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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.


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.


Snow! And other stuff. 10 October 2011

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Okay, so it’s been a while. Consider this the omnibus post before winter begins in earnest. Just to get it out of the way, if you’re reading Powder this month, check out page 46. You might remember my article in there from a blog post last year. Too bad it’s not online or I’d shill for myself with a link. That said, here be a few things:

Wolf Creek opened

Ski season has already begun, in  a way that no one really expected. Normally there’s the slugfest between A-Basin and Loveland to see who can deliver the first white ribbon of death, but the lifts at Wolf Creek started spinning on… Saturday, and those folks don’t even use snowmaking equipment. The three foot dump the San Juans received evidently amounted to enough. That’s what the photos indicated anyway: all the Colorado resorts under a dusting of now, the aspens still showing through,then Wolf Creek, where a front-loader was pushing around what looked like a mid-season dump. Check out all the photos in OnTheSnow’s gallery. They more or less sum up every season at Wolf Creek, a  powder paradise (by Colorado standards) that delivers some moderate tree skiing and occasional short steeps.

The first ski films have hit the theaters

You’ll still have to wait on Warren Miller, if he, or Jonny Moseley, is your man, But Matchstick Productions has already come out with Attack of La Nina, and Colorado College grad Nick Waggoner released Solitaire last month, too. If you have to pick one or the other, then go with Matchstick for big mountain porn and Solitaire for cinematography and an interesting narrative that riffs on Heart of Darkness.

Last year’s The Way I See It is the better of the two recent Matchstick films, though, probably because Alaska experienced such a miserable year. But that still doesn’t pardon the sin of illustrating Silverton as a place purely to go backcountry jibbing or, worse, to try some urban assault stuff in town with a tether and a snowmobile. That’s why Minneapolis exists. There’s also the issue of Colby West who—we get it—is a Funny Guy who skis. The three minute rocker montage strikes me as contrived and gimmicky. Colby’s funny enough when left to his enough devices. Don’t force it.  And what about Ingrid Backstrom?

At any rate, there’s enough Cody Townsend to go around, and that makes up for most of it. And really, who can be that critical of ski porn? It’s good stuff.

You Should See Larry

Larry’s Boot Fitting in Boulder doesn’t pay me to say nice things about them on the internet. They didn’t even ask. But that’s the sign of a good company. If anything ailed your feet last season, see Larry. To the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t met a foot he couldn’t fit, and within a few minutes he can identify pretty much any problem with your current rig. That, and if you’re in there for a fitting, there’s free beer and ski porn while you wait. If you’re going to to drop close to a grand on some boots, you might as well get an IPA and some 90s Glen Plake footage out of it too.

More posts

Expect more frequent posts this season, probably on the order of a few times a week. I’m still going to be working on longer posts about individual resorts and stuff like buying and selling skis on Craiglist, but I’ll also be on the lookout to send worthwhile content your way, so keep checking in. Posting was a little light this summer, and I’m sorry for that, but the ski focus for this winter should be on target.

Five Ways to Become a Better Skier 13 January 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Skiing.
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When I first started thinking about this topic, I figured everyone on earth had already done it. But no. Google, sole arbiter of  popularity for all things, indicates that not many folks are writing about how you can become a better skier. For shame, rest of the internet, for shame. I’m not a ski instructor, but I do have a blog, and I ski a lot, so I’ll try to help. Read-on, middling skier, and discover how you can break from mediocrity–and have more fun on the mountain.

1. Ski with Better Skiers

You’ll never improve if you avoid pushing yourself. And without other, better folks around to prod you a little bit, I doubt you’ll find much motivation to get better. After all, when you’re beating all your friends down the hill on the blues, why tackle the blacks when no one will follow you? If you’re already a blue skier, find a few other friends—the guys you know who spend the weekend hitting the moguls or searching for face shots—and catch a ride up with them.

Chances are, they won’t mind your tagging along and taking a little more time to get down the hill, unless it’s a powder day, in which case, you’ll be told to meet them later on at the bar. But on an average weekend, heading out with folks who look just a little better on the slopes will show you what’s possible, and you’ll likely get a few pointers, too. If you’ve always been first down the mountain, now you’ll play catch up, and you’ll find that the new challenges helps re-focus your effort. When you go back to skiing with your other buddies after a few weeks, you’ll notice just how much simpler the old slopes have become.

One note, though: when choosing a new ski group, look for folks skiing a level above you. So if you’re comfortable on greens, find guys (and gals) who like blues, but not blacks. Or if you like the blues already, shoot for a group that does diamonds on occasion but doesn’t venture into double-diamond EX terrain or other foolishness. Know your limits. When the divide grows too large, both sides end up frustrated and neither gets much out of the relationship. So don’t be afraid to ask where your friends like to ski; they don’t want to be slowed down anymore than you want to get in over your head.

