Happy Easter

The first week of spring wasn’t so spring-like. It’s funny, after a couple of weeks of sunshine and above average temperatures, the first week of spring was more like winter. The temperatures were in the teens overnight, with some scattered snow showers most of the week. This was great news, however, with four weeks of ski season left, to get a nice boost to our snow to tide us over. We probably had close to 20 inches over the course of the last seven days, but in town every time the sun comes out, it just melts it back down to the grass again. Friday we got about 4 inches on the slopes overnight, which made for some nice fresh tracks in the morning at Vail. I headed straight to the back bowls, and was able to get a few good runs in, though it tracked out pretty quickly. After that there were still some pockets around for those willing to ski the steeper runs. The best runs of the day were Skree Field and Rasputin’s Revenge, both of which are steep and scattered with cliff bands. It is possible to avoid the cliffs, but if you are willing to go over some of the smaller ones (say 3-5 feet), the best snow is under them seeing as most people won’t jump them. It snowed a good portion of the day on the slopes as well, sometimes the visibility became a little difficult, but there were pockets of sunshine as well. Saturday was the end to our week of our snowy pattern, and the forecast for Sunday was a warm and sunny spring day, well by mountain standards.

Easter Sunday greeted me with a bright sunny day, and with a couple of new inches of snow overnight, a few fresh tracks awaited. I still have a few days left on my Copper 4-pass, so I went over there to enjoy the beautiful spring day. Even though it was Easter, there were no bunny slopes for me today, as it was off to the bowls for some nice steeps. First I took a nice warm up run down over 2000 vertical feet of fresh snow on top of a groomed slope. It’s great when they groom the runs the night before and then they get fresh snow overnight. As the sun warmed things up, the conditions on some of the steeper runs turned to a nice spring snow, which was almost like skiing on mashed potatoes. I spent some time in Spaulding Bowl, and then headed over to the backside of Union Peak. The runs over there were great; the top section was steep, labeled “Experts Only”, guarded by a nice cornice of snow, and requiring about a 10 minute hike along the ridge. It was just enough to scare most of the people away, but was exactly what I wanted. The initial cornice drop is about 4-6 feet depending on where along the ridge you drop in. The first several turns were then steep enough to require more of a jump turn than an actual carve to help better control your speed. Below that it mellowed out to more of a single black diamond pitch as it threaded through some rock outcroppings and was just perfect for carving some nice wide turns. From below, the entire west ridge just looks spectacular: expansive, rugged and steep. It’s also well above treeline at over 12,000 feet so all you see is snow and the dark blue sky above. The sky here is just amazing, closer to the ground it’s a lighter shade, but the ridges block it out so that all you see is this deep, dark shade contrasting the bright, white snow. I’ll definitely have to get back again while I still have the 4-pass to use up, this time with my camera!
I hope you all had a great Easter as well, hard to believe it’s almost April! PS- Happy Birthday to my sister tomorrow!


Spring Starts

Its Spring Break time in the mountains, and the visitors aren’t just the college kids. Two of my friends from back home, Mike and Katie, came up to visit this past weekend. They actually flew in last week and stayed with our friends Karlin and Wells for a couple of days before all four of them drove up for a weekend of skiing at Beaver Creek. It was great that decided to stay in my town, it gave me a chance to show them my new area, and of course to hang out with them. Saturday we met on the mountain, for Katie this was her first time skiing, and she spent the day in ski school. She did great, and we were all impressed with how fast she picked it up when we got to ski with her on Sunday. The rest of the us all headed up to the top. Mike was glad to not have the hard icy slopes of Wisconsin for once, and get on some great real snow! The difference is first felt, quite literally, when one takes their first fall, and surprisingly it doesn’t hurt. I know from experience myself, believe me. Mike hadn’t been riding in about 2 years, and after a few runs he was really getting back into it. We all had a great time, and rejoined with Katie at the end of the day to head back to town, and get ready to hang out in Vail. We spent some time walking around the village, checking out some of the shops and getting some dinner in town. We went to Vendetta’s, an Italian restaurant, and had a really nice dinner together before heading back to their hotel to play a round of Simpsons Clue. Turns out Homer did it, in the Comic Book Shop, with an Extend-O-Glove… who knew?

