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The Five Best Things About Spring Skiing 5 April 2011

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You’ve probably picked up the golf clubs already. I went on my first road ride two weeks ago.

But up in the mountains, the snow keeps falling, or sun keeps shining, and either way, the conditions are as good as they’ll be all season. So let’s take a moment to put summer on hold and explore the five best things about spring skiing (here in Colorado).

1. Arapahoe Basin

Nothing says spring like a day on the beach. Sure A-Basin’s charging for the prime spots, now, but with a couple cases of PBR, a few lawn chairs, and as many scantily-clad snow bunnies as you can find, you can pick any place and forget you were worried. And that’s the thing about A-Basin—nobody’s worried. It’s spring. The tourists are elsewhere. The beer is flowing. And there’s still enough snow on the East Wall to go get gnarly if you feel like it. But you probably won’t. Summer’s on its way, and it begins with the best tailgate in Colorado.

2. Gaper Day

So I’m a little late on this one, but it’ll come around again next year. It’s the rare person that deserves the term “asshat,” but the gaper is a rare person indeed, one so devoid of self-awareness that his greatest concern is whether he’ll meet someone with a rival team’s starter jacket. The only thing that brings more joy than calling out gapers on the mountain is proving that imitation isn’t always the sincerest form of flattery. Bring your neon. Bring your onesie. And please, oh please, bring your Carhartts.

3. Goggle Tans

By this point in the season, two kinds of skiers have emerged: those who spend 40 miserable hours in a cubicle between weekends, and those who have goggle tans. It’s possible to attempt both, though the strategy generally results in the gaper goggle burn and deep feelings of shame on Monday morning. On the other hand, the real skiers have carefully crafted their tans over the last five months, baking their chins to a deep umber, or maybe burnt sienna. Do not challenge these skiers, for they are your elders, great sages to be revered in the bar and on the slopes. Even the 17 year-olds will drink you under the table, then crush your sorry, hungover self on the mountain.

4. Pond Skimming

As a general rule, skiers avoid water on the mountain because, like sugar and promises, they melt in the rain. In the spring, though, they flock to vast pools on the slopes to prove to their lady- and man-friends that doing a yard sale into nearly freezing water sucks about as much as you’d expect. Of course, some of these brave souls make it across the pond, winning admiration and beer, but most end their days as a soggy, yet deliriously happy, mess.

5. Closing Days

Skiing is kind of a party in the first place: you get a bunch of friends together, go wild and crazy for several hours, then end up in a bar wondering why everything hurts so much. But since closing day is a party on top of what’s already a party, both skiers and post-modernists can agree that it must be a meta-party, the best kind of all. Take everything above, add a concert, costumes and lax enforcement from ski patrol, and you’ve got closing day, a celebration of the entire year and a time of mourning for the several sunny a ski-free months ahead. This year Vail’s hosting Shpongle (I just linked to MySpace), and somebody else Stephen Marley for its closing weekend (April 23-24). You might not believe me, but that’s a sure sign of a good time. Do your Easter thing, then hit the slopes. You won’t be disappointed.


Review: Ski Cooper 18 March 2011

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Area Stats

Location: Leadville, CO

Bottom Elevation: 10,500′

Top Elevation: 11,700′

Area: 420-ish acres

Average Annual Snowfall: 260″

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

Adult Ticket Price: $42

Best-kept secret: Cat Skiing

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

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

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

The History

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

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

The Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall Experience

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

A Coda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Jackson Hole


Mammoth Mountain


Squaw Valley USA




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


Deer Valley



Mammoth Mountain

Park City Mountain Resort


Taos Ski Valley


Winter Park

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

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

Vail Powder 23 January 2011

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

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

Skiing Eldora 22 December 2010

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Nothing brings Christmas cheer like sunny skies in Denver and feet upon feet of snow in the mountains. Actually, no. I’d take some snow here, too, but at any rate, the soft flakes continue to fall in the high country—even as we speak, dear readers!—again meaning that I assembled my crack team of product testers and headed west, this time to sample the slopes of Eldora.

