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Colorado Weather 30 November 2009

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If accurate predictions play any part in meteorologists’ job security around here, then the turnover has to be eye-popping. Maybe all the signs warning that this is a “High Alpine Environment: Conditions may change rapidly” offer some sort of insurance. Like, even if you get those snow forecasts entirely wrong, you can shrug your shoulders and say “Hey, who knows? Those conditions? Definitely changing to rapidly too predict. I just get paid to do this.” Whatever.

Eventually it will snow here — forming those enormous and lovely pillows of powder — regardless of whether it shows up in the weather report. But for the time being, stop tantalizing those of us in Summit County! 60% chance of snow? 2 to 5 inches? These are the things weekend plans are made of. You just can’t prop up those kind of hopes willy nilly, even if the stress level in Summit County comes in a few notches below “totally mellow, man.” No excuse in that for inspiring a little weather angst. It’s not right. We skiers are a simple people, euphoric at the mere thought of making some fresh tracks, of shredding the gnar gnar if you prefer the local vernacular.

Then again, we’re still following the season averages out here, and it’s all too easy to forget that we haven’t yet left November. And yes, the meteorologists do have it pretty hard. 13000′ mountains arranged every which way across the state make every forecast a gamble. Where storms on the plains sweep eastward so predictably that even an agoraphobic Omahan can give an ETA on the rain without a peek out the window, systems break and buck when they crash into the mountains. Even the surest cell dumping an inch an hour may dissolve into sunshine by the next valley. Curious.

So let’s look take a relative look at things: back in Williamsburg right now, everyone can look forward to another chilly day of rain. Given a choice, I’d take cold and clear (even without snow) every time. When the snow does come to Summit County, and it will, we’ll find only nice things to say about the weathermen. They deserve a raise, right?

Happy Thanksgiving 27 November 2009

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Happy Thanksgiving from 9300′, where everyone’s scratching his head at the “High Altitude” directions on the box of stuffing. I hope this works.

Even after a relatively upsetting year, what with the job search and the economy and all, finding reasons to give thanks still seems pretty easy: thanks for a job; thanks for Colorado; thanks for friends; thanks for my skis, mountains and gravity. And while at the same time it’s so easy to slip into the maudlin, on today of all days that’s okay. In America, even the uncertainty of ski bumming beats the chronic pain of the more than 1,000,000,000 people around the global living from hand to mouth. Thanks, evolution/god, for cognitive dissonance.

Anyway, I hope that all of you at lower and warmers climes have enjoyed yourselves today. I hope you’ve found come together in that way that occurs just once a year, to celebrate family and friends. Ignore the banality of it and revel in the joy of relationships, shared times and good food.

More Openings 25 November 2009

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In preparation for the arriving holiday horde — from the eastern steppes no less — Breck opened Peak 9 today. Lots of greens and a few blues (Check out the terrain report here). Word from the two Breck vacationers I ran into today is that no one has figured out the traverse between Peaks 8 and 9, so skiing on 9 entailed(s?) few if any lift line headaches. Don’t know whether that’ll hold tomorrow, though.

Rumor around here has North Peak open at Keystone on Thanksgiving Day. So, if you’re not feeling so enthusiastic about another Detroit drubbing and think a few turns on the steeps might stave off your tryptophin-induced coma instead, Keystone may well be your best bet.

Today’s Phone Call 23 November 2009

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Phone call from today:

“Welcome to Keystone Reservations, my name is Andy. May I have your name please?”

“Ted”

“Thanks, Ted. How can I help you today?”

“Yeah, I’m on the River Run Gondola, and it’s not moving.”

“Umm, you’ve called Keystone Reservations…”

“Then give me the number for mountain operations. This thing’s stopped.”

“All right. Hold on just a sec while I find the right place to transfer you.”

“Oh, nevermind. It’s moving, now.”

“Is there anything else I can help you with today, Ted?”

“Give me the number in case it stops again.”

“Oh okay. [number].”

::click::

Oh noes, humanity.

Skiing 23 November 2009

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If you’re a Summit County native or a skier who’s spent more than two seasons on the slopes, you’re probably turning up your nose at the conditions out here this weekend. If you’re like me (or for the grammatically snobbish “… like I am”) then you’re out on the slopes with an ear-to-ear grin on your face.

Both Breckenridge and Keystone opened new terrain and lifts for this weekend. Intuitively, you’d think that would spread skiers and boarders out across the 130 acres or so accessible on each mountain, but in practice, most everyone sticks it out on the same few trails — falling, sitting, stopping, careening out of control, on the same few trails. Amidst this, I’m still grinning, but, yeah, I understand why the guys who spend more time out here say they won’t have anything to do with it. Not yet anyway.

Sure, under that half-inch layer of man-made snow lies a sheet of ice, slow polks crowd the slopes and only about five of the one hundred plus trails here at Keystone have actually opened. But already that means better skiing than you’ll find most anywhere on the east coast. The runs are longer, the steeps — such as they are at this point — steeper, and the scenery, well, nothing east of here can match that. Out here, you’re actually skiing this point. You feel the wind in your face. Your quads burn. You swear at snowboarders for sitting in the middle of the run. These define the the ski season despite the less charitable stats in the terrain report.  Skiing has begun.

Snow/Ski Report! (Woooo?!!1)

A couple notes for anybody in Summit County reading this, too:

Keystone’s open top to bottom and has just pulled back the ropes on Schoolmarm, an interminable and generally uninteresting beginner slope. And don’t hold out hope that bombing down it will improve things. Seems like Ski Patrol’s just about everywhere to stamp out that urge. Instead, beat the crowds on weekends by taking Flying Dutchman down to the Montezuma Chair where you’ll sidle up to the front of the line while the rabble from Schoolmarm piles up opposite you. Doing that, you’ll miss out on the morass of ice and flailing bodies that is lower River Run at this point, as well.

Breck’s opened a couple runs between Peaks 8 and 7, Duke’s somethingorother and Northstar, a blue/black and blue respectively. Take the Rocky Mountain Express chair in the morning to these more interesting runs that pull you away from the already-crowded beginner areas. Nothing too special, but at least you’re not stuck on run-outs most of the time. The Colorado Super Chair now leads to a couple short blacks with moguls as well. Didn’t get a chance to check them out (in part because bumps still make me a bit nervous but also because I wanted to avoid lift line purgatory), but Sara H. says they’re all right. Probably the most challenging things a Breck at this point. Word on the street has Peak 9 opening by/for Thanksgiving, too.

A-Basin’s open top-to-bottom as well, but the top’s the only bit worth skiing on weekends. The two blue that split off past the mid-station alternate between ice and crud, and the long lift ride back to even the mid-point will make you question the value of going all the way to the bottom. Unless it dumps and/or A-Basin opens more terrain (that is, all that untracked powder you see on the way to the top), Keystone’s probably the best of the bunch for the time being. Smaller lift lines and longer runs mean more fun skiing.

Something Else 19 November 2009

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So I guess I’m supposed to add something new, something about how life in Colorado has surpassed all my expectations. Instead, you’re getting an entry that follows an evening at the bar — perhaps that’s more in line with the typical life of the ski bum out here. There’s no snow to speak of yet, so we’ve occupied ourselves with drinking and talking shop. Like today, about the guy who seemed most upset that he’d been priced out of the market even though he’d been coming to Keystone for the last ten years. “It’s supply and demand,” I pointed out. “Rising demand has pulled up the prices for three bedroom condos. It’s a shame you can’t find your typical rate closer to $400 a night.”

And of course, he grew livid. “Yeah, that’s how it works. Demand means more than ten years of coming there. You don’t give a shit about your customers.” An interesting point. Maybe we (Vail) don’t (doesn’t) give a shit. So here’s the thing — and I’m trying to tie this back to humanity somehow — is that kind of loyalty worth a discount? If you’ve been coming to Keystone for 10 years, at seven times a year, should the reservations department cut you a break? It’s a tough call.

On the one hand, you can say sure, the money you’ll make off that customer in the future will more than make up for the loss on those few days. But at the same time, you’re offered a gamble. He’s been coming here for ten years after all, so will this one setback sour him on the Keystone experience forever? Or at least long enough to matter? Evidently, our office bet against that possibility. Meeting the demand for rooms around Christmas struck management as more important than mollifying one disappointed guest. So you have that.

It present a curious situation, though. Vail’s The Man around here; the company runs the show in Summit County, so while it’s hard to feel sorry for the enormous corporation from the outside, it seems so much harder to discount its position on an individual basis. The dollars at stake don’t just go to executives. They fall into the pockets of the lifties and dining services folks, and yes, the vacation coordinators as well. So as much as it’s trendy to hate Megacorp X, it’s equally important to consider that Megacorp employs a bunch of folks who depend on its continued profitability. I know I do.

The Mountains (Part 1 of…) 15 November 2009

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You’ve read the introduction, so now it becomes a thing of where to begin in earnest. How about the mountains? This is Colorado after all, and Summit County at that, so I’ll start there, where the Rockies’ Front Range rises in front of Denver like a… like a wave about to crash over a sandcastle. Even Denver’s tallest buildings look inconsequential, absurd even, against those mountains.

Arriving from the east coast or the midwest, nothing prepares you for the sight. The idea that “mountains are big” remains filed somewhere with the recesses of the mind, in that same academic way that you might recall that more than a billion people live in China. The immensity of the thing prevents comprehension until it’s Right There. You hit the reset button on your sense of scale. Man is not the measure of all things here in Colorado. The mountains are. They define this place.

But if they’re the definition, it’s almost a sad irony that I’ve so quickly run out of words to describe them. At 13,000 feet on Loveland Pass last weekend, I realized I’d plumbed the depths of my vocabulary. Awesome seemed to fit. But so did “totally rad” and “this is ridiculous” and “I can’t believe we live here” and, well, all of that. Pulchritudinous came to mind, too, but that sounded pedantic. As always, expressing the thought in French gave the same idea just a little more through sheer simplicity. So… “Les montagnes et la neige. Ici, c’est jolie.”

At any rate, I can’t help but linger in bed every morning watching the alpenglow recede from the peaks down the valley from my apartment complex. Between the angle of the sun and quality of the morning air, that golden glow hangs there, honey drizzled on the snowcaps. Maybe that counts for something more than words.

It is a beginning 10 November 2009

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This is Colorado

This is a blog about life lived. At about 9300 ft above mean sea level. Sometimes higher.

That line appealed to me, although there’s really no good way to begin a blog, I guess. They sort of pop into existence – one moment electrical ether, then – bam! – blog, mediocrity. There it is, impossible construction and all. So, anyway, this is a(nother) blog and this entry is, hopefully, the first of many. But as often happens in the online world, it’s also possible that this will become the last as well. Chronic apathy: an eternal, indomitable? foe.

Have I drawn you in yet? Made this worth reading?

Probably not.

Here’s the thing, and there’s no way of getting around it: I’m in Colorado and I’ve told myself that I’m going to blog about my experiences here, narcissistic as that endeavor may sound. So let’s just make sure you understand right now that I’m writing because I think you’ll find what I have to say worth reading. That involves an enormous assumption on my part, but it’s an assumption shared by hundreds of thousands of others who set out the same way, so here’s hoping I can make good on the “worth reading” bit.

Along those lines, I’ll try to avoid the relentlessly tiring prose style so often found in this kind of thing. So many twenty-somethings mire themselves in breathless narratives: “And then I… and then I… and then I… We got drunk. [titter and blather ad nauseum].” That I think I can keep the mundane locked away in my private journal perhaps displays a little too much optimism, but it’s a good place to start. No breathless narratives.

While it’s already obvious that I can’t promise to avoid the personal pronoun, insofar as it’s possible, I’ll give you ideas and sketches applicable and entertaining to folks other than myself. That is my promise. Even if you don’t ski, you’ll get something out of this blog. I’m not so deluded as to think my life matters more than things which surround it, human, mountain or otherwise. We are all our favorite people and want to find ourselves in what others say. I hope I can give you that – two or three days a week.

Nothing about the mountains yet, lest I run out of material too soon, but if my sense of this ski season holds some merit, there’s plenty left to talk about. You’ll see soon enough.