A little variety

It was President’s Day weekend, so for the locals in the Vail Valley, that meant no skiing. Our passes are blacked out of the holiday weekend. The nice thing is that they are still good in Summit County, and I was able to go up Sunday. Saturday, however, was time to just bum around town, get a haircut, do some shopping, that sort of thing. One of the local sporting goods stores actually had a really big sale, winter clothing and hiking shoes seemed to be the biggest sellers, but I had my sights on snowshoes. The only times I have gone up I have either rented them or borrowed someone else’s and thought it a good idea to pick up some of my own. One of the bike shops had a big sale too, 50% off select 2004 models, but that was too rich of a purchase for my blood and I refrained from checking out the selection. Sunday I met up with the Denver crew at Keystone, but only briefly due to my own forgetfulness. Keystone is just under an hour from my house, and when I got there I realized I had forgotten an important part of my being able to ski, my pass. I probably could have talked to someone in the pass office and gotten a day pass with my driver’s license or something, but there was so much traffic on the access road I turned around to not waste any more of my time. It turns out there was a bad wreck a few miles up near the parking lot entrance. That was the fourth wreck of the day, on the drive over I saw 3 cars off the road. The conditions weren’t really that bad, but people have a tendency to think they are invincible and unfortunately end up proven otherwise. The conditions were mostly just wet, but there were a few snowpacked areas, and people were just following too closely to react properly to traffic I guess. Anyway, after retrieving my pass, I returned to Keystone and met up with my friends, just as they were getting ready to head out. I got a few good runs in, even got to hike the north bowl, but some of the lift lines were just crazy. It was a popular place to be on Sunday. I stayed until about 4pm, after getting such a late start and dealing with the crowds, I wanted to get in as much skiing as I could. On the drive back, I saw four more cars off the road on Vail Pass, and a fifth one at Dowd Junction. That made 9, and yet people were still tailgating each other, you would think seeing all those cars off the road would get them to wise up. “Space not speed”, just like the signs on the crowded ski trails always say…

Tonight I got to use my new snowshoes for the first time. A couple of friends from work and I hiked up Meadow Mountain in the moonlight. We didn’t even need our headlamps as we were even casting shadows in the moonlight. Wednesday is the full moon, so tonight it was pretty bright. The fresh snow was twinkling in the moonlight, it was very peaceful. Meadow Mountain used to be a ski area in the 60’s, now they use part of it as a sledding hill, and people hike or snowmobile on it as well. It takes about 45 minutes to get up, and if you bring skis, 10 to get back down so it’s a quick little chance to get in some exercise during the week seeing as bike riding is out until spring.


Taking it up a notch

Saturday I went to Vail with my friend Drew from work. We decided to spend the day at Blue Sky Basin, which to me is the best area to ski. They don’t open the lifts there until 10am, so we took 2 warm up runs in the Back Bowls first, then headed back there. First we hit the Champagne Glade, one of my favorite runs there. Its basically like inbounds backcountry skiing, ungroomed, with widely spaced trees and a few rock outcroppings here and there. It’s almost as if they never touched it, just left it raw and gave it lift access. If it wasn’t for the nearby lift it would be totally silent and peaceful save but for an occasional other skier or rider passing by. We only took one run there though, and instead headed over to some of the steeper runs, Skree Field and Lover’s Leap. Both of these runs are guarded at the top by obstacles that tend to keep people off them. Lover’s Leap usually forms a snow cornice upwards of 3-4 feet tall (hence the name) and Skree Field has a cliff band at the top. It is possible to track along the top of the cliffs and find nice places to drop in-between though. At the base of both runs, you have to navigate through a series of narrow slots through the trees to get back to the main runs. Again, the backcountry experience, but inbounds. We were having a great time, and decided to up the ante a little bit. Both runs have a lot of rocks scattered about the slopes, some are huge, but most are no more than 3 feet high, and make for nice launching pads for some air. It’s like a natural terrain park! With the confidence built up from our rocks, it was time to take the cliffs at the top of Skree Field head on. That was exciting; standing on top of a 4 foot cliff above a steep run you can’t see anything directly below you and have to trust yourself and your judgment. Having been over the run a few times, I knew the landing area was good snow and a good pitch, so with a “here goes nothing” attitude, I pushed off. Right at the edge of the cliff I hopped up a little bit, to make sure my skis would clear it, and landed softly in the snow, on both feet. I checked my speed with a quick turn and did a little hip check on the snow, popped back up on both feet and admired my accomplishment. That was my first cliff jump on skis! I was nervous, but figured it wasn’t really any taller than the cornice on Lover’s Leap, just made out of rock (much less forgiving) instead of snow like the cornice. We had a short day, but it was definitely full of new experiences and made me realize how much I have been able to grow as a skier by getting in so many more days. Typically I have only been able to get 5 or 6 days, but including my trip to Beaver Creek today, I now have 20. Today was a much mellower day, sort of, I mean there were no cliffs, cornices or rocks involved. They had the World Cup run, Golden Eagle, groomed today, wow that was fun. You can really open it up and let it fly on that run! I can see how those racers can hit 85 mph; of course I was turning so I wasn’t near that fast. I also advantage of the opportunity to practice my mogul skills on some of the runs on Grouse Mountain, and of course the showcase Peregrine run. Peregrine is probably about 30 degrees, almost 1500 vertical feet, and right under the chairlift the whole way down. I am proud to say I didn’t embarrass myself with any “yard sales”, but I wasn’t perfect by any means. It’s a great run though, and a great challenge. No matter how good of shape I ever manage to get in, I doubt I would ever make it top to bottom on that run without stopping; it’s a real thigh burner! It was a fun weekend at the local slopes, but its back to work tomorrow, and next weekend is a “blackout” weekend for President’s Day, which means my pass is no good next weekend. Sigh. Maybe we’ll try and go on another hike instead if the weather is good. Talk to you then.


Back inbounds

Well the good news is that is currently snowing here, we have had maybe 1-2 inches so far in town, hopefully it will continue all night! We need it too, I met up with my friends Wells, Erica and Pete at Keystone this weekend, and we actually saw dirt in some places. This is February, I don't want to see dirt until May, especially under a chair lift... It was still a lot of fun, of course a bad day on the slopes beats a good day pretty much anywhere else. Some of the groomed runs had some pockets of good snow, especially close to the edges, but there were still patches of ice, and some of the runs that don't have snowmaking had a few bare spots. The one or two mogul runs I went down were hard as a rock, it was almost like being back in the East coast again. Things should shape up though, especially if this storm is a good one. We had a lot of fun hanging out, usually when we meet up on the slopes there is a huge group of us, it was nice to be smaller. We were actually a group of 6 as two of Pete's co-workers were there with us as well, but we normally are at least 8-10 people when we go up. After we were done on the slopes, we went down to the village to relax in the sun and have some lunch. It was cold on the mountain most of the morning in the clouds, but the sun in the village was warm and it was really comfortable sitting outside with the view of the mountains around us. It was a nice relaxing day, but unfortunately my choice in sports teams to root for made the rest of the weekend less relaxing. First, Syracuse basketball barely squeeked out a win over Notre Dame, surviving missing their final 4 free throws and a buzzer beater attempt to hold on and win by 3. Then Syracuse alum Donovan McNabb and the Eagles struggled to convert their opportunities and fell to the Patriots with poor clock management, and a few bad plays. Tonight wasn't any easier as UConn just beat Syracuse. Hopefully these recent struggles will teach them where there weaknesses are so they can fix them before tournament time. But hey, as long as the flakes are flying up here, I am happy person tonight.