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The Cost of Flying 30 December 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Travel.
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As you hate on the airlines for bag fees this holiday season, this is a sentence worth considering:

Domestic prices are about 35 percent cheaper per mile when adjusted for inflation than in 1995, in spite of significantly greater operating costs.

That’s Hamsa Balakrishnan, assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at M.I.T.

More here.

Another Return to St. Charles 28 December 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Self, Travel.
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I’ve wandered beyond Colorado for a little bit, so you’re getting a short post, and one unrelated to skiing or a Colorado ski town.

I’ve returned to St. Charles for the holidays,but the ski updates will soon enough, I’m sure.  For now, this marks a time to once again reflect on coming home. Since the end of college, these periods spent away have continued to expand, and the moments at home have become just that, moments. It’s a natural progression, I suppose, for anyone who leaves “homes” and starts a life elsewhere, but it’s one I’m just now exploring, with so many twenty somethings around to explore it with me. Nearly three in four college graduates moves at some point in his life according to the the Pew Research Center. I imagine that move most often comes right after college itself.

In the Midwest, though, nearly half of Americans never leave their hometowns.   And I’m from the Midwest. I return to see family and friends. Those who have moved return for the same reason. Thanksgiving and Christmas have become as much about reunion as about eating and gift-giving. I’m okay with that.

I’m giving you some photos with this post–not great ones–but I’d rather you reflect on why it is you go home. What’s there? Why do you return? And perhaps most importantly: why did you move?

Here’s wishing you a happy and safe holiday season, wherever you’re spending it.

Wolf Creek and Breckenridge 22 December 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Skiing, Travel.
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In response to the person who reached this blog by Googling “Is Wolf Creek less crowded than Breckenridge?”:

YES

…and Texas wants you back.

Skiing Eldora 22 December 2010

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Nothing brings Christmas cheer like sunny skies in Denver and feet upon feet of snow in the mountains. Actually, no. I’d take some snow here, too, but at any rate, the soft flakes continue to fall in the high country—even as we speak, dear readers!—again meaning that I assembled my crack team of product testers and headed west, this time to sample the slopes of Eldora.

Please forgive me for thinking it sounds like something out of a Tolkien novel, but really… Eldora? As in, “There, beyond the last gates of the city Nederland lies the elven enclave of Eldora, a place steeped in legend and mystery.” But I’ll come off it. In reality, Eldora’s not the stuff of legends, or even day dreams for most folks. If anything, it’s convenient.

After fighting against I-70 traffic every weekend, trying a hassle-free drive instead holds some merit. And at only 21 miles from Boulder and 45 miles from Denver, Eldora offers that. You won’t get any gray hairs from that commute, and you won’t grow much older either. In fact, it almost feels like a Utah ski morning: the drive up the canyon; the sunny skies giving way to clouds; the snow piling up with elevation.

But at the end of the road, you’ll find Eldora, not Alta or Brighton. Bummer, dude.

If you liked East Coast skiing, you’ll feel at home here. Quirky, slow lifts are the norm, and the terrain never rises above treeline. If you squint, the town of Ned kinda sorta looks like Brattleboro, but not really. At any rate, seeing all this in Colorado will bring about fond or perhaps painful memories for anyone who grew up skiing the Ice Coast.

Our test day, a Sunday, fell on the second or third day of what has become a storm of epic proportions. On Monday, NOAA actually called the thing “epic,” citing “phenomenal” snow totals in an inspiring display of vocabulary. Some areas of Colorado will see eight feet when it’s all said and done—and the residents of Crested Butte and Silverton have been told to stock up on perishables. A very white Christmas indeed.

But Eldora had reported 7″ overnight, for a total of 11″ in the past 72 hours. Not bad given that the snow continued throughout the day. It felt like less than that, but whatever. New snow is new snow. We rolled up at noon and still experienced quite a bit of it. And that’s the thing to like about Eldora, I think. Or maybe the other thing, since it’s convenient, too. Hardly anyone’s skiing there, and those that do confine themselves to a few blue slopes. Even with the trees closed, we managed to find trails where we were the only ones in sight, despite the fact that this place, when fully open, comprises just 680 acres.

Eldora is a place nearly as big as the biggest, baddest resort in the East, Killington. It lies within a couples hours’ drive for a good portion of the Front Range’s four million residents, yet it lacks lift lines. Altogether, it sounds like a winning combination, and in Maine or New Hamphire, it probably would be. But here it ranks only as mediocre.

