Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ski Colorado

I didn't get enough of Colorado skiing three years ago (only skied Steamboat), and since that time I've had multiple friends move there (school/work/play) and I now have NSP status to help with lift tickets. As a result of these two facts, I impulsively decided sometime in January that it was time for another go-round with Colorado skiing and booked a trip for the very first weekend in March.

I packed super strategically for this trip fitting everything I needed to take into a carry-on suitcase and my backpack. I fortunately had skis to use in CO so I only had to pack clothing, boots, and helmet. It was a bit tricky, but I managed. The hardest decision of all was to leave my DSLR at home. That camera is like my left arm when it comes to trips and the like. I take it everywhere. Deciding to leave it home and only take my piddly point and shoot was a really, really hard decision, but I'm glad I made it. Ye olde point and shoot did pretty good.

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I arrived  last Thursday night, was dropped off at Chris' house by the blue shuttle bus (which was late, which totally resulted in my composing a spoof of "Red Solo Cup" to "Blue Shuttle Bus" on FB...), and we promptly headed for dinner because I'm a fatty I was starving from the trip - seriously, no more complementary food on flights, you gotta PAY for it! We caught up (7 months of not seeing one another) and discussed skiing plans for the next few days over an awesome Ethiopian dinner. I'd hoped to ski Vail, Breck, and A-Basin each of my three ski days and Chris was cool with that idea. However, upon calling my Aunt to confirm rendezvous Vail plans for the following day, she informed me that it was pretty crazy over there due to some big snowboarding championships that were going on, in fact, they were even going snowmobiling and not skiing that day. That was enough to encourage me to look elsewhere for day one of skiing, so it was decided that we would head to Breck early the next day.

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Because Chris is the most enthusiastic person ever, we got up early to try to beat traffic to Breck. Early for him, not so bad for me with the time difference. Wake, prep, breakfast, out the door in good time. Still didn't help with the traffic unfortunately. Roads were pretty bad through the mountains due to snow and people were driving like idiots. Good to know that even in Colorado snow causes people to lose their minds driving.

Chris was an awesome ski guide the whole trip. He really set the bar the first day navigating us all over Breck on each of the 4 peaks they have. Never hit super crazy terrain as I didn't want to kill my legs on day one, but we definitely got some quality skiing in. It snowed the whole day we were there and we got to ski a lot of powder all over the mountain.

After a brief break for mai-tais and kickass quesadillas, we took the T-bar up to Horseshoe bowl for some steeper powder skiing. It was windy as hell up there - mostly it was windy higher up on the mountain all day that day, but up on the terrain above T-bar it was INSANE. I couldn't see ANYTHING beyond about 4 feet in front of my face. Snow up there was DEEP, too. It was a whole other world for this east coast skier - I managed but it definitely wasn't Warren Miller film quality skiing. I had a blast though.

Night two we hit up the Oskar Blues brewery (Dale's Pale Ale) for drinks and eats. Aside from skiing in CO, my other goal was to hit up a few breweries and good eats while I was there. (Ethiopian was an awesome start.) Oskar Blues' food was southern-esque, though not quite like the southern cooking I'm familiar with from my mom (a SC native). The atmosphere was really cool though and they had a live blues/rock band playing that night that covered Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Chubby Checker among others. It was a really fun time and an awesome end to my first full day in CO.

Riding up the T-Bar
Somewhere on Peak 10
Somewhere on Peak 10

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Early morning day two we headed to A-Basin. My patrol friends have really talked this place up and its where Chris plans to patrol next year.

I loved it.

A-Basin was a lot smaller than Breck. I liked this because I really got a feel for the mountain. I got some fair practice skiing steeps with tele gear this day. It was a whole new experience in many ways. Its only my second season on tele skis, and Canaan only offers so much in the way of terrain. Many tell me I'm a "natural" (whatever that means, haha) at the whole tele business, but its still a steep learning curve and I'm out of my comfort zone on a regular basis. I did manage to make some progress at A-Basin though. Legs-a-burning, but progress made.

The icing on the cake that day though? Getting to watch the ava-launcher demos and see three avalanches triggered. REALLY cool. (That day was a big one for a lot of natural slides, too, as we discovered driving out of A-Basin that afternoon and over the Continental Divide through backcountry terrain - slides e'rrywhere!) 

