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It’s Denver… with Rain! 1 November 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado, Travel.
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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.

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Should Denver Host the Olympics? 30 August 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado.
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Denver, as you may know, holds the ignominious distinction of being the only city, ever, to turn down the Olympics.  True story. After receiving the nod from the IOC in 1972, for the ’76 games, the state  turned out en masse to reject the idea, on the grounds that Coloradans’ tax dollars were best spent on… well, nothing at all for the most part. If however Gov. Hickenlooper and Denver mayor Michael Hancock arrive at a decision to pursue another Olympics bid—and the Denver Post is reporting they might— the city and state may receive another chance, and a shot at redemption.

Although I unabashedly support the idea of world-harmonizing sporting events coming to my city, an unscientific perusal of the comments on the article and its complementary appearance on the Post’s Facebook feed seems to suggest that Coloradans still really, really hate the Olympics. This in turn strikes me as shortsighted or curmudgeonly, and more likely, both, since the Olympics haters largely contend that 1)we can’t afford a to waste money on infrastructure for the games and that 2)hosting the Olympics in Denver might incite more people to move to the state.

Now, if you’ve never lived in Colorado, or if you’ve experienced life in a brain-drain state in particular, (2) is a real head scratcher, but Coloradans, like Montanans and Idahoans I gather, maintain the curious mentality that whoever arrives here last needs to close the door behind him. When these old timers or their forebears arrived, Colorado greeted them in its most perfect manifestation, an unspoilt state where man and beast alike could roam free. Then, the story goes, everyone else showed up and it all went to hell. That’s the narrative as essentially every curmudgeonly Coloradan tells it: Colorado was a great place when I first showed up, but then they kept letting all the other folks in, so now it’s a disaster. Also, the illegals.

That this line of argument appears in concert with “The Olympics will be a waste of money” only makes it more troubling, and more accurately, intellectually dishonest. By and large, the Front Range attracts a crowd of college-educated, highly skilled workers, who come for the outdoor lifestyle and, circularly, the large crowd of college-educated, highly skilled workers. It’s this exact pattern of growth that nearly every metropolitan area in the country seeks to emulate, and it’s exactly the sort of growth the Olympics could drive as the games place Denver in the global spotlight, yet where that vast majority of localities would see enormous opportunity, the curmudgeons would have us build a wall.

It’s true that the Olympics have extracted humongous tolls from their host cities—Montreal is still paying off more than two billion in debt—but the costs and benefits of an undertaking lie not only with the actuaries’ tables and tabulations. As a city on the cusp of nationwide importance, Denver can make the most of global exposure to begin weaving the complex web of business and cultural connections that bring so much life (and economic activity) to places like San Francisco, Seattle and Atlanta. If, as every mayoral hopeful seems to suggest, we want Denver to become a world-class city, we must demonstrate that it is capable of a world-class undertaking. The Pro Cycling Challenge represented a start, certainly, yet is a long trek from here to 2022, so while Denver can absolutely make the journey, the question remains, are Coloradans on board?

B-Cycle Comes to Boulder 16 May 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Cycling, Economics.
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Why B-Cycle?

Because when you drop “i” from “bicycle” you can trademark it.

More seriously, you ought to B-cycle because it’s cheap, convenient, and now available in Boulder. Starting this Friday, the People’s Republic will receive the iconic bike-sharing initiative that made Colorado gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes an overnight sensation. Maes, as you’ll recall, considered Denver’s celebrated B-cycle program our city’s first step in aiding a United Nations take over of America. No, really. But if the program’s expansion is any indicator, why Maes may yet see vindication in the form of red bikes flitting all across town.

If this is what U.N. domination looks like, then I’m all for it.

A little more about the program:

Fifty dollars a year gets you a B-cycle membership, which offers unlimited use of the bikes around Boulder, and registration takes place online or at a B-cycle location with a credit card (no debit). Just like a Redbox DVD, you can pick up a bike anywhere and drop it off at any other B-Cycle location in the city. Boulder’s program will start with a dozen docks, most around the Pearl Street mall but planned expansion will bring the total to 15.

