My Winter with the Mountain Collective

If you’re unaware, the Mountain Collective is essentially a season-long ski pass that:

  • Gets you two free days at each of six (high end, mostly huge) ski resorts, namely: Alta-Snowbird, Aspen (all four areas), Jackson Hole, Mammoth, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, and Whistler-Blackcomb
  • Plus half price for any additional days.

Of course, with a set-up like this, one feels naturally challenged to go to all six resorts. I therefore did that this winter (because, as this is my last as a grad student, I’m unlikely to have time/flexibility for it in future winters).

Mountain Collective Passes

I didn’t get in on the early-season sale at the $349 price point, so I ended up paying $379 for it. Considering that most (all? probably all if you insist on Alta-Snowbird being considered one ticket) of those resorts have walk-up ticket prices north of $100 a day, you can see the inherent value.

Two days each at six world-class resorts across western North America.

So how was it?

It was stupid.

Whistler/Blackcomb, January 9-10

Logistically speaking, this one came together all right.

I’d received a grant to attend a conference in Milan just before Christmas and I bought the return ticket to Seattle rather than Pittsburgh. My parents live in Tacoma, so it was good to spend the holidays with them, got to ski at Crystal and Baker while there, plus I was able to borrow my dad’s (brand new!) Jeep for the drive up to Canada. At the border, the crossing guard asked where I was from and, when I told him Pittsburgh, we started talking about hockey. I was nervous he would eventually figure out I didn’t know anything about the sport, but I faked it long enough to secure entry into that great northern fortress. Continue reading

Colorado National Monument: Canyonlands for People Who Don’t Want to Get Out of the Car

Real Canyonlands is better, or course, but it also requires getting out and hiking some.

Colorado National Monument is located near Grand Junction, Colorado. The drive is the interesting part; it looks like southern Utah, so long as you look toward the mountains. If you look toward the valley it looks like Grand Junction. And if you reach the top of the drive, it looks like a bunch of boring, scrubby trees. The in-between, though!

As testimony of the thing that Colorado National Monument does well, then, here are photos I took while driving.

IMG_0425 IMG_0413 IMG_0407 Colorado National Monument IMG_0369 Tunnel Entrance, Colorado National Monument Colorado National Monument

  • I think the photos are shown in reverse order of when they were taken. I don’t know how WordPress decides.
  • For variety, one of those photos was taken through the passenger window rather than the windshield.
  • It seemed like they could have used more guard rails in places.
  • The road and trails and stuff were apparently a CCC project. Of course.
  • I hadn’t taken a bunch of pictures of red rocks since last time I was in southern Utah.
  • It was definitely worth the, oh, 90 minutes including bathroom time?
  • I did also take a walk to some view point. It was mostly for walking’s sake.
  • I was driving a rented Nissan Versa hatchback. It looked like this:
It looks better than it drives.

It looks better than it drives.

I’m still planning on one day putting together a photo essay entitled “Through the Windshield”. Maybe after the dissertation. Or maybe FOR the dissertation…! Probably not though.

That’s plenty.

bkd

Stuff from 2013 about Which I Never Posted

2013 wasn’t much of a blogging year. Trying to make up for it I guess. Or, just, I’m going through my all-day allergy shot desensitization process and what else am I going to do? Besides research, I mean. Always research.

Posted a bunch of stuff about the ski trip to Tahoe in March already. Don’t think this one made it in, though.

As good a through-the-windshield photo as I took last year.

As good a through-the-windshield photo as I took last year.

In May, my brother and his wife came and visited with their daughter. I always feel weird about posting photos of other people on the blog (without their permission or their having done something stupid to deserve it), but I guess that doesn’t apply to people under three.

My niece, not impressed by Heinz Chapel.

My niece, not impressed by Heinz Chapel.

Or by the Monongahela.

Or by the Monongahela.

It was cool. More people should visit Pittsburgh. It’s underappreciated.

Some time in July I went to a symposium in Boston where I was the discussant for a hardcore economics modeling paper written by people of whom I’d heard. It rained most of the time and I didn’t take a lot of photos.

A photo of Boston that I took.

A photo of Boston that I took.

