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I’ve moved! 13 February 2012

Posted by magicdufflepud in Self, Skiing, Writing.
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Moving indeed! C--- at Steamboat

Sooo…. traffic jumped 50 percent last month, and my wonderful girlfriend C— decided it was high time this blog lived a real URL, so you can now wander Colorado with me at ColoradoWandered.com. Wheee!

Cheers,

Andy

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.

Thoughts on Ski Bumming 1 February 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Self, Skiing.
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Twenty days before I left for Colorado, my father died. The cancer the oncologists had identified in April consumed him faster than anyone, including those same doctors, had imagined it might, leaving him a shell of a 66 year-old man on an October hospital bed. Room 547.

In the weeks leading up to that day, he and I argued about my choice to spend the next several months playing in the mountains, he in favor and I against—against myself. I’d worked too hard up to this point, I said. Ski bumming would throw away an education, my opportunities, any remaining chance that I might enter the Peace Corps. After a summer spent waiting to leave for Togo, only to have my departure postponed indefinitely, I’d chosen this: to ski bum and to kill what had up to that point existed as a resume of polish and pretentiousness.

Dad disagreed.  A sixth month stint in the mountains could not “kill” a future. The Peace Corps required more waiting anyway. Either they would take me afterwards, or they wouldn’t. Or I would no longer care. Our last, worst arguments turned on these contentions, and ignoring my father’s decline, I spent time worrying about my own future. The doctors had given him years. They’d fix the chemo regime, and he’d improve. In six months, we’d see who had better predicted my future.

And then he died, I left, and the Peace Corps helpfully called to say that my “family trauma” would bar travel for at least a year.

So I arrived in the mountains, still trying to figure out exactly why I’d come. I’d ski, certainly, but to what end? The Midwestern child grows up without interest in mountain towns. Creeks and baseball and bikes dominate the playscape.   The basement fills with old copies of Field and Stream, not Powder or SKI. Until I settled into my too-cramped apartment in Keystone, the idea that a ski-bum narrative existed—that people wrote about such things—had never occurred to me. Who was Warren Miller? That was a little over a year ago.

The realization swept in: drugs, booze, and irresponsibility were easy to come by if you wanted them. Women weren’t. The conversation never left the snow. It was the prospect of snow, the current snow, the snow that fell last night and last year and in years past. The snow on your car. The snow tires you’d need. The snow that gusted into drifts behind the boulders on the river, as it swirled, gelid, until finally on a December morning it froze solid and the snow covered that, too. Snow became a determinate of being. There was snow. Or there wasn’t. We lived for that. More than anything else we lived for new snow.

And I thought about my father, and life, and why I’d come to Colorado. About why I was still in Colorado. On a Thursday night, I walked home from The Goat in Keystone with a free t-shirt hanging over my shoulder, holding back tears. Back in October, I’d cried for the first time in I didn’t know how long. It wouldn’t happen again. Life in the mountains was taking its toll. The lack of aim. It was drifting, this time  here. My arguments with my father came back and hung in my breath. Why?

I grew as a skier in the mountains, from the kid who’d skied ten days and didn’t know how to carve, to the kid who dropped cliffs. I bought three pairs of skis in a year. We traveled to Wolf Creek (and I wrote about it), and we traveled to Solitude and Brighton (and I wrote about those, too), and I, on the weekend after my roommate left for an adult job in Washington, D.C., drove alone to Moab because I could think of nothing else to do. It was something and everything. I sat on a cliff overlooking Canyonlands, the La Sals and the Abajos fading into lavender. The cars made their circuits on the road to the overlook. Shutters clicked; the sunset; the sun set. This had nothing to do with skiing and everything to do with why I’d come to Colorado.

Vail Powder 23 January 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Self, Skiing.
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The Colorado Pass, one of the Vail Resorts’ several ridiculously low-priced pass products, gives skiers and riders unlimited access to A-Basin, Breck and Keystone–but not Vail. Of course not Vail, because on any given day, that’s exactly where you want to go. Forget the two hour drive. Forget the white-knuckle grip over Loveland and Vail Passes. Forget all that because Vail really is “Like Nothing on Earth.” I’ve said that before, and I don’t mind saying it again, even though I know Alta and Jackson Hole are probably like nothing on earth either. They’re both a ways from Denver, so we get Vail. And face shots.

Instead of writing this week, I’ve spent my blogging time editing my first ski video. The product is still a little rough, but as I learn to use the helmet cam a little better, and as I get the opportunity to ski some steeper stuff on a bluebird day, the videos will get better, too. So here’s the first shot at it:

No blog till Sunday 20 January 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Self, Skiing.
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I’m out a reliable computer for the time being (wires sticking out of the power cord never result in anything good), so no blog until Sunday, at which point a promise… VIDEOS! Ooooohh…. ahhh… Vail’s received about a bajillion feet of snow in the last week, and I was lucky enough to take a day off on Wednesday to enjoy mandatory face shots. Should get some more snow Saturday, too, but until then, just a little snowfall to get you ready:

Twenty-Something Journals: Life-Changing Events. Or are they? 6 January 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Random, Self.
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If you come here often enough, you’ll know that I don’t always talk about skiing and cycling. And that sentence might be enough to turn you away on its own. But on those weeks when I’ve been out of town, the snow is gone or something catches my eye, I wander elsewhere. That’s the purpose of this blog: to wander.

So I wandered home over the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and by the time I returned, three of the people I know well were engaged. Engaged, as in “planning to marry.” Yikes.  As our society moves away from marriage (here and the excellent James Q. Wilson here), the compact has—maybe?—acquired a greater sense of significance. Marriage is no longer the necessary step a relationship, but to do it anyway, well, maybe that says something. Maybe it means more. Considering all that, though, and then considering my friends, I don’t feel much at all—no real sense of surprise, or anything really, that they’ve told three other people that they’ll spend their lives together.