If you’re not ready for a year-long commitment, you can opt for a week pass for $15 or a 24-hour pass for $5. Not a bad deal, especially if you’re showing a friend around town and prefer pedal power. Be aware, though, that you’ll need to arrive at your destination within 30 minutes, lest additional charges (up to a daily maximum of $65) will apply. The program also takes care of the maintenance and upkeep of all the bikes, so flats, sticky gears and other ailments of the two-wheeled variety aren’t likely to crop up, and if they do, at least someone else is paying for it.

The bikes themselves seem solid and reliable. They’re Treks, kind of cruiser-y with little basket for toting goodies. They won’t offer road or track bike performance and handling around town, so I don’t expect to see many folks “taking the lane” on a B-cycle. But just the same, these bikes get you around without much fuss.

The need for urban bike sharing (and why it won’t work in Highlands Ranch)

At present, we’re a two-car, five-bike household, and B-cycle still makes sense. Sometimes we only want to make a one-way trip by bike; sometimes we don’t want to worry about theft once we arrive; but all of the time, we live in a city that makes cycling possible. Denver’s (and Boulder’s) density affords those opportunities.

Our trips routinely break down into three types: long-distance pleasure (i.e. skiing), short-distance necessities and pleasure (i.e. getting groceries/going to a bar), and commuting. We still need car to accomplish the first and, for C—, the third, but for all the local trips which comprise the plurality of our outings, we can rely on bikes. Everything is that close.

And that, quite frankly, is the magic of the big city. Population density begets commercial density, which is why in our neighborhood you’ll find two grocery stores within a few blocks of each other. Per capita, I’d imagine we have just as many, perhaps fewer, bars than a place like Arvada. But per square mile, we have more of just about everything, including theaters, museums and restaurants. In that environment, biking to the destination often takes less time and requires less hassle than does driving. Given enough people and enough destinations in the same area, B-cycle seemed an eventuality. The same holds true in Boulder.

On the other hand, uber-planned suburb Highlands Ranch offers precisely nothing within walking or biking distance of the average resident, although I suspect that’s part of the appeal. The West is all about Land, after all, and at 4,548 3,018 people per square mile, Highlands Ranch simply has too much land and too few people to make use of services like B-cycle. So instead, sedans abound, along with the attendant difficulties of traffic and pollution. But the houses are big.

Should Denver’s Big Air Be Free? 27 January 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Economics, Skiing.
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It’s not often that I find at topic at the intersection of skiing and economics. In fact, this might well be the first time. But here we are. I hope you’re as excited as I am. Anyway. As you may have seen on some network (I don’t know which one it was), over the course of the last two days Denver hosted America’s first municipal ski and snowboard Big Air competition. No US city had attempted anything like it, much less pulled in an FIS World Cup event–the kind reserved for places like Aspen or Innsbruck.

Denver, though, dumped money into the project, erecting a 106′ ramp in the middle of Civic Center Park, a downtown icon between the capitol and Denver’s city and county building. Copper Mountain provided the machines and crews to make (literally) tons of snow. Skiers and riders competed for thousands of cheering fans. Switchfoot played.

Thing was, Denver charged for it. General admission tickets for the viewing area went for $45. VIP passes, which included dinner and drinks, set visitors back up to $200. Fine, you might say, but in a front page story in the Denver Post, some folks in Denver howled about this misuse of a public space. After all, parks were public, they said. Here’s Larry Ambrose, c0-chairman of the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation Parks and Recreation Committee:

“It would be much better if it was free. I am not sure our parks should be venues. . . . I don’t want to say it’s a terrible idea. It’s a little silly. If it were free, it might be acceptable.”

His concern about using parks as venues holds merit. Why not use Mile High instead? But it only makes sense that a city pursuing the Olympics might demonstrate its public snowsports chops by hosting an event like the Big Air. It becomes a civic undertaking and a matter of civic pride: Denver demonstrated to America that is could plan, support and draw crowds to a ski and snowboard competition–when no one else had even tried. I suspect it will appear as a bullet point in Denver’s Olympic resume, but I’m a poor judge of those sorts of subjective things.