>Nearly everywhere else in Colorado receives more snow. Nearly everyone else has steeper terrain. Nearly everyone offers better lifts and more services at the base area. I can ski better trees at Keystone, better steeps at A-Basin, better snow at Vail, and I don’t have to pay that much to do it. Sure, if you ski Eldora, check out the Corona and Indian Peaks lifts. When Corona Bowl’s open, I’m sure it can be a fun little powder field, but overall it’s too small a place to keep experts entertained for too long. The lack of lift lines only creates more opportunities to lap the same terrain. Eldora isn’t a place to explore.

But at the same time, H said she got good vibes from it. Lots of positive energy there and none of the frantic powder mania at the I-70 resorts, even on a solid powder day. We found freshies at three when patrol dropped some ropes. We found more in the trees. And for that, I can appreciate Eldora, but I simply can’t appreciate it enough to choose it over A-Basin.

Ski Review! Liberty LTE, Salomon Twenty Twelve, Icelantic Shaman 15 December 2010

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Reviews are better than commentary, so if you’re impatient, scroll down to skip this first part. I also review the Icelantic Keeper and Nomad here

How’s the weather in your neck of the woods? From the reports rolling into Colorado, it appears the Midwest is experiencing Snowmageddon 2010, in an attempted repeat of Snowmageddon: Washington, DC edition. 30″ in Minnesota? It’s a shame to see so much powder wasted on folks who’ll do nothing more than wreck their cars in it. But here in Denver, it’s 65 and sunny—not bad given that a foot and a half of snow blanketed the mountains in the days leading up to the weekend.

And of course, a foot and a half of snow means one thing: skiing must occur. Lots and lots of skiing. I won’t bore you with story after story of fresh tracks at Vail, so instead, let’s discuss new skis. With the advent calendar (and the regular calendar, too, I guess) indicating that only 10 gift-buying days remain, the Winter Park demo days this weekend arrived at just the right time: late enough keep memories strong and early enough to get everything shipping from Amazon.com (or Level9) before Christmas. We got the chance to check out a few pairs, so let’s take a look here.

Skier Specs

Male, 5′ 10″ 145 lbs. Advanced/expert.

Currently skis on

– Dynastar Huge Trouble 185cm

– Head Monster i.M. 88 175cm

– Rossignol Phantom SC 80 165cm

Skis reviewed: Liberty LTE, Salomon 2012, Icelantic Shaman

Terrain/Conditions

Although other terrain exists, Winter Park is known almost exclusively for its bumps, and to a lesser degree, for its trees. When we skied on Dec. 12, a couple inches had fallen overnight on top of five from the day before and temperatures had risen to the upper twenties. Snow in the trees was still fairly soft and untracked in places. Bumps skied soft for the most part. No open bowl skiing to testcrud/chop performance.

Liberty LTE

As tested dimensions: 171cm, 116/83/105 sidecut, 18.5m radius

Liberty’s based just up the road a ways in Avon, home of Beaver Creek, but if you think forging skis in the shadow of the state’s poshest resort would make them more luxurious, you’re in for a surprise. Liberty’s all about twin tips, bamboo cores and crazy topsheet graphics—not what you’d expect on the slopes where fresh cookies arrive every day at 3:00 p.m. The LTE fits into the Liberty line-up as the narrowest of the bunch, designed, as the rep told me, to be an “all-mountain ski that’s fun in the park.” I guess so.

It’s a floppy, forgettable ski. On groomers, it held an edge fairly well and easily snapped into turns, almost feeling hooky in the process. At speed, however, they gave out. I’m used to my Monsters which, when skied lackadaisically, flex about as well as I-beams, and when skied aggressively, feel like aiming a freight train. On the other hand, the LTEs twitch and chatter too much for their own good. I definitely sensed a speed limit—and that speed limit fell way short of the fun threshold.

In bumps, the performance improved. These skis are fairly narrow (83mm underfoot) and light, so they respond well in moguls, but there again, they felt like I was overpowering them. I’d rate the pow performance, but honestly, I doubt many folks will buy this ski with deeper snow in mind. The one tree run we explored confirmed that the LTE isn’t much of a floater, not that you’d expect that with dimensions like these. These simply don’t provide enough ski for all-mountain skiing. If I played around in the park more often, maybe I’d give the LTEs another look, but as it is, they can stay in Avon.

Salomon 2012

As tested dimensions: 179cm, 123/91/116 sidecut, 21.9m radius

Nearly everyone’s offering rocker this year, and I think K2 even went so far as to include some form of it on every ski in its lineup. Seems consumers really bought into the idea that reverse camber tips and tails are the best thing since sidecut. They might be right. I tested the 2012s after coming off the Liberty LTEs mostly because the line at the Salomon tent was shortest and this was the only available ski with rocker.