Please forgive me for thinking it sounds like something out of a Tolkien novel, but really… Eldora? As in, “There, beyond the last gates of the city Nederland lies the elven enclave of Eldora, a place steeped in legend and mystery.” But I’ll come off it. In reality, Eldora’s not the stuff of legends, or even day dreams for most folks. If anything, it’s convenient.

After fighting against I-70 traffic every weekend, trying a hassle-free drive instead holds some merit. And at only 21 miles from Boulder and 45 miles from Denver, Eldora offers that. You won’t get any gray hairs from that commute, and you won’t grow much older either. In fact, it almost feels like a Utah ski morning: the drive up the canyon; the sunny skies giving way to clouds; the snow piling up with elevation.

But at the end of the road, you’ll find Eldora, not Alta or Brighton. Bummer, dude.

If you liked East Coast skiing, you’ll feel at home here. Quirky, slow lifts are the norm, and the terrain never rises above treeline. If you squint, the town of Ned kinda sorta looks like Brattleboro, but not really. At any rate, seeing all this in Colorado will bring about fond or perhaps painful memories for anyone who grew up skiing the Ice Coast.

Our test day, a Sunday, fell on the second or third day of what has become a storm of epic proportions. On Monday, NOAA actually called the thing “epic,” citing “phenomenal” snow totals in an inspiring display of vocabulary. Some areas of Colorado will see eight feet when it’s all said and done—and the residents of Crested Butte and Silverton have been told to stock up on perishables. A very white Christmas indeed.

But Eldora had reported 7″ overnight, for a total of 11″ in the past 72 hours. Not bad given that the snow continued throughout the day. It felt like less than that, but whatever. New snow is new snow. We rolled up at noon and still experienced quite a bit of it. And that’s the thing to like about Eldora, I think. Or maybe the other thing, since it’s convenient, too. Hardly anyone’s skiing there, and those that do confine themselves to a few blue slopes. Even with the trees closed, we managed to find trails where we were the only ones in sight, despite the fact that this place, when fully open, comprises just 680 acres.

Eldora is a place nearly as big as the biggest, baddest resort in the East, Killington. It lies within a couples hours’ drive for a good portion of the Front Range’s four million residents, yet it lacks lift lines. Altogether, it sounds like a winning combination, and in Maine or New Hamphire, it probably would be. But here it ranks only as mediocre.

>Nearly everywhere else in Colorado receives more snow. Nearly everyone else has steeper terrain. Nearly everyone offers better lifts and more services at the base area. I can ski better trees at Keystone, better steeps at A-Basin, better snow at Vail, and I don’t have to pay that much to do it. Sure, if you ski Eldora, check out the Corona and Indian Peaks lifts. When Corona Bowl’s open, I’m sure it can be a fun little powder field, but overall it’s too small a place to keep experts entertained for too long. The lack of lift lines only creates more opportunities to lap the same terrain. Eldora isn’t a place to explore.

But at the same time, H said she got good vibes from it. Lots of positive energy there and none of the frantic powder mania at the I-70 resorts, even on a solid powder day. We found freshies at three when patrol dropped some ropes. We found more in the trees. And for that, I can appreciate Eldora, but I simply can’t appreciate it enough to choose it over A-Basin.

Ski Review! Liberty LTE, Salomon Twenty Twelve, Icelantic Shaman 15 December 2010

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Reviews are better than commentary, so if you’re impatient, scroll down to skip this first part. I also review the Icelantic Keeper and Nomad here

How’s the weather in your neck of the woods? From the reports rolling into Colorado, it appears the Midwest is experiencing Snowmageddon 2010, in an attempted repeat of Snowmageddon: Washington, DC edition. 30″ in Minnesota? It’s a shame to see so much powder wasted on folks who’ll do nothing more than wreck their cars in it. But here in Denver, it’s 65 and sunny—not bad given that a foot and a half of snow blanketed the mountains in the days leading up to the weekend.