On the way back, I stopped off at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and took a short tourist hike to see a waterfall.

Dingman's Falls in the Delaware Water Gap NRA.

Dingman’s Falls in the Delaware Water Gap NRA.

So when you go there, there’s a main viewing platform at the base of the falls. On that platform, there is one prime corner that is the closest corner to the falls itself and the only place that affords a full view of the falls without full view of a bunch of other co-tourists.

So, of course, this delusional amateur has set up permanent residence in The One Corner.

So, of course, this obviously very important guy has set up permanent residence in The One Corner.

I’m sure his stunning photo of this walk-up waterfall is going to motivate gallery audiences to tears. Totally worth preventing anyone else from experiencing The Corner. Plus he’s got a vest on, so you know he must be a professional high amateur guy who wears vests. (He was camped out there for the entire half hour or so I was at and around the site.)

On the rest of the way home, I went to the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pa. Here’s evidence:

It's unprepossessing.

It’s unprepossessing.

Not sure what I expected. More than this, obviously. That said, I’m not sure what else they can do with the scene of an air catastrophe. Flaming wreckage? Would have been nice. They actually do a good job of keeping things factual in their displays, rather than appealing to baser emotions. Still, there’s just not a lot to experience here that you can’t get from reading the Wikipedia article or watching the movie.

I also went down to Beckley, W.V. in September. I used my other camera for these. I still think I might write a whole post about the experience, but in case I don’t:

New River Gorge Bridge, with Clouds

New River Gorge Bridge, with Clouds

It used to be the highest bridge of some sort, but it isn’t any more. I was not there for Bridge Day either.

Then in November, after two months of appointments and waiting for appointments, I got tested for allergies.

Allergy TestTurns out I’m allergic to dust. I’d been trying to tell them I was allergic to dust, but thanks to this test, they agreed. The two dust mite pricks were itching after about 30 seconds, but it took the medical staff another 20 minutes to accept this particular reality.

Finally, one more picture from Milan that didn’t make it into the other article (and the story that goes with it!):

Always set to 25.

Always set to 25.

Every day, I’d come back to my hotel room in the evening and find that housekeeping had re-set the thermostat to 25 (about 77° Fahrenheit) at which point, every day, I’d turn it back down to 20 (68°). They never got the hint. Or, I guess, *I* never got the hint.

And then it became 2014.

bkd

Mono Lake: Totally Worth a 45-Minute Visit

If I’d stayed longer, maybe I would have spotted a brine shrimp! Although 45 minutes was plenty to spot one coyote (not pictured below). He wasn’t as friendly as my coyote spirit guide I met in La Mesa though.

I took pictures, then.

The trail runs clockwise.

The trail runs clockwise.

Mono Lake.

Mono Lake.

A trail leading away from the lake.

A trail leading away from the lake.

Some tufas. They're made of sodium carbonate.

Some tufas. They’re made of sodium carbonate.

Kind of part of the same trail, only this one leads *toward* the lake.

Kind of part of the same trail, only this one leads *toward* the lake.

  • It cost $3 to park there.
  • There were two other parties there at the same time as me.
  • Only two of the 12 porta-johns were unlocked. The unlocked ones have a sign that says “this one open”, while the locked ones communicate nothing, except through their obstinance.
  • Not far from Mammoth.
  • The water is very still.
  • Considers itself similar to the Great Salt Lake, just the opposite side of the basin.

That’s about all I got, I guess. Tufas. Mono Lake. Salt. Near Mammoth. 45 minutes, 50 for brine shrimp or slow-walkers.

bkd

Alpine, Mammoth & Squaw: The Year of Skiing Marginally Continues

Switzerland: Fog and ice patches.
PNW: Depending on the day, but fog and ice patches also.

Tahoe: Drought!

Was at Alpine for the first time ever on Wednesday. It looked like this:

The terrain looks awesome; shame not to be able to ski it — it’s amazing that they’ve kept the place skiable at all I guess. The groomers were nice and satiny until 9:45 or so. Unfortunately there was really only one skiable run from the top (Alpine Bowl). By 11, Werners (the second photo) had gone from too-firm to pleasantly chalky, which was nice. And by 12:30 most of the snow was way too soft.