Additionally, I got to spend time hanging out with the A-Basin patrol in the hut at the top and ski with one of the patrollers for a run or two. Understandably, its a whole different world than Canaan. However, the camaraderie of the patrol was very much like my own; its a big reason why people choose to patrol, not the skiing perks or training, but the teamwork and friendship gained in working together in an environment like that.

The view from A-Basin's Patrol hut - a little more awesome than Canaan
Note the natural slides

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With concerns about weekend traffic (which had been a bitch at this point despite our early departures) and the ability of my legs to withstand another day at a resort, we opted for a slightly slower third morning with our sights on skiing at Rocky Mtn. Nat'l Park (RMNP) in the backcountry.

The weather was warm (40s in the park, 60s in Boulder) and beautiful, albeit a little windy. Chris took me to Bear Lake and we skied our way up to Emerald Lake, which is right below a few backcountry couloirs. We skinned up to the apron below Dragon's Tail, a coveted backcountry ski line in the park,  and decided to put in a few turns on the apron.

It was a really incredible experience. I hadn't done any backcountry skiing like that before. Skinning up was a really sweet experience, learning some snow science behind avalanche safety was awesome, and getting back away from everything and into the rugged environment was really cool. Such an extreme landscape back there.

The wind was RIPPING. Its a factor I'm REALLY not accustomed to dealing with in that intensity. There were times when we were skinning up the apron when I was nearly knocked down from the intensity of it. Snow thrown at my face stung from the force of the winds. I got to a point where I would stop and wait for it to die down before I moved forward.

The snow turned not-so-awesome during our climb up, and I ended up not being able to make very pretty turns coming down, but it was still such an awesome experience. It was a lot of fun (albeit a little terrifying for me as the trails were super narrow) to ski out past the hikers and snowshoers. We spent nearly 2 hours skinning in and probably 20 minutes skiing out (if that). Zoom!

A lot of the RMNP backcountry excursion pushed me mentally. Dealing with the new, extreme environment, the wind, the snow, the threat of avalanche, the narrow trails - these are all novel experiences for me. Chris knew I was physically capable though, and I suppose I knew it deep down, too. He set up the perfect first backcountry experience for me. I was more than capable physically to accomplish it (although my lungs got taxed pretty quickly from the altitude which led to frequent breaks on my part). Mentally, it taxed me and pushed me, but not too far and completely in a positive way. I really enjoyed the trek, fear and all.

We slaughtered some really awesome Mexican food post-ski in Estes park. When we returned to Boulder we hit up REI and a huge alcohol store, and then spent the evening in eating left overs and playing the biggest Cards Against Humanity game I've been involved in. Usually when patrol plays on our night shift we might have 6 people, but we had 8 at one point last night. It was absurd. We played through until all of the white cards had been used up. So ridiculous. I love that game.

Bright green lichen
Half-way there; you can see the destination directly behind me
Skinning up the apron
View from the apron
View of our ski at center and up

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Monday was a recovery day for my body after three days of crazy skiing. I had planned to ride a bike into downtown Boulder to peruse the streets and shops, but a freak snowstorm prevented those plans. Instead, I did laundry and lay around all day watching Law and Order SVU on Netflix (don't judge me!) because Chris was at work all day.

I did manage to make plans with another long-time friend from home for dinner that night. We met up with her for an early dinner at a great Indian restaurant and then hung out at her apartment for awhile catching up.

I love having friends that live in cool places, and I especially love that my Boulder friends are there because they're moving toward the next big step in their lives by pursuing a Ph. D. or working their first "big kid" job. However, it is very sad to see them so seldom. I was thankful for the time we got to spend together while I visited.

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Trip two to Colorado was a really awesome one. I'd say it tops the first trip 3 years ago only because this trip did not require sleeping in a 2-door Yaris (with luggage, skis, and another person). I look forward to more Rocky Mountain ski trips in the future with awesome friends. Maybe Utah next time? Or Idaho? Or Canada (Andrea?!)? Or  back to Montana? Its great to have options, and its even better to have friends in all of these places to visit while I play.

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