And of course, a foot and a half of snow means one thing: skiing must occur. Lots and lots of skiing. I won’t bore you with story after story of fresh tracks at Vail, so instead, let’s discuss new skis. With the advent calendar (and the regular calendar, too, I guess) indicating that only 10 gift-buying days remain, the Winter Park demo days this weekend arrived at just the right time: late enough keep memories strong and early enough to get everything shipping from Amazon.com (or Level9) before Christmas. We got the chance to check out a few pairs, so let’s take a look here.

Skier Specs

Male, 5′ 10″ 145 lbs. Advanced/expert.

Currently skis on

– Dynastar Huge Trouble 185cm

– Head Monster i.M. 88 175cm

– Rossignol Phantom SC 80 165cm

Skis reviewed: Liberty LTE, Salomon 2012, Icelantic Shaman


Although other terrain exists, Winter Park is known almost exclusively for its bumps, and to a lesser degree, for its trees. When we skied on Dec. 12, a couple inches had fallen overnight on top of five from the day before and temperatures had risen to the upper twenties. Snow in the trees was still fairly soft and untracked in places. Bumps skied soft for the most part. No open bowl skiing to testcrud/chop performance.

Liberty LTE

As tested dimensions: 171cm, 116/83/105 sidecut, 18.5m radius

Liberty’s based just up the road a ways in Avon, home of Beaver Creek, but if you think forging skis in the shadow of the state’s poshest resort would make them more luxurious, you’re in for a surprise. Liberty’s all about twin tips, bamboo cores and crazy topsheet graphics—not what you’d expect on the slopes where fresh cookies arrive every day at 3:00 p.m. The LTE fits into the Liberty line-up as the narrowest of the bunch, designed, as the rep told me, to be an “all-mountain ski that’s fun in the park.” I guess so.

It’s a floppy, forgettable ski. On groomers, it held an edge fairly well and easily snapped into turns, almost feeling hooky in the process. At speed, however, they gave out. I’m used to my Monsters which, when skied lackadaisically, flex about as well as I-beams, and when skied aggressively, feel like aiming a freight train. On the other hand, the LTEs twitch and chatter too much for their own good. I definitely sensed a speed limit—and that speed limit fell way short of the fun threshold.

In bumps, the performance improved. These skis are fairly narrow (83mm underfoot) and light, so they respond well in moguls, but there again, they felt like I was overpowering them. I’d rate the pow performance, but honestly, I doubt many folks will buy this ski with deeper snow in mind. The one tree run we explored confirmed that the LTE isn’t much of a floater, not that you’d expect that with dimensions like these. These simply don’t provide enough ski for all-mountain skiing. If I played around in the park more often, maybe I’d give the LTEs another look, but as it is, they can stay in Avon.

Salomon 2012

As tested dimensions: 179cm, 123/91/116 sidecut, 21.9m radius

Nearly everyone’s offering rocker this year, and I think K2 even went so far as to include some form of it on every ski in its lineup. Seems consumers really bought into the idea that reverse camber tips and tails are the best thing since sidecut. They might be right. I tested the 2012s after coming off the Liberty LTEs mostly because the line at the Salomon tent was shortest and this was the only available ski with rocker.

Turns out a lot of the marketing hype carries some truth. Taking the 2012’s through the trees on the first run, I skied with a fairly natural stance and couldn’t get the tips to dive. This is another soft ski, but the 2012 refuses to take itself too seriously. Salomon’s not shooting for the all-mountain market with this thing. Or at least I hope they’re not. It’s playful in the pow, and the rocker makes it ski much shorter than the listed 179cm, something I noticed in the easy turn linking in fairly shallow snow. It just takes less work.