Visibility was absolutely fantastic, though, so that was a plus.

Then this was Mammoth:

 It started snowing on the 395 on the way back up to Reno — at least a trace fell on the road (!). Those playful tricksters at the CHiP decided to put out their Chains Required sign about 20 miles (I think?) north of Lee Vining. I actually saw someone turning around and going back. Haha, punk’d!, etc.

Finally, then, to close out my Tahoe-area skiing for the year, here are three photos from Squaw from 1/25:

  • Beautiful light today. Should have brought my DSLR.
  • Trees smelled great. Reminded me of that one part of Soarin’ Over California at Disney’s California Adventure (the part with the trees).
  • I’ve ridden the Red Dog lift twice in my life now and both times it’s stopped with me dangling over the deepest part of the ravine. I don’t much care for that lift.

And now my Marginal Conditions Tour goes on hiatus until March when I’ll bring some combination of drought and fog with me to Utah and Jackson Hole. Maybe get some locust swarms and fiery rain too.

bkd

Whistler-Blackcomb: A Huge Ski Resort

Here are some things I did at Whistler that I’d never done before:

  • Skied a glacier. Unless I did that in Switzerland and just couldn’t see it well enough to recognize that it happened.
  • Rode a T-bar.
  • Hiked up a hill to get to a put-in spot.
  • Skied in Canada.

All these posts are magnum opuses until I start typing.

Skied there January 9th and 10th. The majority of people with whom I rode up chairs were Australian. It was unsettling. The first time in my life I ever encountered Australians was on a ferry between Brindisi, Italy and somewhere in Greece back in 1990. Around 2 o’clock in the morning, having loudly chatted up every college girl on the ferry (the Australians were a bunch of guys), they drunkenly ascended the ferry’s mast until the boat’s crew started yelling at them, possibly threatening to shoot them if they didn’t come down. That remains my enduring image of Australians. Apologies to the decent Australians of whom there are likely several.

What else?

Blackcomb was way better than Whistler. At Blackcomb it was pretty easy to scout out where you were going before you went there, whereas at Whistler I never seemed able to get to the runs I wanted. Despite this, every lift dropped me off at the same dumb place. Except for the one lift that went up to the peak. Plus Whistler had more wind, seemed more crowded, and had a huge lineup for getting onto the gondola.

Magnum opus.

The first day I was there I skied Blackcomb. They didn’t open the Alpine areas until about an hour after the lower lifts started turning. Then I had one interesting run on the Glacier chair, replete with about six inches of new snow and a bunch of exposed boulders. After that, I went back up and then rode the T-bar up to the glacier, except that it doesn’t actually take you to the glacier, you still have to hike some to get to the glacier despite the fact that the glacier is in-bounds and somewhat popular.

Fortunately, walking through Grindelwald in Switzerland had taught me that it’s possible to walk up to a mile in ski boots without dying. Without dying immediately, I mean. Now having walked a mile in ski boots, I will eventually and certainly, though perhaps not imminently, die. It’s the imminence that’s salient here as well as the non-causal nature of the correlation.

I’ve also learned that wherever I ski this year, the conditions will be imperfect. At WB, the snow was pretty good, the coverage was not great, and the visibility was fine for the first hour on Thursday and parts of the afternoon at Blackcomb on Friday, but otherwise pretty bad. Skiing down Blackcomb Glacier, for instance, was probably an amazing experience, I just couldn’t see it to know for sure. I think this, though, has been stated by all people who have ever skied at WB: the terrain is awesome, the snow is pretty good, and the weather is kind of terrible. It wasn’t rainy-terrible, just flat light-terrible. Rainy-terrible might have been better.

Also, the place is huge, so while there may have been locations that were not flat light-terrible, learning of them was problematic and, even had I learned of them, they may have taken an hour and a half to reach. Asking the Australians on the lifts whether they knew of any such locations was unproductive.

