while, hopefully the snow will start to fly soon again in the mountains!


2006 Winding Down

Seeing as I am heading home for the holidays on Thursday, it looks like the outdoor activities for the year are winding down, minus New Years weekend anyway. Saturday was our office Christmas Party, so before the party a group of about 7 of us headed to Beaver Creek to ski together. We mostly skiied on intermediate runs with a couple of mogul runs thrown in to keep people on their toes. The snow was pretty good, after a snowy week things have really softened up out there. The fresh groomers in the morning were just about perfect! We even took a few runs in the terrain park. I avoided the rail and box features, I always seem to fall and hit my hip on those! I did go over a couple of the jumps, no tricks or anything, just air. The party was fun too! It was in the same place as last year, we even had a lot of the same waitstaff and menu items. That was fine, the steak with the mushroom sauce was worth another round! We then had our "famous" white elephant gift exchange. No santa thongs this year, but there were a few interesting gag gifts. As usual wine and booze were popular and switched hands many times!

Sunday was a climbing day. Despite some morning snow on Vail Pass I headed to Empire to meet up with a few other people. I got there late because of the snow and there was no one at our meeting place. So after waiting for a while I thought maybe they headed on to the trailhead without me and drove up to Berthoud Pass. I didn't see anyone there either, but wasn't surprised. If they did go on ahead they already would have been hiking. There were several backcountry skiiers and boarders out so I decided to head up Colorado Mines Peak on my own and see how the day went. It only took about 45 minutes to reach the top and the weather wasn't looking bad. It was a little windy and occassionaly there would be a brief snow shower but visibility was good and the sun kept making appearances so I continued on along the ridge. I made it Mount Flora in another hour, and decided to go one peak futher to Mount Eva. That too took about an hour and I had a nice snack break on the summit before starting the return. I had to reclimb Flora, but was able to traverse around Colorado Mines on the way back down to the car. I had already been up Colorado Mines and Flora last spring, so it was nice to pick up a "new" summit on the day. These were also the first peaks I ever summited in December, now only February remains as a month with no summits. I later found out that the one person I was supposed to climb with canceled due to the snow, but I didn't check my email the day before and missed the message. Oh well, next time.

I hope to see as many of you as I can this weekend when I am back home, and for those I don't get to see have a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and all that jazz.


Expanding Terrain

Ski conditions improved a lot from our recent snows, and as a result there were even more terrain openings last weekend. First Saturday was the first day of the season for parts of the Back Bowls which meant they were completely un-tracked, at least for the first run. I managed to get to the mountain early enough be in line for the chair lifts when they started running. In fact the lift that took me to the top of Sundown Bowl opens at 9am and I managed to be on the 5th chair! That meant I had my pickings in the bowl, but rather than turn down the first face I traversed out a little farther to "Never" where I had the entire face to myself and put down the first tracks of the season. It was knee deep and wonderful! I managed to get to the lift line before the masses and barely had any wait. I decided to take another run back there, and again got fresh tracks, this time down the trees of "Yonder". The lift line was growing and it took a half hour to wait the second time, but no matter; I got my 2 first tracks for the season and was pretty happy. I decided at that point to head to the front side and explore the area around Northwoods and Highline where the crowds were light and a few more runs were open than the weekend before. I even found some first tracks in the trees below Prima Cornice's rocky face. It was a fun day, but it was also very cold. The lows overnight last weekend were around -10 up here, and the highs barely hit 15 in the valley, so at the top of the resorts I'm sure it was more like 5. I left by 2pm and had lunch in West Vail before warming my toes at home.

Sunday I decided to hold off and ski later in the morning to wait for it to warm up a little. This time I went to Beaver Creek where the Rose Bowl had opened earlier in the week. While not fresh tracks, they were the first turns I got in that area all season and it was a lot of fun re-familiarizing myself with the soft moguls of Ripsaw. This run almost never gets sun and rarely ices up so you can get soft bumps even days after a storm! They were also racing the World Cup this weekend, American Bode Miller won the Downhill on Friday, but no other American's claimed gold over the weekend. I was going to head down and watch the slalom races on Sunday, but with the cold it felt better to be moving than standing around watching, so I passed this year. I have seen the slalom the last two years, its really the downhill I want to see but its always on Friday when I have to work. It looks like it would be really exciting to watch because they hit speeds of at least 60mph and some of the rollers in the terrain send them airborne for distances in excess of 100 feet, despite that they are rarely more than 10 feet above the ground! That's some serious speed they are carrying, with nothing but their race suit to protect them if they fall. I'll stick to the bumps and powder, I don't think I want to launch myself down the hill quite that fast!

More terrain has been opening this week, Vail and Beaver Creek are both close to 60% open and with more terrain expected to open for this weekend. All we need now is another 2 foot storm and we will be up to our knees skiing once again!