Yes, I’m happy for them, happy that they’ve found that special someone, but they’re still the same people. Two of them are, to my mind, still high schoolers waking up in the morning to go to a student council meeting or heading out to a Friday night party. That they now have a ring on it (rings on them?) hasn’t registered because I can’t tell a difference. Until last year, the bubbles of “engaged people” and “people that are my friends” didn’t intersect. It was one thing to understand engagement in the abstract (something two people much older than we did when they loved each other lots, typically in movies) and another to see it. Other people got engaged. My friends didn’t. Now they were the same.

It’s a significant thing this “to-be-married” stuff, but it only seems strange when given any thought. Kind of like having a dog for the first time or a girlfriend or anything other supposedly defining thing or state. It’s as if we’re all expecting something entirely different to come over us since a life has changed, that a wholly new person should emerge because the context is different. “In a relationship.” Now, “engaged.”

In short, we anticipate that the single E— couldn’t, nor can’t, be anything like the engaged E—. But when we figure out that she’s actually the same, though probably a little happier, the disparity between the reality and our expectations makes us think a moment. E—‘s still essentially the person we knew a month ago, and the context, no matter how much more extraordinary, doesn’t change that. It’s a funny feeling.

Come back five years later, though, and we’ll see a difference. On the scale of a life, it takes no more than a moment to lose a parent, to go off to college, to buy a house, to become a husband or a wife, but the change in ourselves takes so much longer. We react to each as the person we were on the day before. After that, our identities develop over time: we cope, we learn, we nest, we rely on one another, evolving an imperceptibly slow pace. Imperceptible, that is, until we reflect on how we were at another stage. When we’ve incorporated any number of things into our identity, we begin to realize just how different we were with or without them.

Which brings us back to today, the engagements. This is the beginning of a process, both for the engaged and for those of us for whom marriage still seems a long way off. Ten years from now, I suspect it will seem as though E—, K—, and C— have always been married. We’ll ask, with honest curiosity, “what was it like to be single?” When the first child is born, we’ll again wonder, “How is it that this kid who surfed down a flight of stairs on his knees going to take care of human offspring?” He won’t know. We won’t know. But we’ll all learn. And that’s the beauty of it.

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.

Matchstick Productions’ The Way I See It 21 September 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Self, Skiing.
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The first ski movie of the year and winter’s on its way. Despite the record heat here you can feel it. Ask the crowd. Ask the Aspens. Ask the guns waiting at A-Basin and Loveland. At one o’clock last night, standing in my room wearing nothing but boxers and ski boots, I stepped into my bindings, just to hear the reassuring clank as they engaged. Vail’s season pass for Coloradans carries the tagline, “It’s why you live here.” And it’s right. Winter can’t come soon enough.

The Way I See It serves up everything you’d expect from a ski movie: big lines, big air, big grins. But Saturday night in Boulder–no better city for it–offered more. “More, more more,” as Mark Abma says in the film. More, as in  celebrities. Of a sort. I’d brag about seeing a bunch of people who are famous if I thought you were into that sort of thing.

I will anyway. Movie premieres invariably involve the cast and crew as well, and for this one athletes like Cody Townsend, Mark Abma, and Ingrid Backstrom join the heli pilots, cameramen, lead grips, gaffers and all the rest to kick off the season with a whole lotta drunk. The season will probably continue with a whole lotta drunk followed by a whole lotta hungover, and if title sponsor Red Bull has anything to say about it, a whole lotta weird, kinda drunk, hungover, caffeine-high wonkiness as well. This is as it should be.

The crowd’s drunk, too. The MC presents a bunch of swag, capping it off with the promises that someone will win a heli-ski trip in Alaska. He tells us to cheer when we like we see. Mark Abma pretends(?) to play the piano. The crowd cheers. The film rolls. The crowd cheers. And then, if you’ve ever seen a ski film before, you know what happens next: skiing, without plot or context or any reason but for the pursuit of the perfect line, whether it falls through powder pillows in Japan or mile-long spines in the Chugach Range. To watch a ski movie is not to watch a baseball game, the spectacle and the rivalry of it. To watch skiers ski is to aspire.

“If only…” lies behind every whistle and holler for the stunts. If only I could turn my skis a little more quickly, weight them just a little differently… if only I could spend more time on the mountain, I’d get my own sponsorship, too. We delude ourselves, but what a grand, sustaining delusion it is. Every five-foot cliff-drop presents the chance to become Shane McConkey, and every 15-foot kicker in the park offers a shot at being the next Bobby Brown.

Skiing is the rare sport in which the challenges can always match the level of ability. The football team always picks the poor receiver last, and the bad basketball player never gets the pass, but the bad skier competes against herself. The terror of the steeps begins with the easiest greens until with time, the blues inspire fear and blacks and then the rocks and trees and slopes so steep dropping in feels like jumping off a building. The best skiers in the world still face a challenge, maybe with the same fear that faces the “never-ever” on Keystone’s bunny slope.

Watching The Way I See It from the heli and helmet perspectives we see what we’re still too afraid to approach. But with time, time and determination we’ll inure ourselves to the in-bounds double diamonds, seeking new challenges elsewhere. At least, watching a ski movie, we sense the possibility. It is of course unlikely that I will drop a 60-foot cliff. Unlikelier still that I’ll arrive at a ski movie as anything other than a spectator, but a tiny fire burns in the back of my mind as I see these athletes attack some of the gnarliest terrain in the world. Two words stoke the flame: It’s…possible. Don’t say it isn’t.