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G.N.A.R. (The Movie) 25 March 2011

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That’s Gaffney’s Numerical Assessment of Radness. Because naming it after Shane McConkey (M.N.A.R.?) didn’t really make sense.

It’s a movie you should see. In fact, like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, it’s a movie you should watch twice a year—first, to get your season started, and then again to remind you what all that excitement was about.

Here’s what you need to know:

Because it the gnarly lines it offers off the KT-22 chair, Squaw Valley USA is a Mecca for awesome skiers, like, not that guy who rips at your local hill, but some ridiculously sweet dude who does 50′ airs off cliff bands then shotguns a beer and kisses your girlfriend. Few of those guys exist, but those who do flock to Squaw. Over the years, that’s given the place a sort of snobby reputation (although locals say it’s undeserved). More than one ski movie has reinforced the perception that guys at Squaw hang out looking to one-up each other on Palisades lines, so knowing the reality, the late McConkey decided to make a joke of the whole thing. Along with the Gaffney brothers, he created G.N.A.R. to make the mountain a game. Sure, it only showed up as an addendum, more or less, to Robb Gaffney’s book Squallywood, but it soon took on a life of its own, and following McConkey’s death, the Gaffneys made it into a film.

But what is “it”? G.N.A.R is primarily a game of skiing steep, scary lines at Squaw, but the movie mostly plays up its other aspects, like the additional points you’ll get for skiing butt-naked, or for yelling, “I’m going to rip the shit out of this line!” before dropping in, and if you hear anyone telling you “I’m the best skier on this mountain,” you can trace that back to G.N.A.R., too. Oh, and bonus points for calling your mom in the middle of the run.

We’re figuring out a way to make this work for A-Basin, so if you have any suggestions on the best/gnarliest lines there, drop me a line (My e-mail’s in the “About” section.)

In the meantime, you can watch the whole movie free. How cool is that?

Here’s the link: http://unofficialnetworks.com/gnar/

And if you see a guy beating the bejeepers out of a cornice at Monarch or Crested Butte this weekend, that’s me. Feel free to say hi.

Review: Ski Cooper 18 March 2011

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Area Stats

Location: Leadville, CO

Bottom Elevation: 10,500′

Top Elevation: 11,700′

Area: 420-ish acres

Average Annual Snowfall: 260″

Terrain Breakdown: Beginner 30%, Intermediate 40%, Advanced 30%, Expert 0%

Adult Ticket Price: $42

Best-kept secret: Cat Skiing

Unless you have children under the age of ten, you probably won’t like Ski Cooper. And even then, it’s not much of a mountain. On a whim, C and I went anyway a couple weeks ago, taking the opportunity to explore Leadville and the ski hill it owns because of a free deal from Colorado Ski Country USA. (Check out their Gems Card next year, if you want to do the same and save on other mountains, too.)

To get a sense of the sort of person who skis here, let’s take a moment to reflect on this video.

I can’t decide which of his lines I like better: “Jub, jub BOOM!” or “HEEEEEEEEEEEEEE,” but in any event, that guy likes this place. On the other hand, if like most folks you came to Colorado for mountains like Crested Butte, Vail, and Telluride, you’ll be, shall we say, underwhelmed. There’s no gnarliness to be had, nor any cachet to make up for it. This is Midwest skiing here in Colorado. Granted, the scenery’s a little better.

The History

Located a little more than 10 miles north of Leadville (and about 100 miles from Denver), Ski Cooper began life as the training grounds for the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, whose primary objective back in the day was to kill Nazis and Italians abroad while supporting Leadville’s prostitutes back home. When the division packed up at left for Fort Riley, KS after the war, Ski Cooper remained, continuing life as one of Colorado’s first public ski hills.

In all likelihood, though, you’re more familiar with the 10th Mountain’s other contribution to the area: Peter Seibert, the division veteran who, along with local rancher Earl Eaton, founded Vail in 1962. Since then, the resorts’ paths have… diverged. The whole of Ski Cooper will fit into one of Vail’s back bowls with room to spare. But really, comparisons between the two aren’t relevant. Peter Seibert’s vision and the completion I-70 made Vail what it is today. To the best of my knowledge, Ski Cooper never held such ambitions.

The Mountain

Ski Cooper’s website suggests the resort has five lifts, or something like that. C and I could only find two, though there was evidence that a third was buried under snow and hadn’t moved in ages. These two operating lifts each serve a half of this divided mountain. Lest you jump too soon to visions of a “front side/back side” split, a la Vail, that’s not the case. The back side is more mirror image than doppelganger despite what run names “Nightmare” and “Kamikaze” may imply, and both sides offer what is probably the most consistent pitch I’ve ever skied. Without signs to distinguish beginner, intermediate and advance terrain, you likely couldn’t tell the difference.

If you’re here with kids, though, the can be kind of a blessing, I imagine. Let your kids wander off on their own and you can be sure they’ll never get in over their heads or end up at a lift where you can’t find them. Contrary to the Starbucks philosophy, in some cases, fewer options really are better.