Sunday it was back on the slopes, I took a few runs by myself in the morning, before meeting up with everyone else, including some our other friends from Denver who were up for the day. With one day of lessons under her belt, it was time to graduate to the upper slopes of the mountain for Katie. One of the nicest things about Beaver Creek is that some of their easiest terrain is accessed from the very top of the mountain. This means even those new to the sport get the chance to be up at 11,000 feet enjoying the view of the valleys below and mountains beyond. Katie did great, her turns looked really good, and I think she really had a great time. I’m really glad that it worked out so well, those first few days on skis can be really tough, especially dealing with those medieval torture devices they call ski boots on your feet. We finished off the day with lunch at the Chophouse before my visitors had to head back to Denver to beat the incoming snows. It figures that it would snow right after the ski day ended, in fact both Vail and Beaver Creek got close to a foot overnight, and we got about 5 in town. So much for the first day of spring, huh? Even though it was only for two days, it was great to get to visit with Mike and Katie up here, and I hope they will make a pilgrimage to the mountains a regular trip.
In other news its March Madness time again, and it’s just as mad as ever. Several of the contenders for the Final Four, including Syracuse and media darling Wake Forest are going to be watching the rest of the tournament on television. Surprisingly my bracket isn’t that bad, in fact I had Wake losing to West Virginia. Now that Syracuse is out, it really doesn’t matter to me that much who wins, I think I would be happiest if a conference co-member kept the trophy in the conference. The last two national champions have been from the Big East, maybe we can make it three in a row


Winter Mountaineering

My friend and I decided that with the warmer weather we have had recently, that Saturday would be a good day to climb a fourteneer. We decided to go for Mt Sherman from Leadville on the west side, which is not the standard route, but is closer to where we live. In winter the paved part of the road is clear to access an active mine, but is not maintained in winter beyond, where it turns to dirt. We parked here and headed up the dirt road, which was covered in well packed down snow from previous hikers and we didn't need snowshoes at that point. The road continues for about 2+ miles at which point we left the road to head over to a west-northwest facing gully that leads to the saddle between Mt Sherman and Mt Sheridan. From the end of the road the summit is about 2 1/4 miles away, and 2000 feet above. The traverse across the gulch required snowshoes, but the conditions were great at this point. As we entered the gully, the wind picked up (luckily from behind us), and we continued to climb on snow. The slopes are not steep, however there is steeper terrain to the sides that could potentially avalanche if conditions were right for it. Saturday there was hardly any snow at all on the majority of the slopes above us, and even in the gully the snow gave way to rock about halfway up, so no worries there. We reached the saddle about 3 1/2 hours after we started, which included a lunch break along the way. At the saddle the winds were really howling, and we climbed the ridge trying to stay on the leeward slopes to avoid the majority of the winds. At this point the ice axe came in real handy, as we were traversing steep snow below the crest of the ridge. At about 13,800' we abandoned this idea and headed over the crest to the west side. The travel on this side was relatively gentle, generally flat and on rocky surfaces, but the wind was a major factor at this point. It felt like a hurricane, and I would estimate it was a sustained wind of probably over 50 MPH. Luckily the last 1/4 mile or so of the ridge is basically flat the whole way to the summit, and wide enough to not feel like the wind would blow you off the mountain. It took an hour and a half to summit from the saddle with all the combating of winds and needing breaks to wait out larger gusts. The descent was even worse, and required us to crawl on all fours in a couple of places to keep from being knocked over, as the wind was more directly in our face. Descending the gully there were a few nice glissade sections, and the road back to the car was easy, but we were beat by this point. Fighting strong winds can really take a lot out of you! I have never climbed Sherman before, but have heard it is one of the easiest 14ers. I can see where in the summer it would be, as the terrain itself was not particularly steep and the overall distance and altitude gain is short when the road is clear. For people who think its easy they should try it in the winter with near hurricane force winds! The people who climb it in the summer don't know what they are missing...