I know better the economics of the situation, and I know when things ought to be free. Denver’s Big Air didn’t qualify. Consider the essential argument these folks employed in advocating for a free event: public spaces should be available for free to all, parks are public spaces, and therefore the event should be open to the public, free of charge. But why should we agree with the first premise? In fact, in all fairness to Denver taxpayers, events in the city’s parks should not necessarily be free, especially when they draw visitors from other towns as this one almost assuredly did.

Consider what’s fair in this situation. While Denver residents do indeed support city parks and common spaces with their tax dollars, the money needed to host the Big Air comp went above and beyond that level support–the level generally agreeable to voters. To raise the additional money, Denver sold sponsorships and tickets to willing participants, leaving taxpayers (mostly) off the hook for the production’s expense. That is, the people and businesses who wanted to be a part of the event were the ones asked to pay for it. Sound fair? If you think not, then consider the alternative: Denver’s half-million taxpayers supporting an event that the vast majority of them would never see. That’s the alternative.

There are, of course, situations in which it makes sense for governments to provide services for their citizens without making direct charges. In economic parlance, those are called “public goods.” To qualify, the good must be non-excludable and non-rival. But that likely means nothing to you. In real english, we’re saying that the government ought to provide a good where there’s no reasonable way of excluding people from consuming the it and that when one person does consume the good, it doesn’t harm another person’s ability to do so.

Take the example of a fireworks show. You can’t really stop people from seeing fireworks, unless maybe you’re Ted Turner and you set them off in the middle of your 10,000-acre ranch. And when one person sees the show, it doesn’t really take away from another person’s experience. For a private company, those two facts equate to a certain conclusion: no way to make money. How can you charge for an event that people will still see for free anyway? Without governments, resorts and theme parks, there would be no fireworks. The world would be a sadder, though nicer-smelling, place. For the exact opposite, consider a Snickers bar: you can keep people from buying by sticking it inside a vending machine, and when I eat, there’s not a Snickers bar left for you. Too bad for you, but good for the economy.

So back to Big Air. In an economically perfect world, the government would have left the event up to a private company. It would have taken place at Ilitch’s or Mile High or some other private venue. But for the reasons discussed earlier, our civic ego demanded government, not private, action. And from there on out, Denver handled the event as the private sector would have. They sought sponsorships. They charged for tickets to provide the service, using market tools to best allocate resources. They went to Groupon. And though you may not believe me, those solutions work. They provide the greatest total benefit to the consumers and producers, in this case the city and the attendees.

So “public” is not synonymous with “free,” nor should it be. Denver’s Big Air was worth the price.

How much of Keystone is open by… 11 November 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Skiing.
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When does X terrain open at Keystone, Breck, Vail, etc? It’s a common enough question that I’ve decided to provide a little info for Keystone (which is celebrating a 40th birthday this year) since I know it best. More to follow when I get the time.

I absolutely, postively must ski the white ribbon of death on Keystone’s opening weekend. When should I book my flight?

– Keystone’s elevation and snowmaking capacity allow it to get started just behind Colorado leaders Loveland and A-Basin, and due to its proximity to Denver, Keystone can make a profit from day (rather than destination) skiers early on . Shoot for the first weekend in November. Keystone will be open, rocks, downed trees and all.

I hate hosting family at my place. How much of Keystone will be open by Thanksgiving?

– Typically snowmaking along with natural snowfall will make most of Dercum Mountain and North Peak skiable in time to make skiing more attractive than watching the Lions. Coverage will still be thin and North Peak’s main bump runs, Powder Cap and Ambush, will probably be closed. The groomers usually leave part of Last Alamo alone at this time of year, so if you like scary, crusty bumps head there. Otherwise go back to Dercum andlook for some short, less challenging ones just under the gondola on Flying Dutchman. For park rats, Area 51 will probably be open as well depending on temperature and where the snowmaking money is going. If you enjoy the novelty of skiing on bad snow under lights, night skiing is also an option at this point.