2. Take a lesson

Okay. Maybe that seems obvious to you. But I hope it doesn’t. I hope you the $100-plus price tag (plus tip, of course) has always made you think twice about listening to some other dude tell you how poorly you ski. I promise you it’s worth it, however. Ten times over I promise you, because whenever you ask your friends, they’ll lie. Your friends simply cannot objectively assess your skiing in the way an instructor can, so take the time to spend a day with a group of six or eight, and figure out what it is that’s keeping you from tackling more challenging terrain. Maybe it’s fear. The fundamentals are there, but you don’t realize it. Maybe you’re like that guy who points his entire body in the direction he intends to do. Whatever the cause, an instructor can help you identify it, and you’ll become a better skier for it. I know I did, and I was skiing nearly every day last year. And yes, you’ll certainly wait around a little, wasting time you could be skiing, but good instruction will compensate you for that downtime.

Another note: if your significant other can offer ski-school quality instruction, don’t take it. Don’t ever take it. Using a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse as instructor inevitably ends in a ruined day. “He’ll teach me,” you think, imagining  a white knight saving you from each fall and acting as your shield against the careening masses. In reality, he’ll be yelling, “Turn! No! I mean now! Like this! No! ” And you will hate him forever. No amount of beer bought at the end of the day will quench your thirst for retribution.

3. Try a few more difficult runs each time you ski

Falling doesn’t suck. In fact, it demonstrates that you’re challenging yourself, and it gives the folks on the lift a good laugh. But don’t think about that. Remember the first time you skied the bunny slope, the terror you felt at how steep it was? And then you realized that falling didn’t hurt nearly as much as you thought it would. The same holds true now that you’re skiing blues and easy blacks. The same principals apply no matter the terrain; you just need to move up incrementally, so make sure that you’re skiing slightly outside your ability on a few runs each day. Not out of control, mind you, just a little outside your perceived ability. Eventually, you’ll feel your comfort growing on that terrain, and don’t let your falls deter you. Everything seemed steep at one point, and as your comfort level grows, you’ll return to the same blues you used to ski and wonder, “How did I ever consider this scary?” It’s a good feeling.

4. Get fit

This one ought to seem obvious, too, but skiing takes a lot of effort. If you’re carrying around too little muscle and too much fat, you’re going to find skiing a difficult endeavor. Sure, plenty of husky guys shred day in and day out, but are you one of them? If not, you’ll need to assess your overall fitness level. Jumping on a bike now and then or taking on a weightlifting regimen will pay off on the mountain. When you wear out, you get sloppy, and if you love skiing and can only make it up on the weekends, getting sloppy after five runs can’t be a good use of your time. Yes, better technique will give you greater efficiency—less effort on any given run—but when you’re not longer exerting yourself because of poor form, you can use energy to go faster, tackle moguls more ambitiously, or to try more ambitious powder runs. You can use all the energy you have, so figure out the right cardiovascular activity that helps build your stamina for the slopes—whether that’s more skiing, biking, jogging or Zoomba-ing doesn’t matter. When you get up on the hill, you want to be ready, not afraid that you’ll head for the lodge at noon.

5. Invest in good equipment

No matter what you might think, it’s not all about you. Yes, in any given situation on the mountain, it’s probably about you, but if you’re still hanging out in the rear-entry boots (see the photo at the top of this post) you found at a garage sale, then you need to consider investing in something a little better. Boots that fit poorly and skis your grandmother gave you won’t allow to take proper advantage of the mountain. Maybe that’s stretching it a bit, though. Anyone who touts any skis other than the Volkl Mantra as “all-mountain” is probably lying, and you’d do well to explore the other options available. With skis too narrow, you’ll find it more difficult than necessary to float through powder. With skis too short, you’ll chatter at high speeds. And with skis too stiff, you’ll see that moguls will exact a mighty penance.

Think about that, and then consider that boots, too, will play an outsized role in your performance on the mountain. Performance always comes as a trade against comfort, and if your feet and calves are sloshing around in your boots, chance are, your skis don’t feel very responsive either. If you ski more than 10 or 15 days in a year, then you owe it to yourself to visit a proper ski shop to get a set-up that fits your needs and wants.


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.

Matchstick Productions’ The Way I See It 21 September 2010

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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.

Vail Snow Report: asd;flkajfpaosdfoj1!!!11 7 April 2010

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19″ inches in the last 24hrs. 30″ in the last two days.

If yesterday was the best powder day of my life, then today I’ve died and gone to heaven. Heaven with an afternoon shift, that is.

Something like what this guy’s doing:

Winter Park Impressions 5 April 2010

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More than a week ago, I posted photos from Winter Park on Facebook, and it’s obvious they never made it to the blog. Typically I try to do the opposite in the hopes that when you stop by for photos, you’ll browse the writing as well. Perhaps this is optimistic–but the stats say otherwise, you browsers, you. So quit looking at Facebook and drop by here instead.