Turns out a lot of the marketing hype carries some truth. Taking the 2012’s through the trees on the first run, I skied with a fairly natural stance and couldn’t get the tips to dive. This is another soft ski, but the 2012 refuses to take itself too seriously. Salomon’s not shooting for the all-mountain market with this thing. Or at least I hope they’re not. It’s playful in the pow, and the rocker makes it ski much shorter than the listed 179cm, something I noticed in the easy turn linking in fairly shallow snow. It just takes less work.

In bumps, I felt like the ski was again doing a little of the work for me. The rockes and the soft flex (bordering on noodly) absorbed a lot of the impact that would have gone straight to my thighs, and with the center mount, they swung with relatively ease when I needed to change direction. Somewhere along the line, I recall thinking, “these are a lot of fun.” The 2012’s a fun ski, nothing too aggressive and nothing requiring too much precision. They forgive sloppy technique, although don’ t expect any sort of edge hold on groomers regardless of technique. Seems like the usable edge stretches about 30 of those 179 centimeters. I suspect this is the kind of ski you want if most of your day is spent poking around in the trees and finding little cliffs to stomp.

Icelantic Shaman

As tested dimensions: 173cm, 160/110/130 sidecut, 15m radius


I fell in love with these skis, although I can’t for the life of me figure out why the company spelled the name as they did. Did someone make a typo filling out a federal form? At any rate, these were, hands down, my favorite skis of the day. Once you get past the gaudy/artistic?topsheet graphics and the WTF shape of the Shamans, you realize you’ve found something special. How did did Icelantic get a ski like this to carve a 15m radius? How did they ensure that the same ski promises even more fun in powder? I don’t know. I wish I knew. The Shaman lays down railroad tracks, at speed even, and never feel chattery doing it. Edge to edge it transitions faster and surer than an 90+ mm ski I’ve tried, yet in reality it clocks in at 110mm.

The huge tip refuses to dive in powder. This is a ski happy to float at an speed, and I’d like to get it out again to see out it performs in open bowl pow conditions. I’d expect a fairly surfy feel. In the trees at least, they came around with relative ease, never feeling like too much ski to handle despite the width.

No report from the bumps, unfortunately since I managed to squeeze in just two runs on these at the end of the day. We’d dropped in several times over the course of the afternoon only to find that everyone else wanted to try out the Shamans too. An accommodating rep gave us some extra time as he closed up shop.

I never thought I’d recommend anything over 100 as an all-mountain ski out west, but the Shaman may well be it. It’s that good.

Wolf Creek Avalanche Official Report 8 December 2010

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The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has released its official report on the death of Scott Kay, ski patrol director at Wolf Creek. And the report is, essentially, “We still don’t know.”

I’ve copied it below because I don’t think it holds any copyright protections. If it does, however, please leave a comment and I’ll take it down. You can also view the full report on the CAIC’s website, here: http://avalanche.state.co.us/acc/accidents_co.php

Avalanche Details

  • Location: Wolf Creek Pass Ski Area, Glory Hole Point
  • State: Colorado
  • Date: 2010/11/22
  • Time: 7:30 AM (Estimated)
  • Summary Description: Ski patroller caught, buried and killed
  • Primary Activity: Ski Patroller
  • Location Setting: Ski Area – closed area

Number

  • Caught: 1
  • Partially Buried, Non-Critical: 0
  • Partially Buried, Critical: 0
  • Fully Buried: 1
  • Injured: 0
  • Killed: 1

Avalanche

  • Type: SS
  • Trigger: AU – Unknown artificial trigger
  • Trigger (subcode): —
  • Size – Relative to Path: R3
  • Size – Destructive Force: D2
  • Sliding Surface: O – Within Old Snow

Site

  • Slope Aspect: NE
  • Site Elevation: 11676 ft
  • Slope Angle: 45
  • Slope Characteristic: Planar Slope

Avalanche Comments

The avalanche debris ran into a terrain trap. This terrain feature is probably an old terminal moraine with a deep hollow just upslope.

Weather Summary

A strong storm had moved into the southern San Juan Mountains the day before this accident. The ski patrol had recorded 16″ of new snow since the morning of the 21st, with 1.85 inches of water. Strong southwest winds blew the day and night before the accident.

Snowpack Summary

The area of the avalanche had a variable snow depth ranging from boulders to some 2 to 3 feet of snow on the ground prior to the avalanche. The avalanche ran on a firm melt freeze ice crust which had formed on top of the October snows. The crown face ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet deep.

Events Leading to the Avalanche

On the morning of November 22 the ski patrol assembled to conduct avalanche hazard mitigation before opening to the public. This involved multiple groups on several portions of the ski area. The individual involved in this accident was in radio contact with ski patrol dispatch. There were no witnesses of the avalanche and therefore the exact details of the event are unknown.