In bumps, I felt like the ski was again doing a little of the work for me. The rockes and the soft flex (bordering on noodly) absorbed a lot of the impact that would have gone straight to my thighs, and with the center mount, they swung with relatively ease when I needed to change direction. Somewhere along the line, I recall thinking, “these are a lot of fun.” The 2012’s a fun ski, nothing too aggressive and nothing requiring too much precision. They forgive sloppy technique, although don’ t expect any sort of edge hold on groomers regardless of technique. Seems like the usable edge stretches about 30 of those 179 centimeters. I suspect this is the kind of ski you want if most of your day is spent poking around in the trees and finding little cliffs to stomp.

Icelantic Shaman

As tested dimensions: 173cm, 160/110/130 sidecut, 15m radius

I fell in love with these skis, although I can’t for the life of me figure out why the company spelled the name as they did. Did someone make a typo filling out a federal form? At any rate, these were, hands down, my favorite skis of the day. Once you get past the gaudy/artistic?topsheet graphics and the WTF shape of the Shamans, you realize you’ve found something special. How did did Icelantic get a ski like this to carve a 15m radius? How did they ensure that the same ski promises even more fun in powder? I don’t know. I wish I knew. The Shaman lays down railroad tracks, at speed even, and never feel chattery doing it. Edge to edge it transitions faster and surer than an 90+ mm ski I’ve tried, yet in reality it clocks in at 110mm.

The huge tip refuses to dive in powder. This is a ski happy to float at an speed, and I’d like to get it out again to see out it performs in open bowl pow conditions. I’d expect a fairly surfy feel. In the trees at least, they came around with relative ease, never feeling like too much ski to handle despite the width.

No report from the bumps, unfortunately since I managed to squeeze in just two runs on these at the end of the day. We’d dropped in several times over the course of the afternoon only to find that everyone else wanted to try out the Shamans too. An accommodating rep gave us some extra time as he closed up shop.

I never thought I’d recommend anything over 100 as an all-mountain ski out west, but the Shaman may well be it. It’s that good.

This is Telluride 7 December 2010

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Driving into Telluride at night, you miss everything. Everything. This might as well be Muncie or Hannibal or one of thousands of other nondescript small towns. But then the sun rises, illuminating the San Juans. And you realize that you’ve found someplace special.

The photo everyone must take

I didn’t know a range like the San Juans existed in Colorado, jagged spines rising a vertical mile above the valley floors, almost straight up. Switzerland was supposed to look like this, but not here, not in this state where the Sawatch Range rolls up to 14,000 without much fanfare, where the the Front Range foothills elicit a yawn from Denver commuters. Why hadn’t someone said anything about this place?

And then it occurred to me, if I knew about it, I’d hesitate to tell anyone, too. You’ve heard of Telluride, though, so it’s all right. Have you seen it? Probably not. No one runs across this place by chance. Travel to the middle of nowhere in Colorado, then drive up a dead-end canyon for fifteen miles. Telluride will never find itself on the way to anything. It is, and will continue to be, the destination.

Skies?! On a bike?! Yes.

Years ago, it held that distinction because gold and silver filled them thar hills, and nobody really minded the prospect of disease, disaster and death if avoiding them meant finding riches in God’s country. If you were going to die, then Colorado wasn’t such a bad place to do it. It wasn’t Muncie, after all. So the miners came in droves, starting near the end of the 19th searching for silver, gold, zinc and copper in what was then just a valley where the San Miguel river began.

The town, named for tellurium, a metalloid element associated with gold and silver, boomed from a population of 786 in 1890 to 2,446 in 1900.  Here again, same story of western resource extraction played out: boom, and later, bust. By 1910, the bloom had wilted, and almost a third of the area’s population had departed. In their wake, they left hundreds of miles of rickety tunnels, zig-zagging under the mountains. By 1930, Telluride listed just 512 residents.

Mining continued in the following decades, albeit at a slower pace, and it seemed as though the city might drop off the map like so many other Colorado boomtowns. The mines were still churning (slowly) in 1969, however, when Joseph T. Zoline and the Telluride Ski Corporation bought the land with a vision for a resort. It would become more than that: not just a premiere American ski hill known for its knee-knocking steeps, but a stage for arts festivals and concerts of all kinds. To have seen a concert in Telluride is to have experienced something special.

Today, some of Telluride’s mining heritage remains, and despite the presence of a world class ski resort dropping right into town, the place has remained, well, likable. At first, I couldn’t quite figure it out. Was this Aspen? No, too gritty, and too few sushi houses. Was it Breck, another of Colorado’s mining towns? Wrong again—too little vomiting. So what was Telluride, this tiny town sandwiched between 13,000-foot peaks? Leadville? Yes, Leadville, with a ski resort.

Never mind that the median household value is more than five times as much. Stepping off the main drag, or looking down an alley, you’ll see a lack of polish: cars taped together, beaten-up bikes piled on a rack. Whether appearances mask reality, I’m not sure, but they create the feeling that this place is real, not a creation like Vail or Aspen. Telluride is real. The San Juans are real. Check them out.

Not Aspen

A final note: I’d tell you about the skiing, but at the moment, nearly all of the mountain is closed. Seriously. Despite near-record snowfall in northern Colorado, Telluride has missed out, and only a few trails are open. Given that Telluride’s known for its double-black, no-fall terrain, I passed on this trip. I’ll come back with another post about the mountain itself when the time is right, but the nice thing about Telluride is that the time’s always right for a visit to the town, too.

Thanksgiving in Vail 29 November 2010

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No explanation yet from the CAIC on the avalanche that killed the head of Wolf Creek’s ski patrol last week. I’ll let you know when I know more.

In the meantime, let’s explore a happier subject: Thanksgiving in Vail. This year, the resort once again placed a respectable number two (behind Utah’s Deer Valley) in SKI‘s annual reader rankings of North American resorts. Only SKI readers would rank Deer Valley number one, and in fact, the first few lines describing the place highlight its perfect groomers and chanterelle mushrooms. So it’s not all about the terrain. But most everyone, from hardcore big mountain skiers to wine-tasting ski moms, will agree that Vail’s a great place. Not jaw-dropping, but great.

And this Thanksgiving must have ranked among the best in the resort’s nearly fifty-year history. Early season snow has a way of putting a smile on everyone’s face. Christmas had come and gone last year by the time Vail opened as much terrain as was open for Thanksgiving this time around.

Funny thing was, no one seemed much interested in skiing it. Three days after the last storm, fresh lines sprawled through the bowls. Powder stashes existed in every clump of trees. That’s not to say, “Too bad. You missed it,” but rather, “it’s still out there. Go get it.” So much terrain open so early seems to have everyone mystified.

I wonder, then, if perhaps Denver hasn’t completely understood exactly how much snow has fallen on the I-70 resorts. Colorado Pass holders, who only receive 10 days to spend at Vail and Beaver Creek over the course of the season, rightly travel to Vail and the Beav only on the best of days. But quite honestly, some of those days are happening right now.

Despite the belief that it can’t possibly be that good, it is. Or was. The skiers who arrived for Thanksgiving seemed more or less uninterested in finding powder lines–like the guy last year who asked me in all seriousness, “All this snow is nice, but why don’t they groom it a little sooner? A couple days after a storm. That’s when I like it.” It’s evidently that sort of person who skied Vail over Thanksgiving.

But I don’t blame them. As a place to spend the holiday, it doesn’t suck. That Vail also happens to offer skiing appeals to a certain set of travelers. Off the slopes, the Christmas lights twinkle, carolers roam the streets, someone blows a Swiss tune into an alpenhorn. Of course, it’s not the real world, nor anything like what Peter Siebert imagined it might become, I’m guessing, but it doesn’t have to be.