Super-tall ski hill, though. The resort claims 5,280 feet from lodge to peak, which is kind of crazy. The cool thing is that this means there’s potential for some long runs. One downside is that it takes a real long time to get from the lodge to the peak — at Blackcomb, this required taking the one gondola (which is at the parking lot that’s above the lodge, actually, so this is sort of cheating) up to the Excelsior lift, taking the Excelsior lift up to the Glacier lift, taking the Glacier lift up to the T-bar, then taking the T-bar up to the place where you have to hike to get to the top of the glacier.

You have to hold on tightly, it turns out, and things get steep at the end. On the T-Bar, I mean. What a weird conveyance: I can see why they’re not allowed south of the border. God bless America!

Also, the way Australians pronounce “glacier” is wholly unacceptable. And the arrogance with which they do it!

Even the beginner chairs here are long, though. The Wizard chair at the true base of Blackcomb rises like 2,400 feet — basically two Blue Knobs high. Seven Springs only claims 900′ elevation (and I kind of think they’re stretching the truth a lot to get there).

WB has the friendliest, most helpful ski resort employees I’ve ever encountered. On the one hand, for the C$109 a day it costs to ski there, they ought to. On the other: well, yeah, but they actually are that good. A lot of them were also Australian, but apparently culled from the more polite part of the country.

The second day there I started at Whistler, but I eventually got tired of its confusingness and bad visibility (though the conversation with the lift stranger who sold his entertainment software company to Disney was the best I had at the resort). I went to the bottom for lunch and got cheap by-the-slice pizza in the village. Apparently food in the village can be considerably cheaper than on the slopes. Then I went back to Blackcomb since it was better.

Here, then, are a bunch of photos from the two days:

Lineup for the Glacier Lift at Blackcomb.

Lineup for the Glacier Lift at Blackcomb.

Lift view of THE ALPINE.

Lift view of THE ALPINE.

Some fresh snow, with rocks.

Some fresh snow, with rocks.

Nearing the end of my historic T-bar ride.

Nearing the end of my historic T-bar ride.

Hiking from the T-Bar to the glacier.

Hiking from the T-Bar to the glacier.

View of some rock from the cat track above Blackcomb Glacier.

View of some rock from the cat track above Blackcomb Glacier.

Apparently the snow on top of the glacier looked like this.

Apparently the snow on top of the glacier looked like this.

Exiting Blackcomb Glacier

Exiting Blackcomb Glacier

I couldn’t see during the whole Blackcomb Glacier situation, but it was still pretty cool. At the end, you hit the tree line and things flatten out. You can expect to have to pole your way through the last bit. Still, pretty cool.

Somewhere at Whistler, a horizon.

Somewhere at Whistler, a horizon.

Heading up the Peak Express lift at Whistler.

Heading up the Peak Express lift at Whistler.

Kind of seems like the chair might not clear the rock here is all.

Just that seems like the chair might not clear the rock here is all.

The top of Whistler Peak looks like this.

The top of Whistler Peak looks like this.

The this thing at the top of 7th Heaven Express.

The this thing at the top of 7th Heaven Express.

Sometimes I wonder at the wisdom of visiting different ski resorts every time I go skiing. I mean, probably part of the reason the Whistler side seemed bad was that I’d spent the entire previous day getting to know Blackcomb and it seemed unfair to again have no idea where I was or where I was supposed to go. I’m looking forward to skiing the same ski hill twice some time this year. I’m not sure when, but it should probably happen.

Also: the drive up there was sort of interesting. I stayed at a cheap hotel in Squamish, which is about half-way between Vancouver and Whistler (about 50 minutes from each). The road from Vancouver to Squamish is very twisty, is always either going up or down, and seems frequently beset with fog and hard rain. It was dark the first time I drove the road and, having already been driving for four hours from Tacoma by the time I got there, the twists, hills, and fog made it an irritating drive. The way back was in the light, though, and it’s an amazingly pretty stretch. Shannon Falls coming down right next to the highway is stunning. No photos though. Sorry. Was trying to get down to Vancouver before rush hour got bad. Just meaning to indicate that it’s worth trying to avoid driving that highway at night.

