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Where’s the Snow? 12 December 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado, Skiing.
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So, you’re probably wondering where those three posts a week are. So am I. Rest assured, though, that’s it’s not my fault—you can blame it on the weather. Since December 1st, it’s snowed precisely four inches at Copper. Four inches. Now, granted, I shouldn’t be complaining that much because even with that meager amount of snow, the good folks on the snowmaking crews have opened up enough skiable terrain to make copper larger than all but the biggest eastern resorts. But I am; this is Colorado and we came here for the snow. Vermonters on the other hand, never left. No one moves to Vermont for the skiing unless he’s from New Hampshire.

At least we’re in better shape than Europe, where just a week ago, these intrepid young men had taken to skiing on rocks:

Note the reporter’s enthusiasm as he intones, “shredding some serious stone.” He must be a skier disappointed with this season, too.

All hope is not lost, though. Colorado powder guru Joel Gratz suggests that the current weather pattern may be coming to a close, which could mean the start of a snowier few weeks—if the weather cooperates of course. And even if it doesn’t Wolf Creek remains its usual snowy self, where 163″ have already fallen this season and all 1600 acres have opened for the year. At 4.5 hours from Denver, it’s a reasonable price to pay in travel time if you absolutely need your powder fix. And if you can wait a little longer then the storms will come as they always do. We’re still hungover from the endless untracked lines of 2010/11, unwilling to admit that this year might not compare.

It doesn’t have to. We’ll still be skiing.

German Game Shows: Answering Life’s Great Questions 7 December 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Uncategorized.
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Like…. which is faster: a mountain bike or a snowboard?

Ski Review: Icelantic Keeper and Icelantic Nomad 29 November 2011

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Hope you folks had a happy Turkey Day, enjoyed the tradition of watching Detroit lose and managed to get some skiing in on either side of it. There’s been precious little snow out here in Colorado, relative to last year at least, but with all the new terrain opening anyway and the ski movies on tour, it’s hard to stay gloomy for more than a moment, especially when you’ve got new skis to demo.

Icelantic brought its entire line-up to Copper a couple weekends ago. If you’re unfamiliar with the company and live in the area, they’re worth checking out in person. Icelantic runs a First Friday event in conjunction with the rest of the galleries on Santa Fe that features boards and beer at their Battery 621 headquarters (6th and Kalamath). Take a look at the topsheet graphics and you’ll understand why this company feels okay showcasing products alongside area artists. And although Icelantic creates those graphics and designs the skis themselves, Never Summer, another Colorado company, does the construction, so you can be fairly certain the things will withstand a beating.

I’m reviewing Icelantic’s Keeper and the Nomad this time around, but you can also check out last year’s review of the Shaman. Conditions were the early season norm of hardpack, crust and some crusty lumps on their way to becoming moguls. Nothing special.

Icelantic Keeper 

As tested dimensions: 178 cm. 150/119/138. 16m radius.

I’m not even sure I should be reviewing these since powder is their purpose, but if I get them again on a Powder day, I’ll come back and add some thoughts. Anyway, the Keeper name, I think, is supposed to indicate that this is a ski you’ll always have around, but having it around doesn’t mean that it’s the ski you ought to select for an early season day. That said, for being this huge, these boards rip. For featuring an early rise tip, these boards rip. Come to think of it, they just rip, period.  You won’t be running gates with the ski teams at Copper, but you’ll definitely enjoy blah conditions on the Keepers more than you ever would with a pintail like the Pontoons.

Icelantic has been slow to get into the rocker game, and now that they have, they’ve stayed true to the idea that a ski ought to be fun—not just usable—anywhere on the mountain. So, yes, you can get these up on edge, though it takes a bit of work to get the tips to engage.  They’ll slide just where you want them through bumps. And they’re flexible enough that lazy skiing will still get you down the mountain. Just don’t expect expect a ski that will offer much feedback through any of that. But if you find yourself looking for a little more enjoyment as you take the groomers home from Vail’s back bowls, then the Keepers will do you right.

Icelantic Nomad

As tested dimensions: 178cm. 140/105/130. 20m radius.

Over the last couple years, I’ve gotten tired of all-mountain skis. Buy yourself a groomer-specific pair and something else for powder, and you’ll enjoy every day more, but if for whatever reason you have to buy just one ski, then I guess you’ve gotta do it right. Typically, my suggestion is the Volkl Mantra, but if you’re willing to give up some hard snow performance, you’d do well by the Nomads, too. In the all-mountain category, these are pretty playful skis, not really poppy enough to launch you out of turns but still happily willing to hang on to whatever radius you select. The Nomads had me feeling fairly comfortable at any speed and they’re damp enough that you won’t feel every change of surface condition. Your call on whether that’s a good thing. In many ways, these are the indie equivalent of the Dynastar Huge Troubles in my quiver, with a little extra sidecut thrown in for good measure.

Edge to edge, they’re considerably quicker than you’d expect for a ski that’s 105 under foot, something I recall enjoying on the even wider Shamans, but that’s the thing: given that the Shamans also appear in the Icelantic lineup, I’m not sure what to think of the Nomad. Maybe you can’t live without twin tips? Maybe you can’t stand the turtles on the Shamans’ top sheet? Maybe you’re all about backcountry jibbing? Near as I can tell, the Nomads are the closest thing Icelantic makes to a “normal” ski, and I just don’t think you can make the case for them in the face of the other options. Buy Icelantic, yes, but you’ll get more for your money by choosing the Shamans.

Posting will resume shortly… 17 November 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Skiing, Writing.
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Sorry I’ve been MIA for the last week or so. I’ve been working on another article for Powder and it’s consumed much of my writing time outside work. That doesn’t really excuse going to trivia last night instead of blogging, but you’ll understand that a social life is important, too, won’t you?

Anyway, the wild and crazy world of ski journalism is actually more structured than I’d imagined it might be. On the one hand, I’d just been getting in touch with editors willy nilly, telling them I’d like to write stories for them. This has worked 100 percent of the time so far, but an e-mail arrived in my inbox the other day explaining to all Powder’s contributors that there is a process to be followed. And that if we fail to do so, they’ll print off our work in Comic Sans, call it all sorts of bad names and then send it to Self. Or they’ll just refuse it.

At any rate, in an industry where’d you expect everyone to play fast and loose, flouting the rules and doing shot-skis with ski bunnies, it’s actually kinda buttoned up. Who knew. But then there’s the actual skiing and writing about skiing, which makes up for any red tape. I could get used to that.

 

The Start of the Season 9 November 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado, Skiing, Travel.
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Of course we were wearing onesies. Of course. 

I think we can consider the season officially started, so long as you ignored the opening of Wolf Creek, Arapahoe Basin and Loveland, but no one really counts those since they’re not real mountains. The ski season hasn’t truly begun until some mountain owned by a publicly traded company or a private equity firm gets into the game. Those are the folks who know what skiing’s all about, so I’ve decided to write a season-opening haiku in their honor.

Keystone and Copper:

keeping investors happy.

How? More yard sales, please.

I spent too long on that.  In any case, Copper mountain and Keystone have both opened their white ribbons of death, so if you still haven’t bought a pass and want to base your decision purely on on the one run that’s open right now, get the five mountain from Vail Resorts. Keystone’s top-to-bottom runs, serviced by two lifts, will make it worth your while. After that, well, I don’t know. This is the first year I’ve held the Copper/Winter Park pass, so it’s tough to say where you’ll get the most value down the road. But you’re concerned about skiing Right Now, right?

In other news, it looks like Winter Park’s opening early; they say it’s because so many folks were asking them for it at, of all places, Denver’s Ski Expo last weekend. Plan on heading there this Saturday, Nov. 12 if you prefer crossing Berthoud, rather than Loveland, Pass to get to some mediocre skiing. On the other hand, maybe you ought to check out Wolf Creek, which received almost three feet of snow over the weekend.

And in still other news, if you haven’t bought a pass already or if you do have a pass and simply oodles of money to spend too, you should check out the Monarch season pass. Even if you’re not planning on skiing there, the $339 you’ll pay for it gets you three free days at a gaggle of ski resorts including… Revelstoke, Powderhorn, Sunlight, Loveland, Red River, Angel Fire and several more. You’ll also get a free unguided day at Silverton as well as half price skiing at Taos and Alta, two of the best mountains in America. The rep at the ski expo suggested that next year will feature even more deals, so check Monarch’s website in late spring/early summer next year to get the best deals.

That’s all for now, but if any of you have experience writing profile pieces for magazines, let me know. I’ve told Powder that’s the plan for Tuesday, but I’m not sure I have any idea what I’m doing.

Nothing Says Ski Season Like 90s John Denver 2 November 2011

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That pretty much sums it up. It’s snowing here in Denver and ski season starts in earnest on Saturday when Copper Mountain and Keystone welcome the Front Range hordes. So for all of you who can’t experience that, and even for those of you who will, here’s the Muppet man himself. Extra points for anyone who can tell me where this was filmed.

It’s Denver… with Rain! 1 November 2011

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Seattle, that is. C– and I journeyed northwest a week ago to explore the only other American city in which we’d consider living (Leadville notwithstanding). Despite what Seattleites will tell you, it’s just as rainy and gray as you’d expect, but somehow no one seems to mind. We sure didn’t. But maybe that’s because we’re from Denver where the slightest hint of moisture in the air sends folks into a frenzy of sorts. We press against the windows watching rain fall as if it were Manna. Suffice it to say, Denver types have a preoccupation with water, and seeing so much of it in one place is a little surreal. Seattleites, on the other hand, attach fenders to their road bikes and set out on rides oblivious to the drizzle. That’s crazy.

The water issue aside, the two places seemed in our limited experience, fairly similar. Yelp and, improbably, Yahoo! Answers seem to agree on that point. Both cities offer a liveable, walkable downtown that extend beyond just the city core into the surrounding neighborhoods, leading me to believe that my upbringing in the suburbs of St. Louis cultivated an irrational fear of urban places. Apparently, in other major cities, taking a stroll downtown won’t get you shot. This is happy news. I’d continue at length about the great migration of twenty-somethings to urban neighborhoods, but that’d be a dreadful bore, so how about the coast?

Seattle sits on the edge of Puget Sound, a body of water which probably holds more liquid than every Colorado puddle combined, but you’ll have to drive a couple hours to reach the true shore. It’s a worthwhile trip if you’re visiting, particularly since involves a ferry journey across the sound. But once you’re out of Seattle, the Washington countryside begins, green as anything you’ve ever seen. There’s an actual rainforest up there, the Hoh, I think. Fog rolls off the mountains; wood smoke fills the air. Is that a bald eagle across the lake?

And then you arrive in Forks. The town has achieved a kind of notoriety (or fame, depending upon your perspective) as the setting for the Twilight series. This has evidently made an otherwise bleak and miserable little city on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula a hot spot for a certain sort of tourist, and if you can imagine imagine Bella and Edward doing anything, you’ll find that there’s tour for that in Forks. We even ran across Twilight firewood. You guess is as good as mine. Too bad the whole thing was filmed in British Columbia, but at least you’ll find a good latte at the grocery’s coffee shop.

Forks leads to the shore,and if you’ve never wandered across a deserted coastline in the Pacific Northwest, then you’ve yet to experience one of life’s great joys. This is America as it was before anyone knew it by that name. The cedars and the Douglas firs run right up to the beach and extend impenetrably back to Mount Olympus. The fog hangs everywhere, a gauze holding back the rest of the world. Only the evolving dunes of the Outer Banks can approach the vast desolation of that landscape. There is nothing to the ocean except wave upon wave upon wave.

Coming to Colorado, I’d wondered whether the mountains ever grew old, whether they became background noise. I can report that they haven’t, but standing there along the shore, I wondered if the ocean, too, could lose its appeal. It can’t. You come to Seattle for the water.

Snoooooooowww! 25 October 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado, Skiing.
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So, uh, everything you thought about Denver was correct. That is, for all you folks who like to think we’re a perpetually snowed-in city of igloos and sled dogs (Rockies baseball notwithstanding), this is your moment to readjust your t-shirt, sip an autumn drink on the veranda and say “told you so.” That is your right. We set a record high of 80 yesterday, and by tomorrow evening the temperature will have dropped, get this, 62 degrees. There’s potentially a foot of snow involved, too, and after a weekend spent in Seattle, this comes as a shock to the system,

But of course, living in Denver, we’re okay with all that, or at least a lot of us are. We’re perhaps the only big city in America that looks forward to the start of winter weather because it also heralds the start of ski season, which for those of us on the Copper/WP pass, lies a little more than a week away. So now’s the time to finish all the waxing and sharpening in preparation for the white ribbon on death, that single run into which every soul from Denver is cheerily packed.

Some friends from work have suggested a climbing trip that weekend instead. Any sane person would choose amazing climbing over a crappy ski day. But then again, skiers aren’t exactly sane people. I’ll let you know how it works out.

 

A Toll for the Slopes 17 October 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado, Skiing, Travel.
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I just love when skiing intersects with policy, particularly since most of the time, nobody wants to hear wonkishness about Pigovian taxes and internalizing externalities. But when you’re stuck in a car on a Saturday morning waiting, praying for ski traffic to start moving, it’s high time to pull out the ole policy gun and fire off a round or two. At least you have a captive, and interested, audience. Pretty much everyone who skis in Colorado hopes for a solution to the traffic nightmare that is a weekend morning or evening. For those of you not familiar with Colorado’s unique predicament, here’s a primer from Slateon that stretch of highway between Denver and Vail:

The I-70 mountain corridor is a rather unusual piece of highway. As Ken Wissel, a transportation engineer with the Denver firm Stantec…describes it, I-70 has two of the highest peaks in the entire Interstate Highway system within 25 miles of each other. There are four major ascents, a two-mile-long tunnel that dips under the Continental Divide, a terrifying descent that features one of the country’s most-used emergency truck ramps, and a number of merge zones where traffic must jockey as the highway goes from three to two lanes before entering the tunnels. To complicate matters there’s snow, a lot of snow (“We had 600 inches last year,” Wissel says); and traffic, a lot of traffic.  “We end up with some real long queues,” Wissel says. Backups as long as 30 miles have been reported.

A good summary, but the problem isn’t all about the geography; it involves people too. The ski day begins and ends at particular times, meaning that traffic all arrives from Denver at around the same hour and departs on a similarly scheduled basis: roughly 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. All those cars at once, intermingled with the inexperienced throngs of Midwestern vacationers and their white-knuckle driving creates a mess of volume and accident-related slowdowns or stops. Dealing with traffic is a necessary part of skiing in Colorado. A rite of passage almost.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Slate article above describes the problem to tell a larger story about CDOT’s attempts to “harmonize” traffic at certain speeds. Once volume hits a certain point, a cop pulls onto the highway, lights flashing, and leads the mass of cars at 55 mph. Think pace car in an Indy or NASCAR race. That keeps drivers from engaging the the sort of speed up/slow down behavior that results accidents that cause even more delays. Two tests so far this year seem to indicate that it will be an effective strategy, but it only addresses a symptom, not the underlying problem of volume.

The real issue of course is volume: too many cars on a road only designed to handle so much. And look, before you say it, I know that semi trucks are a curse too, but they only become relevant once traffic reaches a certain point anyway. If there aren’t already 10 bajillion cars on the road, whatever dumb behavior you attribute to 18-wheelers doesn’t matter. At any rate, when the problem is volume, you can have only two solutions: increase capacity or decrease the number of cars.

No one’s going to widen I-70 anytime soon, nor are they going to build that monorail, so you can nix solution one right out of the gates. So the second option is the only realistic one, and since you can’t arbitrarily ban, say, cars with license plates ending in odd numbers from heading up to the mountains, the leaves the sensible solution of making the whole thing a toll road—at least part of the time. Congestion pricing is nothing new—London does it—but it will definitely piss people off. It will also keep them off the road because traveling around peak times will get annoyingly expensive.

Under the system, traveling at peak hours would incur higher tolls, while off peak travel could be essentially free, encouraging drivers to travel at off times or to pile more people into their cars to diffuse the cost of the toll. In turn the money could go toward expanded capacity. Or a monorail. I mean, why not? I’m not as interested in the particulars as I am in forcing drivers to confront the real costs they’re incurring when they all show up at the same hour because the interstate is free, creating slowdowns that waste everyone’s time. Time really is money, and we shouldn’t be wasting either when it comes to skiing. If it takes toll roads to get us to and from the slopes faster, then toll roads we shall have.

Arapaho Basin Opens Tomorrow 12 October 2011

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You heard that right. Arapahoe Basin opens tomorrow, Oct. 13. A-Basin doesn’t really seem like the sort of operation that would issue a press release—more like the kind that would call a reporter and say, “Um, we’re opening. How cool is that?”—but hey, here it is. You should check out their blog, too.

ARAPAHOE BASIN OPENS FOR THE SKI SEASON THURSDAY,

OCTOBER 13, 2011

Arapahoe Basin, Colorado – October 12, 2011 – After a great week of snowmaking and several fresh inches of snow, Arapahoe Basin ski area officials announce that opening day for the 2011-2012 ski season will be Thursday, October 13, 2011.  The ski area has only been closed 100 days since last season ended on July 4, 2011.

Black Mountain Express will open to the public at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday.  Skiers and riders can look forward to an 18-inch base on the intermediate High Noon run along with several features in the High Divide Terrain Park.  There will be no beginner skiing at this time.

A tribute to Arapahoe Basin founders Marnie Jump and Max Dercum who passed away this year will take place before the lifts open to the public.

Opening day adult lift tickets will be available for $59, youth tickets age 15 – 18 will be $49 and child tickets age 6-14 will be $30.  The ski and snowboard rental shop, tune shop, food and beverage service, the 6th Alley bar and retail shop will be open to the public.  Snowsports lessons will be available on a limited basis.

Local radio station, KYSL will be doing a live morning show and giving away lift tickets on-air.  KSMT will also be on site in the base area with a live remote, playing music and handing out give-aways.

A-Basin’s Bonus Passes are available while supplies last for $389.  The Bonus pass holder receives unlimited skiing or riding at A-Basin for the 2011-2012 ski season and five non-transferable ski days at Keystone or Breckenridge.  One of those days can be used at Vail or Beaver Creek (some restrictions apply).  A-Basin only passes are also available at great prices.  To purchase your pass or check snow conditions go to www.arapahoebasin.com.

Arapahoe Basin would like to invite any interested media to attend the opening day celebration.  Please contact Leigh Hierholzer to coordinate lift tickets and any other logistics.