To most folks in the Front Range, Winter Park sits alongside Keystone, Copper and Breck as a mountain worth a weekend visit. Vail and Beaver Creek are just too far (and too pricey), and no one stays the night to ski Loveland, A-Basin, or Ski Cooper–despite Leadville’s desperate marketing, which essentially pleads, “We were important… once. Try us again?” So for the Friday/Saturday night stay crowd, those four ski resorts round out the options, and although I haven’t skied Copper yet, I’d guess that it, too, will supersede Keystone in my growing rankings of resorts. Nearly everything has so far.

Winter Park falls somewhere in the middle: excellent terrain if snow has fallen recently. Otherwise, not much of a mountain. Of course, the same holds true for Keystone, which would benefit from additional snowfall, too–another 100″ a year might make its trees more palatable–but where Winter Park needs powder, it gets it, clocking in as one of the state’s snowiest resorts. I’ll hike thirty minutes for knee-deep steeps, and I’ll begrudge a new, slow triple chair to ski dappled glades. Winter Park makes that possible.

Divided into two or maybe three mountains, Mary Jane, Winter Park, and Vasquez Cirque, the resort more or less prevents beginners and intermediates from spending any time with experts, meaning few possibilities for the kids to ski blues while Mom and Dad ski the bumps. For anyone used to the dread of approaching one of Vail’s ten bajillion cat-tracks at mach speed, that division offers a relief.

But maybe you like ski with yours kids. Tough luck. And maybe you don’t like bumps. Again, tough luck. Winter Park’s 1975 Mary Jane expansion gave it a national reputation for moguls, so much so that finding anything else at first comes a pleasant surprise. “No pain, no Jane” go the bumper stickers around here. Of course, given the resort’s more than three thousand acres, Mary Jane isn’t the be all and end all of the Winter Park experience.

In fact, it’s rather a nice distraction from the more entertaining hike-to steeps off Vasquez Cirque (which isn’t at all a cirque, but hey). It’s impossible to avoid comparisons to Keystone, so I won’t try. The difference between the hike-to terrain at both resorts might best be summed as, “whether it’s worthwhile.” And Keystone’s typically isn’t. Hiking offers its own rewards, but the opportunity to ski a benign pitch on wind-effected crust isn’t one of them. Winter Park serves up the steep and deep on anything off the top of the Cirque. Granted, backcountry enthusiasts won’t much care for the caravan-style trek, but for everyone else, a doable hike to the steep stuff makes up for most of the money spent on the lift ticket.

The takeaway:

– Lots of snow and excellent hike-to terrain make Winter Park a good bet for the weekend crowd.

– Avoid Mary Jane unless you like bumps or trees.

– Boring groomers, so probably not much fun after five days without snow.

– Not the place to take your cousin who’s just learning to ski if you’re both looking for challenge and want to meet at the same lift each run.

Good news! 23 March 2010

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And lo, Ullr said unto them, the huddled locals, “I give you closures on I-70, eastbound on Vail Pass and westbound in Mt. Vernon Canyon, that my munificence may restore your faith. Where I have withheld my blessing, you may find powder in abundance. Go forth and ski my bounty.”

The people of Summit County saw this, and it was good.

No. No Snow. Well, not at Keystone anyway. 19 March 2010

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I am at a loss. The Summit Daily bannered “Storm to Drop 1-2 Feet of Snow on Summit” this morning and NOAA, the most conservative bunch of meteorologists around here, posted a 100% chance for 10-14 inches. Eleven o’clock rolled around. Nothing. NOAA had revised estimates downward: 90% for 8-12. Then one o’clock 70% and 3-7. But no. Nothing. It’s as though a force field exists around this place. The airborne assault cannot touch Keystone, Summit County misses yet another storm, and for the first time, I’m genuinely upset. Not miffed. Not agitated. Upset.

Yes, people are starving in Mali. Yes, more than one billion people around the world live on less than one dollar a day. Yes, my complaint is petty, insignificant, but there it is. What’s the point?

On the bright side, the snow fell in heaps on the other face of the Continental Divide, and that meant Michael and I got to play one of my favorite winter driving games (that I just invented): Guess the Next Wreck! The game is simple. The players propose the conditions of the next accident–car/SUV, in a ditch/into the median, head lights on/off and so forth–and then delight in discovering just how right or wrong they were. What fun!

This afternoon, for instance, we chanced upon the whole slate of interstate catastrophe: the mid-highway with collision requiring fire trucks and all; the sideways-slipping Honda CRV whose driver jumped out in the middle of the lane to inspect his predicament, and then a medley of cars and trucks ditched in the median, most gathering snow and awaiting the eventual (springtime?) return of an owner.

Best of all, we played audience to Audi driver’s expert performance just outside the airport. Tearing away from an intersection intent on playing bumper bowl with the sides of a bridge, his determination paid off in a vehicular pirouette on the slush. Bounce! Into the left wall with terrific force. Then, reverse, and in an effort to outdo himself, another hard acceleration. Bounce! Into the right wall before speeding off, surely to fulfill a rather more important engagement with a lamppost or a trashcan. I should hope he doesn’t disappoint.