Accident Summary

A ski patroller conducting avalanche hazard mitigation at the Wolf Creek Pass ski area was caught buried and killed. The accident occurred within the ski area boundary, but before the resort was open to the public.

Rescue Summary

There were no witnesses to this accident and therefore we do not know the exact time of the avalanche. Other ski patrollers reached the site about 50 minutes after the victim’s last radio communication. The victim was located using avalanche rescue beacons and pin pointed with a probe pole. Due to the depth of the burial and topography of the burial site, it took a half hour to expose the victims head after the initial search was complete. The debris piled into a deep hollow, which made it difficult to remove snow from the burial site. The victim was buried under 4 feet of snow. He was found with both skis on (telemark equipment), pole straps around his writs, and hat and goggles on. He was wearing an Avalung pack, but the mouth piece had not been deployed (zipped into shoulder strap).

Comments

The CAIC’s report on this accident covers the snow and avalanche issues. This accident involved a professional avalanche worker in a workplace environment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the USDA-Forest Service (USFS) are both conducting reviews of the accident, which is standard procedure for industrial accidents.

 

This is Telluride 7 December 2010

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Driving into Telluride at night, you miss everything. Everything. This might as well be Muncie or Hannibal or one of thousands of other nondescript small towns. But then the sun rises, illuminating the San Juans. And you realize that you’ve found someplace special.

The photo everyone must take

I didn’t know a range like the San Juans existed in Colorado, jagged spines rising a vertical mile above the valley floors, almost straight up. Switzerland was supposed to look like this, but not here, not in this state where the Sawatch Range rolls up to 14,000 without much fanfare, where the the Front Range foothills elicit a yawn from Denver commuters. Why hadn’t someone said anything about this place?

And then it occurred to me, if I knew about it, I’d hesitate to tell anyone, too. You’ve heard of Telluride, though, so it’s all right. Have you seen it? Probably not. No one runs across this place by chance. Travel to the middle of nowhere in Colorado, then drive up a dead-end canyon for fifteen miles. Telluride will never find itself on the way to anything. It is, and will continue to be, the destination.

Skies?! On a bike?! Yes.

Years ago, it held that distinction because gold and silver filled them thar hills, and nobody really minded the prospect of disease, disaster and death if avoiding them meant finding riches in God’s country. If you were going to die, then Colorado wasn’t such a bad place to do it. It wasn’t Muncie, after all. So the miners came in droves, starting near the end of the 19th searching for silver, gold, zinc and copper in what was then just a valley where the San Miguel river began.

The town, named for tellurium, a metalloid element associated with gold and silver, boomed from a population of 786 in 1890 to 2,446 in 1900.  Here again, same story of western resource extraction played out: boom, and later, bust. By 1910, the bloom had wilted, and almost a third of the area’s population had departed. In their wake, they left hundreds of miles of rickety tunnels, zig-zagging under the mountains. By 1930, Telluride listed just 512 residents.

Mining continued in the following decades, albeit at a slower pace, and it seemed as though the city might drop off the map like so many other Colorado boomtowns. The mines were still churning (slowly) in 1969, however, when Joseph T. Zoline and the Telluride Ski Corporation bought the land with a vision for a resort. It would become more than that: not just a premiere American ski hill known for its knee-knocking steeps, but a stage for arts festivals and concerts of all kinds. To have seen a concert in Telluride is to have experienced something special.

Today, some of Telluride’s mining heritage remains, and despite the presence of a world class ski resort dropping right into town, the place has remained, well, likable. At first, I couldn’t quite figure it out. Was this Aspen? No, too gritty, and too few sushi houses. Was it Breck, another of Colorado’s mining towns? Wrong again—too little vomiting. So what was Telluride, this tiny town sandwiched between 13,000-foot peaks? Leadville? Yes, Leadville, with a ski resort.

Never mind that the median household value is more than five times as much. Stepping off the main drag, or looking down an alley, you’ll see a lack of polish: cars taped together, beaten-up bikes piled on a rack. Whether appearances mask reality, I’m not sure, but they create the feeling that this place is real, not a creation like Vail or Aspen. Telluride is real. The San Juans are real. Check them out.

Not Aspen

A final note: I’d tell you about the skiing, but at the moment, nearly all of the mountain is closed. Seriously. Despite near-record snowfall in northern Colorado, Telluride has missed out, and only a few trails are open. Given that Telluride’s known for its double-black, no-fall terrain, I passed on this trip. I’ll come back with another post about the mountain itself when the time is right, but the nice thing about Telluride is that the time’s always right for a visit to the town, too.