Sunday I took care of some shopping going to Target and a few of the outlet stores in Silverthorne to buy some new clothes. The Gap outlet had some nice jeans for $30/ pair. Over in Summit County it was snowing, as it was in most of the Front Range including Denver and Boulder. Of course in my area it didn’t snow at all, so no new snow for Vail or Beaver Creek. Maybe we’ll get some this week, but it had been pretty dry over here lately. That evening it was Selection Sunday, and Syracuse on the heels of winning the Big East Tournament on Saturday looked to get a high seed. They got the 4 seed in the Austin bracket, I thought they should have gotten a little higher seed, but there are a lot experts who think they can make the Final Four, even though it will likely require beating Duke and Kentucky, two of the most winning programs in college basketball, in back to back games. To me one of the biggest surprises in the seedings was that Louisville, who was number 6 in the nation and the regular season, and tournament champion of their league, was only given a 4 seed. We’ll see how all the games go this week, its always interesting.


Spring Picnic

I just noticed that last week I didn’t post any update, sorry about that. It was pretty much the usual, skiing on the weekend, work during the week. This week was no different. Saturday I spent the day skiing at Beaver Creek with my friends Ben and Erica. Mostly we stayed on the groomed runs, but occasionally when there was a nice mogul run Ben and I would veer off that way. We explored a good amount of the resort, including spending a few runs in Bachelor Gulch which we never make it over to. There are a lot of nice cruisers over there, and a couple of runs through the aspens. They actually had a lot more of the mountain groomed than usual, Ben made the comment that it looked an old man who had lost all his hair. We had lunch at the Beaver Creek Chophouse where it was sunny and warm and we sat outside watching people come down the slopes. They have good food, and the prices are no more that what the on-mountain dining costs, and to be honest the $10 chicken sandwich is better than the $8 chili on the mountain anyway.

Sunday we met up again, this time at Vail. The plan was to meet over at Belle’s Camp, which is at the top of Blue Sky Basin for lunch. The thing is, there is no restaurant at the top of Blue Sky, or anywhere in Blue Sky for that matter. What Belle’s Camp does have is two public grilles. Its quite the scene actually, there are a lot of people who bring their own food and grill it, sometimes even sharing it with strangers. We had a wide variety of food in our group, brats, hot dogs, steaks, and even tuna, not the kind from the can of course. All you need is a backpack to carry stuff up, and you’re set. The views from there are great, as you are all the way in the back of Vail and have panoramic views of the Sawatch and Tenmile mountain ranges including 14er Mount of the Holy Cross. With all the sun and warm temperatures, we ended up hanging out up there for about an hour and half, leaving only when Blue Sky was getting ready to close at 3. It made for a nice mountain top picnic, and really economic way to have lunch on the slopes. It’s been quite spring-like up here the last couple of days with highs in the 40s in the valley and sunny. This made it perfect picnic at Belle’s weather, and I look forward to doing it again before the end of the season.

Otherwise the college basketball regular season wrapped up with a bang this weekend, especially today with previously undefeated Illinois falling to Ohio State. Actually, if they are looking to win a title, this loss probably did them good as teams that enter the tournament undefeated rarely have much success. Most of them don’t even make it out of the Sweet Sixteen. This also completes a season where Syracuse never lost to an unranked team, in fact with Illinois’ loss, they are the only team to not lose to an unranked team for the whole season. Of course, they didn’t beat too many ranked teams, and the tournament seeding always puts a lot of stock in “who you beat”. At least the teams we lost to are good, hopefully that counts for something.