For experts and advanced skiers, that lack of choice doesn’t leave much in the way of  prime runs, but a few merit consideration:

Mother Lode to Timber Basher: Starts out at a pitch that might qualify as a blue at other mountains, then drops you into a nice flat meadow whence you can admire the 12,500′ Chicago Ridge to your right. Drop off the meadow the right and into Timber Basher for some low-angle tree skiing.

Powder Keg: It’s the only mogul run on this mountain, and even those last just a few turns, but you can weave in and out of a the trees between this run and Kamikaze before the bumps show up. This will assuredly be the most difficult thing you’ll do all day.

Piney to Burnout: Head under the lift and duck into the trees on skiers’ left. They’re low-angle, but more enjoyable than the run itself. When they flatten out even more, head back under the lift and ski down to the steeper (again, this is all relative) section far skiers’ left. You can make five or six good turns on this pitch before heading  down into the main run again. You’re almost guaranteed fresh tracks here since everyone seems too afraid to ski it.

Slot: Good for two, maybe three, interesting turns back onto Piney.

The trees to skiers’ left off Last Chance: If you like fresh tracks, you won’t be disappointed. No one skis unmarked trees here, which is also something of a problem since a lot of small limbs still exist at eye level. Despite that, you can ski top to bottom in these relatively open trees without ever crossing someone else’s line. That’s cool, but then you’ll spend the next half hour waiting for the ancient double to haul back to the top of the mountain.

Overall Experience

Coloradans’ complaints about the I-70 resorts hold merit. But it only takes a day of skiing to explain why those resorts each draw more than one millions visitors a year while Ski Cooper struggles to attract the leftovers: the mega-resorts are simply better mountains. They offer more amenities, better terrain, and greater challenges. I see every reason for a place like Ski Cooper to succeed in Michigan or Pennsylvania or West Virginia. Just not here in Colorado.

A Coda

Now forget everything I just said. For $275, you can hop on board Ski Cooper’s Chicago Ridge Snowcat Skiing and explore 2460 untracked acres behind the lift-served mountain. It includes a gourmet lunch and 10-12 powder runs.  I haven’t done it, but I hear it’s a best-ski-day-of-my-life kinda thing, and it affords and opportunity to stay in Leadville—always a good decision. Check it out.

Whoa! 11 March 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Skiing.
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These are both worth your time on a Friday:

and this

 

Best Spring Break Ski Resorts for Families and College Students 8 March 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Self, Skiing, Travel.
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Full disclosure: I hope this doesn’t come off like I’m shilling for a client. I mean, I am, but it’s because together we’ve created something really cool about a sport we love, not because it helps pay the bills.

If you’re just here looking for the Top 10s without the narrative, scroll down a little bit.

Way back about this time two years ago, my college buddies and I were headed up to Killington, VT for a spring break ski trip. We’d decided on the destination after several hours (or maybe it was days) of research on my end that focused on a few factors, namely price, proximity, and the the number of hot women who might also be there. Hearing that Killington offered all three, we laid down the $500 or so for five days of skiing and lodging, then put down another $50 each for beer because that’s how a trip with your frat works: five days, eight guys, $400 worth of beer—and, as it turned out, no women save for the two Peruvian lifties who went home to Rutland after hearing enough from all of us.

We could have done better, though, if we’d had the right info. Not that Killington was bad, of course, but what if we’d known the best spring break ski resorts? What if we’d known the resorts where the the bars overflowed with snow bunnies? Where was Panama Beach with double black terrain?

Recently, I set out to solve that problem along with one of our clients: OnTheSnow.com. The site’s 3.4 million monthly unique visitor give them some street cred as a big-time operator, sure, but what OnTheSnow really offers is data, reams and reams data. They collect popularity stats, user reviews, snowfall and base depth averages—more or less everything you’d want to know to make your spring break travel decision.

Together, we put it all to work and ranked the resorts to make an impartial listing free from editors’ picks and other subjective shenanigans. We’d figure out what was best based on cold, hard facts (err… and user reviews). For college students, we made a weighted average combining stats for resort page views from colleges around the country, user reviews of nightlife and downhill terrain and average March and April snowfall and base depths. Essentially, we wanted to know what was snowy, steep and sexy. We got that. Here’s the Top 10 (in alphabetical order):

Breckenridge

Heavenly

Jackson Hole

Keystone

Mammoth Mountain

Snowbird

Squaw Valley USA

Steamboat

Telluride

Vail

For families, we switched it up a little bit, dropping downhill terrain and nightlife (because both probably don’t matter to five year-olds) in favor of users’ reviews of “family-friendliness.” We played with weightings a bit, too, and that gave us the top 10 family ski resorts for spring break (again listed alphabetically)

Breckenridge

Deer Valley

Heavenly

Keystone

Mammoth Mountain

Park City Mountain Resort

Steamboat

Taos Ski Valley

Vail

Winter Park

Now, you might be wondering why no eastern or Canadian resorts show up on those lists. Where’s Whistler Blackcomb? Where’s Killington? As it turned out, none of the eastern resorts was big enough and bad enough to make the cut, though Mont Tremblant in Quebec did make the top 25, while Jay and maybe Stowe made it in to the top 50. I suspect we’ll create another category next year to give the eastern resorts a fair shot at winning something, although for what it’s worth, the rankings did help reaffirm the West as the only place to go for real skiing. As for Whistler, well, it came in just outside the top 10 for both families college students.