This is Vail the escape, the mountain getaway, where the Swiss-themed village can let us live out the holiday fantasy of a life where only skiing, shopping, dining and drinking exist. If Vail were the “real thing” we’d go home at the end of the day. Instead, we linger, hoping to spend a little more time in the holiday wonderland.

Blue Sky Basin opens this Friday. Will you be out there to ski it?

7 Things to Love About Skiing 25 October 2010

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Loveland’s lifts started spinning on Sunday. A-Basin opened this morning… in the middle of a blizzard. And this coming weekend, most Denverites will make their first pilgrimage to these white ribbons of death, careening and crashing and generally pleasing Ullr with their displays of dedication. No doubt I will find myself among them. I hope you will, too. To prepare, let’s take a moment together to review what makes skiing great.

1. Ski Movies. Every sport has its movies—women’s baseball even got A League of Their Own—but only in the ski industry is the start of movie season a cultural event. When the first chill arrives in the air and the first snow dusts the peaks, TGR, Matchstick and Warren Miller start rolling out footage featuring the best skiers our generation. The stoke starts building–and for that matter, people start using the word stoke again. And gnar, and all of that. These movies remind us all of what’s ahead, what’s possible.

2. New Skis. Okay, so it’s practically never a good idea to buy new skis at the start of a ski season, but who can deny the pleasure? So many varieties exist, each one an expression of ambition and personality–who we are. We broadcast so much when we we step into our bindings, and although we may tell ourselves otherwise, form matters almost as much as function. No one’s arguing that top sheet graphics are high art, but I’d still like to think my Dynastar Huge Troubles constitute my greatest contribution to the apartment’s aesthetic value.

3. The Gaper. No matter how poorly you ski, someone is always worse. And that someone is a gaper, a singular point of ridicule on the mountain. The gaper makes wedge turns in blue jeans, if he turns at all. He wears a BMX helmet to the bunny slope. On the lift, he wonders aloud why Vail hasn’t groomed away the powder yet. His Real Tree (TM) hunting outfit makes him a roving dealer of disaster in the glades he accidentally entered. The gaper is everywhere, and we can always laugh at his expense, so long as we remain well clear of his destructive path.

4. A-Basin. Arapahoe Basin is skiing. Better mountains exist, with more terrain, steeper steeps and faster lifts. None of them, however, so concentrates the spirit of the sport. And to tell you the truth, I don’t know why that is. Colorado’s true skiers chose A-Basin, the Pallavicini Face, the East Wall and the Beach. And they made them their own. The dogs and the beer run freely while the vacationers stay down the hill at Keystone or bypass Summit entirely, heading for the more well-heeled resorts of Eagle County. Well-heeled in a sense, I guess. I’ve seen scuffles at Vail, lift-line jockeying on a powder day–the kinds of behavior that never appear at A-Basin. No glamour. No glitz. Just skiing.

5. The Ski Bum. He’s young, white and operating your ski lift. Or—wait for it—he’s selling your ski vacation, driving your bus, tuning your skis, serving your dinner, ensuring the effortlessness of your visit. The ski bum is an American icon, plying the boundaries of socially acceptable irresponsibility. Ski bums run ski resorts, many of them sacrificing rewarding careers and sex lives for the opportunity to chase the 100-day season. Honor these idealistic young men. Skiing is their religion, and for it they give up sex. They give up money.  So little of either exists for men in the mountains. Honor the women, too, for putting up with money-starved, sex-crazed men.

6. Apres-ski. Without skiing, apres-ski wouldn’t exist. We’d just have to call it drinking. The apres scene unfolds differently, though, in front of a roaring fire with Irish coffees all around and stories of the day’s successes and disasters. Yard sale in front of a bunch of kids? Re-live it. Huck a 15′ cliff? Remind your friends. The fire crackles and the mugs are re-filled. Another round of stories: the first time you all skied powder, the terrible falls taken under the lift, the near-miss at speed in the trees. Every moment is one of snow falling and lights twinkling and the epic powder days still waiting on the horizon.


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: