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Skiing the Bell Curve 29 March 2010

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I haven’t written anything in a week, I don’t think, and although I’m tempted to blame that on something in life that intervened, it won’t work. Yes, topics came to mind, and I even put down 300 words on one of them, but every effort struck me as uninspired so I carried on in the belief that if I couldn’t write something worth reading, then I wouldn’t write anything at all. It’s been too long, though. Perhaps I need a change of scenery, some sights other than these same townhouses and pines that continue to sit outside my window at work… although if the Forest Service is right, the beetle larvae will kill the trees in a couple years anyway. I guess that’s progress.

It’s not that I’m anti-townhome necessarily, but rather that The Seasons, West Keystone’s option for more discerning and spendy travelers, represents the evidently inevitable progression and dilution of skiing into just one of the many activities offered at a full-service mega-resort. Like putt-putt golf on a cruise ship. Well, no, that shortchanges the product I sell, yet it hints at the direction the sport is moving. Open the pages of Ski Magazine (Skiing’s well-healed sister publication) and you’ll notice nearly as many articles and advertisements for Land Rovers and fine dining as you’ll see for mountains and techniques. Page 42 of February’s edition highlights the ice wines of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, and although dessert drinks hold a special place in my heart, I can’t remember the last time I gave much thought to a glass of riesling while on the slopes.

In all, it is the depiction of skiing as one facet of a lifestyle complete only once accompanied by golf-filled summers and a home on a cul-de-sac, not as an individual pursuit. Notice the language involved: “I am a skier,” not “I ski,” or “I enjoy skiing.” When we talk about skiing, then, we illustrate that it defines who we are, not what we do. That a sport can figure so largely as part of an identity ensures its durability, certainly, but perhaps at the expense of progress. And while I understand that the demographic figures indicate that the Land Rover-driving, town-home-vacationing types account for nearly all the money spent around here, I will not bow to the idea that these five-day visitors in any way advance or even sustain the sport. Money cannot replace vision, and the opportunity cost of every new condo is the terrain that could have been.

Or, as is the case of Crested Butte Mountain Resort near Gunnison, the Forest Service’s decision to kill a proposed expansion will probably work in the opposite direction, forestalling construction on any new condos. CBMR’s Snodgrass Expansion would have opened hundreds of acres of intermediate terrain rounding out a resort known almost exclusively as an experts-only, so-steep-I-just-wet-myself-a-little Shangri-La.The resort’s owners had argued that CBMR would survive if the new area opened–the dearth of blue runs had pushed skiiers to tamer mountains and visits had continued to fall. Otherwise, who knew how CBMR would fare. I can guess, however. Without miles of cruisers, without Breckenridge’s benign, well-groomed reliability, CBMR will not attract the crowd that reads Ski Magazine. And it won’t attract their dollars either.

At the same, time I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the progress: fat skis and hike-to terrain, the trickle-down from the experts, backcountry explorers and young skiers unsatisfied with carving. Innovation lies at the margins, even if the money doesn’t. When the Baby boomers retire, can we place our hope there? 

I know it shouldn’t bother me that a resort might die for lack of unchallenging terrain–after all, the bell curve applies just as well to skiing as it does to everything else–but it does. The cash has settled at the top of the curve, not at the tail with the ski bums, and so long as that remains the case (that is, indefinitely), the mega-mountains will cater to the median.

Stand strong, A-Basin. Stand strong.


Good news! 23 March 2010

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And lo, Ullr said unto them, the huddled locals, “I give you closures on I-70, eastbound on Vail Pass and westbound in Mt. Vernon Canyon, that my munificence may restore your faith. Where I have withheld my blessing, you may find powder in abundance. Go forth and ski my bounty.”

The people of Summit County saw this, and it was good.