So — yeah. BTW, Whistler was my first stop using my Mountain Collective ski pass. The pass cost $379 and gets me two days skiing at each of WB, Mammoth, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, Alta/Snowbird, Jackson Hole, and Aspen. IOW, regular blog readers may have to endure further such reports. Or just not read them I guess. You’ll survive either way — for a time.

bkd

 

 

 

I Was Also in Bern

This is going back to the Europe thing. After the conference in Milan, I went up to Bern, Switzerland and had a couple of great days with Thomas and  Christine. The day before we went skiing, we went out sight-seeing in Bern. Here is evidence of the aforementioned.

The Glockenspiel, which looks probably more impressive in this photo than it is in actuality. It does more than nothing, but not by a lot.

The Glockenspiel, which looks probably more impressive in this photo than it is in actuality. It does more than nothing, but not by a lot.

A street. The one with the clock tower on it.

A street. The one with the clock tower on it.

Overview of the city and the Aar river that hems it in.

Overview of the city and the Aar river that hems it in.

  • It was rainy.
  • Pretty city, though.
  • One hears it’s possible to see the Alps from there.
  • Also, just happened to run into Dave and Rahel from Pittsburgh 7th, who were in Basel visiting her parents for the holidays.
  • Had rösti at the restaurant by the bear pit.
  • The bears weren’t viewable, though. Hibernation I guess. Bears.
  • Rösti seems like it should be a breakfast food.
  • Swiss German remains unintelligible.
  • The Zürich airport is super nice.
  • Many things in Switzerland are expensive. A Whopper value meal at the airport, for instance, costs about US$20.

Event now herewith recorded,

bkd

 

Skiing Mt. Baker on New Year’s Day

This blog is apparently now mostly about chronicling my experiences of skiing badly in as many places as possible. OTOH, at least it has a theme.

I grew up in the Seattle area, but had never been to Mt. Baker before (for skiing). I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that what I saw yesterday was not Mt. Baker at the peak of its powers.

Paid: $56.10 for some reason.
Quality of Random Lift Strangers: 9/10
Weather: Partly sunny very early, then high overcast most of the rest of the day.
Would Return?: I mean, I wouldn’t go out of my way *not* to return.

I went to Baker because it was the only place within three(-ish) hours of my annual holiday headquarters in Tacoma that was “fully open”. Although I think that of all ski resorts in the world, Baker is probably among those for which you can least easily gauge its openness by open trail percentages. Plus there were a couple trails that, once you were there, weren’t actually open. Snow was firm, eventually softening up on the intermediate slopes (Chair 8), but never on the steeper pitches (1 and 6). Fortunately, there were a lot of soft-enough bumps on the intermediates on Chair 8; unfortunately, there were also a lot of neophytes trying to snow plow down them.

I was also surprised by the boarders here — it reminded me of the 1990s, but not in a good way. Every off-load, I was having to take evasive action to avoid the snowboarder pile. In numerous places it seemed like a flash mob of boarders had decided to reenact The Day After the Battle of Gettysburg. I know this was during the kids’ winter vacations, but it was much worse than skiing on 12/28 at White Pass last year. Given that there were no lift lines and there were plenty of open parking spaces, the skiing felt oddly crowded.

That said, the views were great (see below) and, IMHO, the views alone make Baker worth visiting (one time anyway). The lifties were exemplary (except in getting people to clear away from the offload area). Despite the paucity of snow throughout the west, the hazards here were minimal and easily avoided. Weather and visibility were both very good. Lodge food was neither extraordinary nor expensive — a tradeoff I was more than happy with. Parking-to-lift was among the best ever (parked at White Salmon, second row, very easy access to the ticket booth and then C-7).

Had good on-lift conversations the few times chair sharing happened. It seems like I get my best perspectives on life, activity, and aging from 60+-year-old random lift strangers; good job, whatever your names are.

Some photos (all from about 9-10:30 AM):

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I ever were to get into back-country skiing or had someone willing to show me the ropes at Baker, I’d probably need to go back. The out-of-bounds you can see from the chairs looks amazing. However, given the practicality of it being 3+ hours away and the occasional oddness of the on-piste offerings (I got the impression that the lift layout may have been designed by Pittsburgh-based city planners), with decent snow and weather conditions and given my skiing preferences it would be hard for me to justify Baker over the easier access to Crystal. For the “laid-back and local” feeling, I think I preferred White Pass’s relative politeness and self-awareness (perhaps Yakima County does a better job of controlling its youth than does Whatcom).

But, whatever, it was fun.

Milan: City of Conferences and of One Large Cathedral

My impressions of Milan, having spent a week or so there for a conference and stuff:

  • Everything looks like it’s from the 70′s.
  • Sidewalks are narrow and not flat; people walk on them slower than they need to anyway.
  • They have a lot of Italian-brand cars.
  • People seem to be dressed up a lot of the time.
  • They actually speak Italian there.
  • “Grazie” means thank you, “prego” you’re welcome and some forms of “please, and “ciento venti” means give me my room key (apparently). I learned three words of Italian and one of them was a number.
  • Pizza is the only food they have.
  • Well, pasta, I guess. Mostly pizza. I saw a döner place somewhere, but there were only Turks inside. Not the mechanical kind. Or maybe so — it’s hard to know.

Here are some pictures of places and things.

Milano Duomo

The Milano Duomo. It’s big inside and there are a lot of people around it most of the time.

The Galleria, which is a mall with a roof but no doors!

The Galleria, which is a mall with a roof but no doors!

Il Castillo Milano. It was primarily defensive in nature and it had museums inside, but they cost money.

Il Castillo Milano. It was primarily defensive in nature and it had museums inside, but they cost money.

 

Porta Sempione, which is sort of in the same place as an old gate that was part of the Roman city wall. #history

Porta Sempione, which is sort of in the same place as an old gate that was part of the Roman city wall. #history

San Siro, or: The most Italian thing I did in Italy.

San Siro, or: The most Italian thing I did in Italy.

 

The Duomo in nighttime Christmas trim and with the flag of Kazakhstan for some reason.

The Duomo in nighttime Christmas trim and with the flag of Kazakhstan for some reason.

Good enough. Milan’s not a very scenic town and with the conference and the latent interview stress I didn’t have time to explore anywhere outside of the city. I kind of liked it, though. People were friendly and helpful, it felt safe, and it probably would have been interesting if I’d meant to be there for anything other than a conference (e.g., if I’d read *anything* about the place before going).

Better than Rome.

bkd

PS, Also: “prosciutto cotto” = ham (or some sort of very ham-like pork product).

“Skiing” the Swiss Alps, Grindelwald

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ski in the Swiss Alps so, naturally, this:

Was at a conference in Milan and have a friend who lives in Bern who had invited me up to his place for a couple days. Bern was great, his place was great, the food was great, people generally great, just that the skiing was:

Unfortunately only had two days to choose from for skiing and this was for all appearances the better of the two. Riding a train to go skiing was interesting, and I liked that there were people with skis waiting at every station through which we passed (and that all Swiss trains seem to have ski storage facilities at every door). All the fellow skiers seemed content to ski  the groomers, although this may have reasonably been a function of (a) poor coverage in the non-groomed areas and (b) high likelihood of getting lost in the ubiquitous miasma.

The urinals had soccer goals in them that I thought were cool:

Otherwise, though, it was mostly foggy. We skied the first half of the day on the Kleine Scheidegg side, then took the train down the hill, walked 15 minutes to the gondola, and went up to the First side. It wasn’t better, but it WAS slightly different. All the Talabfahrts were gesperrt, which seemed unfortunate given that there would have been some trees there to break up the flat light. Each lift seemed to have only one skiable run. The goulash soup in the one hut was pretty decent. Rental skis picked up in Bern were not well tuned. Had never been on chairlifts with the bubble screens before; they were cool, if maybe unnecessary on the given day (wind was no problem). It was good to see that Swiss snowboarders also like to make unpredictable stops and turns, made me feel more okay about being an American. Swiss German is unintelligible to me (I’m reasonably fluent in German German).

Here are more photos, because otherwise it seems like too bleak of a post:

 

 

On second thought, not sure those photos helped.

So, next time — yeah. I’m not sure a day like this gives any reasonable indications for how to approach skiing in the Alps next time. Next time try not to go when the mountains are beset with inescapable fogs.

bkd