I cherish what little vacation time I have but place no value on an enjoyable ski experience. How much of Keystone will be open in the week between Christmas and New Year’s?

– Most of it. Snowmaking has stopped by this point, so you’ll be relying on nature to provide coverage. The Outback, with all its tree and bump runs will be open, although coverage can still be spotty since this area is left more “natural” than the other parts of the resort. You’re more likely to run into rocks and downed trees this early in the season, so proceed carefully.

For what it’s worth, though, I skied knee deep back there on Christmas Eve last year. In a good snow year, the bumps will almost all be open, except perhaps some to skiers left on North Peak. You’ll see the saplings poking through them riding the Santiago Lift. The hike-to terrain may be open, too, but ask patrol first before taking too much time on foot. Wind scours the bowls, so don’t expect to find face shots this early–or ever, in all likelihood.

I like powder. When should I bring my snorkle to Keystone?

– You have picked the wrong mountain. Get thee to Wolf Creek.

I plan on celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s contributions to our country by participating in a sport enjoyed exclusively by rich white people. What will terrain be like on MLK weekend?

– Coverage will be firming up most everywhere. The trees may still be thin, but you can explore most of the mountain with confidence. The

Your keg won't care if you don't find those hot coeds you were seeking.

tight trees in the Windows between Dercum and North Peak are at a southern exposure, so probably best to avoid them if they’re open.

I’m planning to score some hot biddies over spring break. Will there still be enough snow at Keystone for me to show off my mad skillz in March? Also, “Frat! Frat! Frat!”

– Yes. March is Keystone’s snowiest month on average. This is probably the best time to be skiing here. You will not, however, find women at Keystone, so don’t plan on presenting all the bros at the Frateau with a gaggle of snow bunnies. Only your keg will provide reliable entertainment after hours.

I am addicted to skiing Keystone. I want more! When does Keystone close?

– The second weekend in April, generally. This season, Keystone’s closing day is April 10, 2011, which  also coincides with the mountain’s deepest base of the year. Vail Resorts will tell you it has something to do with an elk migration or calving or something, and Texans will say it’s because snow can’t possibly exist into April. Vail comes closer to the truth–elk don’t appreciate spinning lifts too much–but in actuality Keystone closes because skiers lose interest. Since it’s a business, not the government, when the cashflow turns negative, they turn out the lights and everyone goes home until summer.

There’s always A-Basin, though.

Kansas Undercover: Dan Maes Knockin’ Down Kingpins, Protectin’ the Innocent 31 August 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Uncategorized.
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Look. I don’t really do political blogging. But For Dan Maes, I have made and will continue to make exceptions: this is bad politician blogging. How such a bumbler ever bamboozled anyone into thinking he might make a viable governor, overseeing thousands of state employees and representing Colorado before the entire country, I just don’t know. He’s probably a nice man, this Dan Maes, an okay conversationalist over a beer, but in writing his campaign material, he’s broken two of the cardinal rules: 1)that the material must make sense and 2) that it must have at one point flirted with fact.  Consider the following, which does neither. (And read the whole thing. It only gets better)

Maes previously said he was fired as a police officer in Liberal, Kan., after working undercover with the KBI in a gambling and drug probe.

A statement he wrote for his campaign website that was later removed, said: “At one point in my 2 years there I was place (sic) undercover by the Kansas Bureau of Investigations (sic) to gather information inside a bookmaking ring that was also allegedly selling drugs. I got too close to some significant people in the community who were involved in these activities and abruptly was dismissed from my position. I was blindsided and stunned to say the least.”

Maes was asked about his statement that he was placed undercover after law enforcement sources in Kansas disputed the claim in interviews with the Denver Post.

“Some people are probably taking that a little too literally,” he said. “I was a city police officer providing information to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.”

Maes said that he could not offer any records to back that up.

“This was 25 years ago,” he said, adding that, “It’s just not worth covering that much. It’s a non-issue.”

So was he really working “undercover”?

“Those comments might have been incorrect comments,” Maes said.

The director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation said they have no record of Maes working with the agency during his stint as a police officer from 1983 to 1985.