Loveland Pass 22 March 2010

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Nothing much to write as of late and no new snow either, so I’ve instead taken to wandering around in the mountains. Living in the high country affords opportunities to walk outside a bit after work, just another reason I doubt I’ll return to the Midwest. As I’ve pointed out ad nauseum, it’s not that I didn’t enjoy living near St. Louis, but rather that St. Louis lies much too far from most every recreational activity I enjoy.

Click any image for a larger version. It’s worth it–usually.

Not much snow in March. Boo to Ullr.

Two guys who passed me, unfazed by the receding daylight.

Two Fourteeners: Torreys in front. Grays in the back. Real tall.

A-Basin: it's all open... finally.

You've seen a similar shot before.

No. No Snow. Well, not at Keystone anyway. 19 March 2010

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I am at a loss. The Summit Daily bannered “Storm to Drop 1-2 Feet of Snow on Summit” this morning and NOAA, the most conservative bunch of meteorologists around here, posted a 100% chance for 10-14 inches. Eleven o’clock rolled around. Nothing. NOAA had revised estimates downward: 90% for 8-12. Then one o’clock 70% and 3-7. But no. Nothing. It’s as though a force field exists around this place. The airborne assault cannot touch Keystone, Summit County misses yet another storm, and for the first time, I’m genuinely upset. Not miffed. Not agitated. Upset.

Yes, people are starving in Mali. Yes, more than one billion people around the world live on less than one dollar a day. Yes, my complaint is petty, insignificant, but there it is. What’s the point?

On the bright side, the snow fell in heaps on the other face of the Continental Divide, and that meant Michael and I got to play one of my favorite winter driving games (that I just invented): Guess the Next Wreck! The game is simple. The players propose the conditions of the next accident–car/SUV, in a ditch/into the median, head lights on/off and so forth–and then delight in discovering just how right or wrong they were. What fun!

This afternoon, for instance, we chanced upon the whole slate of interstate catastrophe: the mid-highway with collision requiring fire trucks and all; the sideways-slipping Honda CRV whose driver jumped out in the middle of the lane to inspect his predicament, and then a medley of cars and trucks ditched in the median, most gathering snow and awaiting the eventual (springtime?) return of an owner.

Best of all, we played audience to Audi driver’s expert performance just outside the airport. Tearing away from an intersection intent on playing bumper bowl with the sides of a bridge, his determination paid off in a vehicular pirouette on the slush. Bounce! Into the left wall with terrific force. Then, reverse, and in an effort to outdo himself, another hard acceleration. Bounce! Into the right wall before speeding off, surely to fulfill a rather more important engagement with a lamppost or a trashcan. I should hope he doesn’t disappoint.

Snow? 19 March 2010

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Goodness gracious sakes alive! They’re calling for up to two feet of snow today and tonight. So far: nothing. But I can see a few flakes in the street lamps right now, and I’m hopeful, velly velly hopeful.

Real post to follow today so long as I can devote enough time at work between all the calls to cancel vacations.

Words Mean… Stuff! 14 March 2010

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“This blueprint lays the right markers to help us reset the bar for our students and the nation.”

That’s Representative George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor (because schools and unions are the same thing, right?) on the administration’s proposed education reforms. Evidently the blueprint, which is really a brief policy document, has laid “markers,” which sounds to me rather like dropping buoys off a boat, to help us “reset the bar” which means about as much as “unhinge the doohicky.” On education, of course. Education’s doohicky needs unhinging.

It’s fun to strip words of any meaning, kids! You can try it at home.  Just take phrases you’ve heard on CNN and mash them together until a period looks necessary. For starters:

At the end of the day, the takeaway is the we’ve thrown setting a new paradigm under the bus.

Going forward, the nation requires a robust vision for the future.

Da Bears.

More bad English to titillate here.

Zamboni Fail 10 March 2010

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Effective Immediately: The Ice Skating Pond has Closed for the Remainder of the Season

Temperatures over the last week have hovered in the forties…

…meaning: Zamboni Fail.

Apologies to everyone I told about the free ice skating. May you enjoy tubing and fudge-making instead.

Glad we didn’t die… 9 March 2010

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Beat this by just 15 minutes last night. Hooray for continued existence.

Skiing Utah: Brighton and Solitude 8 March 2010

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It's everything you'd ever wanted in a mountain.

For the last month or so, we’d intended to swing into Taos for a bit of southwestern skiing and gawking. I’d recalled visiting there, what, more half my life ago, now, and had looked forward to catching whatever it is that makes Taos a known place on the map. Back in 1997 I recall that my dad bought a hat there, and I think a belt. We ate at a restaurant with a poster of the Scoville Scale and the corresponding peppers, then wandered around some kitschy art galleries before retiring to a Comfort Inn and Suites. This is what I remember.

But evidently the skiing at Taos also attracts the winter sports types who enjoy steeps and bumps and hiking and all of that. Until Friday morning, we were in. Taos had gone for days without snow, though, and a peek at the highest points on Breck, which had received similarly little snow, indicated that the conditions in NM would prove downright upsetting. Even the best art galleries and the quaintest cafes wouldn’t offset atrocious snow.

We’d realized this earlier in the week, of course, and had wrung our hands. We thought of Aspen and Telluride, Crested Butte and even Silverton, and then on Friday morning, we saw that the Salt Lake City mountains had received nearly two feet of snow. Done. I cancelled my reservation at the Best Western Kachina Lodge and Meeting Center (Thanks, front-desk Kelly. Sorry, Taos.) and booked a highway hotel in Midvale, UT. We would ski “The Greatest Snow on Earth” if only because the state of Utah has trademarked that phrase.

The name leaves nothing to the imagination.

As it stands, I have skied a vanishingly small portion of the Earth’s snow, and so cannot say whether Utah’s deserves the superlative. I can, however, tell you that it rates as very, very good, based on quantity alone. Coloradans who worship Wolf Creek’s 400+ inches forget that even the lesser-known resorts in Utah receive a scant 500 inches annually. This is A Lot of Snow. Check out Big Cottonwood Canyon’s two gems, Solitude and Brighton: 2550 acres of fresh, light, and untracked powder.

New Skis 3 March 2010

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08/09 Rossignol Phantom SC 80

I’ve come to believe that upon arriving in skibumdom one ought to receive a ski-bum rubric for self-evaluation, and though I haven’t quite decide what needs to appear on the rubric, I feel certain of a few points. First, skis. The ski bum arrives without equipment — his family’s ten days a year have never made it necessary, so when the ski shop gear guy tells him, “You can pick skis now, but when you really know what you want in three months, you’ll be back” it barely registers. Two pairs of skis? That’s for Serious Ski People. No way. Yet it continues to knock around in the recesses of the mind for a while, until finally it begins competing for space with thoughts like “where are the single women?”

And at that point, the ski bum follows one of two paths. He inspects his bank account, finds his reserves adequate, and purchases a second pair of skis. Or, he inspects his bank account, finds his reserves inadequate, and purchases skis. This earns him high points on the ski bum rubric. Money in the bank signals foresight and security, therefore dealing the severest of blows to the ski bum’s score.

So as you might imagine, I bring all this up because I, too, have just purchased a second set of skis. (Ski blather follows.) I’d discovered the limitations of my Rossignol Phantom 80s. They chattered at speed. They dove all too happily in powder. They skittered in thick crud, worrying me about the possibility of deflection and disaster. But they also laid down railroad tracks on groomers and bounced through moguls without much effort. They were serviceable nearly everywhere. But serviceable left me wanting something more, so I settled on a pair of dedicated powder and crud skis: the Dynastar Huge Troubles.

08/09 Dynastar Huge Trouble

And they rock.

Sure the ski season won’t last much into April, and sure I don’t even know what I’ll be doing after that, but skiing will continue to figure into life here and there. The impulsiveness has once again subsided so I can once again move on, improving my ski bum score with each passing day.