If you have any tips, suggestions or thought on who you think should have made the top 10 lists, drop me a line via the comments or my e-mail, provided in the “About” section.

Visiting Moab 1 March 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Travel.
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You can go to Moab from April through October. Or you can go in February, when snow still falls in the high desert and the crowds have booked flights for the beach. Not bad deal if you ask me.

It was about this time last year that I headed out for my first visit to Utah, and I returned with a new tag for my travel posts: “the heartbreak of rural America.” A year later, Moab is still heartbreaking in all the same ways, but it’s best for the traveler to avoid dwelling on that sort of thing. The surrounding landscape of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks simply doesn’t allow for it—and that’s the part I missed in last February’s reflections. So this time around I’m giving a proper review, and a thumbs up, if only because it could send more visitors and more dollars to this sunburnt city.

In the Bible, Moab stretched east from the Jordan river, a nearly treeless plateau bounded by Beth-jeshimoth to the north, Baal-meon to the east and Kiriathaim to the south. The resident Moabites and the neighboring tribes of Israel enjoyed an on-again, off-again relationship in which both sides got their Old Testament jollies by comparing family trees or killing one another. When postmaster William Pierce first showed up in this part of southeastern Utah, it’s possible he saw that grand narrative laid before him on the landscape. Or else he just saw a lot of desert, which is pretty much what the Jordanian Moab is, too. Whatever the case, settlers arrived in 1878, and by 1890 were already petitioning to change the town’s name because of the association it created with the biblical Moabites’ affinity for idolatry and incest.

But the name stuck, and the people did, too, at first eking out an agrarian existence near of the Colorado River’s few crossings. As happened in so many Western towns, though, it was mineral wealth that put the city on the map. Potash and manganese contributed to the bloom, then came oil and gas, but it was the harsh landscape’s radioactive ores that made Moab the “Uranium Capital of the World” in the 1950s as prospectors laid claim to vast tracts of desert waste in the hopes their finds would supply the next world-obliterating bomb. Edward Abbey gives a good account of the mad, and largely unsuccessful, uranium dash in his book Desert Solitaire. And, come to think of it, he gives a good account of most everything else in the region, too. Today, the prospectors have returned, and pending all the right approvals, America will see its first new uranium mill since the Cold War Era rise on the Colorado side of the border.

Chances are, though, you won’t be thinking about any of that when you make the turn off I-70 and head south into slick rock country. If you’re native to the southwest, maybe you won’t think much of the highway scenery, a denuded landscape of rock and dust that stretches to horizon. But if you hail from more verdant climes, your jaw will drop. This is an America everyone east of the Rockies has only seen in movies, and even then, the slightly fantastical quality those films all share makes the reality of the landscape seem a little suspect too. When was the last time you saw a movie set against the upper midwest that wasn’t Fargo? We associate the West with a fiction, though, making the reality all the more surreal.

I won’t talk much about what you’ll see when you arrive because that’s essentially impossible. Try to imagine a wall of flaming red rock, miles long, taller than the tallest building in your city by half. Imagine a chasm dropping almost a vertical mile into a river you’ll never see. This is what moving water does to a landscape which sees so little rain. The Green and Colorado rivers scour the earth and the rock and, seemingly, the sky, while the flash floods turn creekbeds into canyons. To look at all of it is to travel through time. Much of the visible rock dates to the Jurassic and the Triassic, when dinosaurs lumbered where you now stand with a camera to your eye. And behind all this lie the La Sals, dozens of miles of distant but encroaching as if they run right up to the canyon walls. Visit in February and you’ll be treated to snowcapped peaks set against red rocks.

You can hike into it, too. In Canyonlands, the Upheaval Dome trail makes an 8.3-mile loop around a formation that only makes sense when view from the air. In Arches, the Devil’s Garden trail offers a five-mile ramble through the area’s signature fins and arches, topping out of a ridge which offers views over the whole park. If you have the time, try both of these in favor of hitting all the recommended photo locations. You’ll appreciate the slower pace and the interaction with the landscape you won’t get when you’re stopping and starting like a pizza delivery boy. And I’ve always hated recommended photo locations anyway. Experience the parks for yourself. Find something.

A word of caution, though: traveling in the desert isn’t like wandering around in the Appalachians. 1) Carry sufficient water. Carry more than enough water, even in your car. The average person traveling in a place this dry needs a gallon of water per day, and in this case at least, it’s best to consider yourself just average. In February you can probably find running streams in a canyon or two, but don’t rely on it. 2) Don’t bust the crust. Even in a place that only sees a few inches of precipitation a year, life thrives, and the crust, visible as hard black formations on the soil, holds it all together. Walking off trail destroys this complex web of cyanobacteria, lichens and other life that keeps the soil from disappearing with the wind. And when you bust the crust, it can take decades to return to its original state.