“We’ve checked our records. We’ve talked to people working in that area (southwest Kansas) at the time,” said Bob Blecha, director of the law enforcement agency. “He (Maes) refers to a gambling case and possible drugs. They (agents) don’t recall him working with them on any case like that.”

Blecha said some of the agents, most of whom are now retired, do remember Maes as a police officer. It’s possible Maes at some point cooperated with agents on small matters as other officers might, Blecha said.

But he stressed, “He (Maes) did not work for us or with us on an investigation.”

In the statement posted to his website, Maes elaborated on his work as a police officer:

“… I was a young officer caught in a situation that was much bigger than myself with no where (sic) to go. I am proud to say that I never participated in any illegal activity while undercover. Although this chapter of my life was yet another one where I fought the machine, I will not discuss the details any further as many who were involved in this situation are still alive and in new places in their lives and I want to protect them.”

Poor Dan Maes, but in one sense he’s hit the nail on the head: He really is caught up in something bigger than he is… with nowhere to go.

Go to the Denver Post to read the rest.

Cycling Berthoud Pass 30 August 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado Passes, Cycling, Uncategorized.
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You know Berthoud Pass–probably as the inconvenient stretch of road that stands between you and a much shorter trip to Winter Park. And since the Ski Train stopped toot-tooting its way up to the resort last year–thanks, Amtrak–it is no longer simply slow, but mandatory as well. Not the winning combination. Bike rides, however, are optional, and while you might complain about the 24.3 miles between Empire and Winter Park come winter, spin easy for now in the knowledge that Berthoud Pass provides a pleasant diversion within an hour of Denver.

A while back, I mentioned that despite being Really Big, Golden’s Lookout Mountain fell short of truly enormous when placed alongside other climbs here in Colorado. Berthoud, on the other hand, is appropriately large. The route ascends a vertical half mile, topping at out at more than two miles above sea level. That is, 2730′ up, reaching 11,330′ over the course of a little more than 13 miles. Check out the profile:

11,300' can be chilly at any time of year. Plan accordingly. (Click for larger image.)

You can see, then, that it’s not nearly so difficult as it sounds at first. Large? Yes. Daunting? No. Provided you’re not arriving from sea level anyway. Those seeking real challenge can head elsewhere, but if you’re in the mood for a fairly benign climb with alpine panoramas nearly the whole way, you’ll want to check out Berthoud Pass.


First, a word of warning: if you’re not into dealing with traffic, Berthoud’s not for you. As the only sensible route north in this neck of the woods, US 40 carries a consistent if almost constant stream of cars, trucks, SUVs and 18-wheelers. Thankfully, the shoulder offers a road unto itself, well more than a lane wide. And all that traffic has driven commensurate investment: new, smooth pavement and grades never that never exceed the dreaded 6% threshold. So it’s a double-edged sword. As much traffic on any other road, and you’d take your toys and go home, but Berthoud makes it bearable, if something short of ideal.

Lotta cars

There, you’ve been warned. So what’s in store?

Your starting point depends on how much you’re willing to endure, but Empire makes the most sense if only because bike rides should always begin or end at a place with greasy food readily available. Dairy King serves fried mushrooms, malts, burgers and anything else that makes cardiologists cringe. Bring cash, though. No plastic here. Anyway, Empire’s more or less like any other small mountain town where everything involves antiques and buildings that look on the verge of collapse. The petunias help, at least. I’m all for urban renewal.

As you ride away, you’ll get a couple miles to warm up and wonder why exactly Empire is called Empire. But before it really starts eating at you, you’ll arrive at the more aptly-named Berthoud Falls, which in reality comprises little more than a general store and, I think, a campground. You’ve been traveling up a reasonably scenic valley so far, and mile seven offers the first point of real interest, a distinct avy track to your left, much better than the one that ran down the drainage at mile four. Crashing downhill for at least a couple thousand feet, the wall of snow laid flat every tree in its path–a remind of the terrible things that will happen to you if ski backcountry without the proper knowledge. (/teachable moment)

From here on out, you can thank every engineer who slacked in college and chose to design highways instead. I’d give you the number of switchbacks involved but I’ve never been very good at counting, so how does “lots” sound? Good, right? The first and longest rises perpendicular to the valley you’ve just completed and offers frequent and unobstructed views of the highway below. The majority of the more difficult grades occur from miles seven to ten, yet between the smooth roads and soaring peaks, the climb itself never commands much attention. Be on the look for waterfalls as well. They continue to flow late into the summer. You’ll catch a lot of gravel, sand and rocks heading this direction, as well, all of which can be easily avoided. Unless you’re looking up at a mountain of course–a distinct possibility.

You’ll also notice a fair number of concrete troughs lining your side of the road. The shoulder and curb feed into them, and if you peer in, you’ll see what looks like a sluice gate facing down the mountain. Curious? It’s all part of an effort to control runoff from snow melt and heavy storms. Because the road itself won’t allow the water to seep into the ground as it might normally, it concentrates runoff that scours streams and erodes the hillside. By allowing the water to run into the troughs and pour out through the relatively small gate, the highway engineers have constrained the flow at any one time. Total volume’s the same, but it no longer occurs as one stream-destroying spike. Same idea goes for the retention pond behind the local strip mall. Now you know.

The final switchbacks offer views into the western extension valley you initially climbed and more peaks above treeline. Engelmann Peak with its magnificent cirque dominates the landscape across the way. If you remember nothing else on this ride you’ll remember Engelmann.

It’s also right around here that the money seems to have dried up. Just before mile 12, the expansive shoulder disappears and the asphalt cracks like the sun-parched bed of a vanished lake. It doesn’t last long–only the final mile–and at its end, you find yourself at a parking area on top of this little part of the world. Up to right lies the what’s left of Berthoud Pass Ski Area, reputed to be the first public ski hill in Colorado, its first rope tow installed in 1937. Over the years, the mountain never really got going like its next-door neighbor Winter Park. The final owner pulled up the stakes in 2002, but the area remains popular with backcountry enthusiasts attracted by easy accessibility and several hundred inches of pristine powder each winter. Looking due north you’ll see the summit station of Winter Park’s Panoramic Express and US 40’s switchbacks into the valley below. Farther away, but still visible on a clear day, are the Indian Peaks north-northeast of the overlook.

From here you can continue into Winter Park, a slightly shorter ride, or return to Empire. The descent never really allows for the speeds you’d like to achieve because of the traffic, and that first mile must be taken with care, but overall, it’s smooth sailing. Take care and enjoy the ride.

Cycling Lookout Mountain 11 August 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Cycling, Uncategorized.
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If you have ever sinned a great sin against a cyclist, you may atone for it by riding Lookout Mountain. There waits the ritual purification of climbing.

When I first drove up Lookout, I marveled at the cyclists completing the same task on two wheels and under their own power. “Intense,” I told C—, “I’d be hating life if that were me.” And at the time, that would have been the case, but several hundred miles and many thousands of feet climbed separate that time from now. My tune has changed. So will yours if you’ve never given this great little ride a try. It’s only twenty minutes from Denver, and mile-for-mile absolutely the most scenic route this close to downtown. Hands down.

Let’s start with the important part: the climb. This about sums it up.

7 sad states have high points shorter than this climb.

Rising 1300′ give or take  from the curiously-named Beverly Heights Park to Buffalo Bill’s grave—yes, that Buffalo Bill—Lookout Mountain is Real Big. Maybe not Colorado big, where passes routinely involve 3000-4000 uphill feet, but at an average grade of 6.1%, this thing’s not joking. Of course, it’s not as though anyone laughing either. They’re grimacing, mostly. And you will too at first.

The ride begins at A,  just outside Golden. It’s highway the whole way from Denver, too. Just stay on, or get off on US 6, and take a left on 19th.

And then it’s pretty simple, really: park the car, get your biking self together and point the front wheel uphill. As you can see from the elevation, however, you get about a half mile to warm up and then the pain begins. It’s a subtle thing, though, since way back in 1917 (did you notice the date on the gates when you started?) the engineers designed the road for maximum scenic value and, consequently, maximum windiness. You’ll rarely see more than a couple hundred feet ahead. If you’re a Denver-area English teacher, a ride up Lookout offers an excellent way for your students to muddle the distinction between torturous and tortuous.  Field trip!

Regardless of whether you can divine the road ahead, the view to the right continues to improve as you climb. The initial mile or so heads north, giving you the chance to peer over a miniature version of Golden, the Coors Brewery and Table Mountain. Start your ride after 5:30 in the summer and you’ll spend the entire time taking in the scenery during what photographers call the “golden hour,” those fleeting minutes of every day where the light strikes the landscape just right and everything seems to glow. And because afternoon thunderstorms roll over Denver more or less every day, you’re going to see a lot of rainbows if you make this trip enough.

I say all those nice things to make you forget that this is indeed a climb involving several stretches of 9% grades. The scenery grows no less pleasant as you turn away from Golden at mile 1.2. Clear Creek Canyon opens ahead and you’ve put the really nasty stuff behind you for a bit. At 4%, those big switchbacks feel positively flat, although on days when the wind howls down the canyon, you may wish for the steep stuff  just to be rid of the gale. With the switchbacks behind you, the road briefly swings back over Golden then turns up a gulch toward Windy Saddle–the three mile mark. If you’re not concerned about timing yourself up the mountain, the parking area here provides a view well worth a stop and a place to start your ride if you’d prefer a “Lookout-lite”: 400 vertical feet from this to the full ride’s 1300.

Although Windy Saddle sits more than two thirds of the way up the mountain, I’ve always found that road beyond this point seems the most difficult. The several steep switchbacks that follow feel much worse coming off the easier stretch, but they lead to an even better view and what will by then seem like a benign 4% grade into the summit.

There’s a gift shop and interpretive center up there, but I’ve never felt an inclination to wander into either. If you must know, though, Buffalo Bill was a crazy young, and later, old, coot who ran around American and Europe with a bunch of Indians in tow presenting a caricature of the West in his Wild West Show. You can blame him, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood for most of the silly, romantic things people believe about this part country today. The real West sprawls before you from the viewing platform behind the gift shop. Here you can see the Denver skyline, the suburban blight, the reservoirs, the highways. Look at all that and then buy a panoramic postcard of it in the gift shop.

The ride back down defines “technical descent.” Prepare yourself and your brakes for switchbacks at high speed. Despite the rare and easily-spotted patch of sand or gravel, the descent never gives reason for concern. The last third of a mile even received new pavement this summer, and the rest is nice enough. Back at your car, take a look at your watch. Bet it took less than an hour if you didn’t dawdle. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better value for your post-work minutes, and although that means you’ll often run into other folks along the way, you can now share in their pain. And their joy.

Cycling Tennessee Pass 26 July 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado Passes, Cycling, Uncategorized.
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Three posts constitutes a theme, I think, and if that theme is that cycling is becoming my summer complement to skiing… well, I’m okay with that. I can now legitimately say I ski and ride. That thanks to Colorado’s near-limitless and beautiful road riding opportunities. Really, as someone who enjoys writing, I ought to know more and better words for describing  the scenery in this state, but it defies a thesaurus. It’s jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, arresting, gorgeous, Edenic, paradisiacal. It’s just super duper if you ask me. Thankfully, writing is about nouns and verbs, not adjectives.

But cycling is about places to see and hills to climb and beers to be had afterward. For all that, you need to check out Tennessee Pass–ideally, from Minturn to Leadville. And back. The 60 miles involved may sound like more than enough, but after the first thirty, it no longer matters. It is very nearly all downhill, which of course means that half the ride went uphill. But no matter.

Check out the elevation profile:

Click to view full size. Battle Mountain is that first bump. It's more of a workout than it seems here.

Expect to burn in the neighborhood of 3100 calories. If you’re like me and measure workouts in fast food menu items, that’s a lot of McFlurries–or about three Chipotle burritos. And you thought they were healthy…

The ride begins in Minturn, a town of unclear purpose between Vail and Avon, and about a two hour drive from Denver. Claire and I departed on Saturday afternoon through a festival of some sort, one of those catch-all mountain town-type festivals that feature “local wares,” dream catchers, and bears carved out of stumps. As a rule, everyone who owns a ski condo shops at these festivals. I hate bears carved out of stumps.

Soon enough, because Minturn is about 100 feet long, US 24 heads out of town and turns up the valley following the Eagle River and a now-defunct rail line. Bumps and breaks in the road make this section less pleasant than it could be, but its two miles offer an acceptable warm-up for the climb that follows.

At almost two miles on the dot, the rails and road split way. The former continues its riparian journey and the latter clings to the valley walls, climbing from 8000 to 9200 feet in about four miles at somewhere between 6 and 7.5% grades the whole way. To a skier’s mind, that sounds like barely enough to start moving, but on wheels, gradients in that neighborhood exact a brutal toll on the lungs. The views at least remain a bright spot: the river that continues to fall farther below, 13,237′ Notch Moutain, and a several hundred foot cascade that falls into the Eagle River on the right.

Nearing the summit brings Gilman into view. Improbably perched on the cliffs overlooking the river, the town no longer serves any purpose. The EPA signed residents’ eviction notices in 1984 and declared the properties and the adjacent mine a Superfund site–uninhabitable. It’s not a ghost town in the romantic sense of the term, but in every other way, right down to the cars left in the carports, Gilman lays bare the forces that have shaped the west. If the funding comes through, the whole area will become a ski resort, replete with chalets and overpriced Bud Light. You may wonder how this squares with the area’s toxic status. The government, however, seems less curious.

The highways falls for a mile and a half after Gilman, a welcome and cooling relief that ends with the steel arch bridge at Red Cliff. If you have a camera, you will take a photo here not because anyone will want to see it, but because the bridge is that cool.

The next seven or so miles continue the upward trend, albeit at a less severe angle, leveling off as the road runs alongside the remains of Camp Hale, training ground for the 10th Mountain Division during and for sometime after World War II. Wikipedia also places it as a CIA training ground for Tibetan dissidents, drawing parallels with the Bay of Pigs invasion. For what it’s worth, this seems like one of the more, well, imaginative ideas I’ve discovered Wikipedia in a while. But who knows. It could be true. I could do more research, but rumors inspire more interest than fact.

What is true, is that the 10th Mountain Division spent most of its time skiing and shooting guns, occasionally at Italians, which is what its soldiers were trained to do in the first place. Another leg-burning six miles uphill (Be sure to stop at the “Standard Service” shack on the right for free water.) leaves you at Tennessee Pass’s 10,424′ summit,  Ski Cooper and a memorial for the men who died during that campaign. It also displays the 10th Mountain’s emblem: a fully-armed panda on skis. This Rambo Panda. Rambo Panda on skis.  I make a promise of payment in PBR or the bad beer of your choice if you can find a piece of ski gear that features it.

Descending from Tennessee Pass feels like entering another world. Gone are the cliffs and pines and bordered the road for the last 25 miles. Now, the highway stretches straight as a string across the valley toward Leadville. Fourteen thousand foot peaks loom on either side, and cows mill in bucolic bliss. If this isn’t the valley where every beef manufacturer makes its commercials, I don’t know what is. Feed lots have to suck after tenure at this, the Upper East Side of grazing addresses.

One last push and you roll into Leadville. I’ll save the description for another day, but suffice it to say the town warrants a stop when you’re in the neighborhood–if only because it offers the best happy hour on earth: from 3-7 two PBRs for $1. Drop in after a stop at High Mountain Pies. It’s a just reward for the 30 miles you put in, and the thirty breezy miles you’ll have ahead. But you really don’t need all that fuel. The return home takes half the effort and is twice the fun. Everyone likes going downhill.

Props to Claire for the majority of these photos.

Colorado Beer 14 July 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Uncategorized.
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Great Divide Brewing Co–my new favorite brew team–doesn’t have the money or the time for video marketing.

But its fans do. Leisure suits, street justice and beer together here: