Springtime in December for Austria
Plus a hearty acknowledgement that I’m posting this more than a year after it happened. I shrug.
Tag : skiing
Plus a hearty acknowledgement that I’m posting this more than a year after it happened. I shrug.
The drive from Monarch to Frisco and Copper Mountain was the most intense 104-mile drive of my life. It took three hours. During the trip I probably saw about five total miles of bare pavement, the rest was all ice-encrusted. I’ve been living in Oklahoma for the last three years; this was not an environment for which I’ve had a lot of recent experience. My goal for most of the drive was that, when they got close enough to see my plates, the Coloradans would back off a little and say to themselves, well, for an Oklahoman, he’s actually doing okay.
Anyway. Most of the roads looked like this:
Okay, so this was actually the road to Monarch from Salida a couple days earlier. But the coverage in the oncoming lane was about what it was from Salida all the way to Frisco. The actual highway isn’t pictured because I had way too tight a grip on the wheel, and I was a little too focused to be breaking the camera out.
Also, traffic was really bad through Buena Vista (a town in Colorado).
By the time I got to Leadville, I really had to use the restroom, so I took this shot from the gas station:
One of the ancillary problems with being sketched out by the road conditions is that the drive itself was (probably) really pretty. I took little notice.
And then I got to Leadville, elevation 10,151′. Cool mining town that was featured in one of my favorite non-fiction books, Making of a Hardrock Miner. But also: 10,151′! Leaving town, then, there’s a sign that says that the actual high point of the pass is still several miles ahead. That was Fremont Pass, elevation 11,318′. Holy carp, Colorado. This was early January, snow covered, storm on the way in, and you got your 11,000-foot passes wide open. Equal parts intimidating and impressive.
Also, and just to be clear, the road conditions weren’t a problem for my Jeep. Nervousness was 100% on me. No, I’m not just being an enabler for my car.
Then I was in Frisco. My brother Garry got there that same night, having driven down from South Dakota. He was there for five days and I was there for seven. I got five days in at Copper out of those seven, which is pretty good for me. Snow was decent on Saturday, then pretty close to excellent for all the other days. Copper does a great job of spreading people out even on high-traffic days.
This was on, I think, the Monday. Garry has since forsaken the yellow jacket. RIP.
Here’s a panorama shot I thought was decent from the top of the mountain. It’s the Rendezvous lift at left and the top of Blackjack at right.
Copper had added a really good barbecue place at the center village base. The food looked like this:
I mean, once it was mostly eaten.
On the Tuesday on our way up there, it had snowed so much overnight that they closed the freeway between Copper and Vail, yielding traffic that looked like this:
It cost us about 15 minutes.
The skiing was pretty amazing after that. One of the great oddities of Copper Mountain is that, while most of its visitors are families and intermediate skiers, they also have a lot of interesting terrain available. So, even though it was a powder day and there were plenty of people on the mountain’s front-side, Copper has this backside that seems utterly forgotten and where, therefore, there’s still plenty of good snow long after it’s been skied off on the front side. The two chairs back there are slow two-seaters, but whatever: it’s kind of nice to have a long ride between runs to help you catch your breath.
At lunch on the Thursday of that week, given similar snow conditions, I composed the following.
Blackjack, January 12, 2017
Orange slow and lonesome:
With a snow specter’s howl,
I ski you knees-deep.
So there was that.
It was a good place at a decent price (once it was split among two people). It also made abundantly clear to me that my house in Oklahoma is just way, way too big. This place in Frisco was a 2BR, three-story townhouse (the first floor was the one-car garage, the second floor was the kitchen and living room, and the third was the two bedrooms), and despite being out of breath every time I climbed a flight of stairs (Frisco elevation: 9,075), it seemed a more comfortable living arrangement than what I have in Norman.
Man, but I will not miss this place.
Frisco is a cool, if perhaps fake, town. Fake in the sense that it exists mostly as a place for tourists to rent condos. It was probably a real mining town once or something. They have a nice, fake main shopping area, though, where Garry and I got Cajun food that tasted good and sat bad. That — that was about the extent to which we interacted with Frisco, unless you count the trip to the Safeway and the outdoor goods store where Garry bought a pair of pants.
Then Garry took off for home, and then I took off for home.
My drive back was during the weekend of The Great South Plains Ice Storm of ’17. Kansas geared up for it by painting wet-look stripes all over I-70.
Of course, then, on that Saturday when everyone who ventured out doors was predicted to spontaneously implode due to contact with ground ice, the temperatures never really got below 35. It was kind of nice — given all the bitter prognostications from the weather-industrial complex, there was no one on the freeways and I was free to cruise largely unmolested. I hope for more such ice storms in the future and will doubt forever the integrity of weathermen.
And that was my winter vacation. Now you know.
From the greater Phoenix area, I headed back the way I came, up that one highway that probably has a number toward Holbrook. It was still pretty:
Although it also spat snow somewhere in those mountains, a true harbinger of the two weeks to come. Which is good, since I cannot abide a false harbinger.
I spent New Year’s Eve sleeping at an Air B&B place. It was like a casita at a hacienda about a mile and a half from the Taos Wal-Mart, which is not a super-center, because the city wouldn’t let them build a super-center there (I learned this while in Taos). Snowed maybe a half-inch that night (I was sleeping, it was fine), then I went…
Wait, key point in here: part of this winter break was motivated by the fact that last April I bought a 2016-17 season pass for Copper Mountain, which comes with three free days skiing at certain places, including Taos and Monarch.
Right, so then on New Year’s Day I skied at Taos. Most of the state of Texas was still there (excepting Shamrock).
It wasn’t skiing great, but it was a first ski day of the year. Alarmingly, it turned out that New Year’s Day was a blackout day for my reciprocal season pass, meaning I ended up having to pay money like a sucker. Also, even after you take the tram from the parking lot to the lifts, you still have to walk another 500 yards to get to the actual lifts. So hard. I didn’t go there to get exercise.
Anyway, I ended up calling my Aunt Debbie who lives in Taos and met up with her and Uncle Paul for dinner that night (as well as breakfast the next morning). It was good. Had some great New Mexican food at Guadalajara and more New Mexican breakfast at Michael’s. I’m not sure why I’m choosing this point to start shouting out restaurants in my blog, but here we are. I met Michael while we were at Michael’s, as well as his wife who insisted that I looked a lot like her nephew, particularly due to the beard. I don’t get that very often, so I enjoyed the novelty.
Debbie also helpfully instructed me on the right way to pronounce the name of the town I was heading to next, Salida, pronounced Sa-LY-da as if the Spanish language weren’t actually a thing. It turns out it was named after the Spanish word salida, meaning exit. Coloradans!
Well anyway, drove from Taos up to Salida. I’ve driven that road at least a couple times before, but only in summer. It’s way cooler/prettier with some snow on it.
And then I rolled into Salida. I stayed at the… I dunno. Salida-Monarch Inn? Something like that. It was a good value motel that appeared to be owned by someone with a pretty grand vision for interior decoration (relative to value motels). Just saying that it was way more stylish than any budget motel I’ve ever stayed at. Recommended.
Skied a day at Monarch. Monarch’s a little ways from Colorado’s population, so it has a nice, under-visited vibe going on at it. All the lifts are old-school slow lifts (all but one’s a two-seater IIRC), but that suited me pretty well.
Yeah, so it’s the time of year where I just keep putting up lazy ski vacation blog posts.
Here’s a picture.
It snowed a few inches the night before, so the hill was very good. Some flat light, but plenty of trees to break it up. The cafeteria had three things on the menu: hamburger, hot dog, pizza. The pizza was remarkable though. On the way out, I stopped by the gift store to get my trophy mug and asked the worker there that, of Wednesday or Thursday, which should I ski? (Because I needed to work one of those two days.) She helpfully got on her computer, checked the Internet, and suggested that Thursday should be pretty (her word) “epic”.
So I went home, ate a pb&j, and then sat around the hotel all day Wednesday working on an upcoming data collection.
Wednesday night, it snowed so much that the highway up to the resort was closed all day Thursday. So: they closed the ski resort on account of snow. I watched the Colorado DOT website all day. It’s pretty amazing — you can track the movements of each of the state’s snow plows, including their speed, direction, and the area they’ve covered in the last half-hour. Uh, plus they tell you whether the highways are open (mostly they’re open, just not the one). This is what the Highway 50 camera showed for Monarch Pass:
It was sort of like a harbinger. Anyway, I therefore got to spend a bonus day hanging out at the hotel and in Salida. (I wasn’t the only one.) Pronunciation aside, Salida was a cool little town with enough real people living there to help balance out the hipsters and their cupcake shops.
Those are real ice chunks in the river btw.
Also btw, Salida is at about 7,100′ in elevation. Monarch Mountain (the ski resort) has its base at 10,780′. These are high places.
Things opened up again on Friday, so even though I was supposed to be in Frisco by Friday night, I thought I should check out Monarch again. I felt pretty bonded to the place for only ever having been there once.
This is what the drive looked like at the lower elevations. I’ve been living in Oklahoma, which is a flat place and one where compact snow and ice doesn’t happen. Anyway, 45 minutes both directions, but the resort was having a pretty good day.
I should also just mention: as inconvenient as it was to miss out on one of my planned days of skiing, as a tourist-skier, I never get this lucky. New snow? Unheard of. Ten inches of untouched powder? Never seen it before. It was pretty amazing.
And then I left, because I was supposed to be skiing again the next day at Copper and, anyway, the roads were supposed to be dodgy.
Went to Monarch for the first time yesterday. That place is awful. No one should ever go there.
Basically all you need to know is this: despite it being a “decent snow day” during a holiday-ish period, the parking lot was barely even half full. No one wants to be here and with good reason! And the worst part is that I’m basically stuck here until Saturday.
Doing my part,
Here’s a photo so you’ll believe this happened:
It seems like a long time ago. I was there longer than usual due to airfare insanity. Skiing primarily. A lot of family things. Thanks to Caitlin and Mark for letting me stay with them and RKD for driving up, I think, mostly just so I could spend a day or two with Ammon. Here are a bunch of photos. They’re in chronological order.
Eh, good enough. Also went to an RSL game and a BYU baseball game. The wrong teams won both. There are probably a couple ski days that are going un-pictured above.
Went to Colorado for a quick (three-day) weekend back in February as sort of a proof of concept. The concept being the reasonableness of going to Colorado to ski for a weekend. I flew in on Thursday night after class, rented a mid-size SUV (Ford Escape as it turned out) “at” the airport, then headed west on I-70, stopping at a pretty awful Super 8 ($89/night!) in a windy, very cold town whose name I’ve forgotten (and now looked up: Georgetown).
Skied on Friday at Copper Mountain, then Saturday at Keystone. On Sunday, I had lift tickets already bought for Loveland, but I was wiped out and it was still cold and windy at that hotel (the mountains were way nicer), so I just slept in, then drove to Denver and walked around Cherry Creek for a few hours before heading to the airport for a 5:00 (or so) flight. I bought a base layer in Cherry Creek at the Marmot store across the street (ish) from the mall.
Really liked Copper. Was mostly locals (the random lift strangers were in very good form), wasn’t super crowded, easy to access off the interstate, a ton of terrain, mostly north-facing, and you can find any kind of skiing that you want. The Super Bee lift was great to lap, especially from the perspective of crowd avoidance. I liked Copper so much that I bought a season pass there for next year. We’ll see how that goes. (Season passes there are stunningly inexpensive — $399 with no blackout days, plus three free days at three other could-visit resorts, Taos, Purgatory, and Monarch.)
Keystone on Saturday started out cold, then got crowded.
The crowds were mostly (based on a non-zero amount of data) with University of Denver frat boys and sorority girls. Which compromised the day, particularly after about 11:30 in the morning. It has an interesting layout — it’s a series of successive peaks, so that once you get off the first peak, you’ll never see the base area again. The best skiing seemed to be on the furthest peak back, where there’s a hike-to bowl (not much of a hike) and some interesting, officially recognized tree ski runs (tiring, but good fun and better snow than the rest of the mountain, which was a little scraped that day).
On a chairlift at Keystone was also, btw, the first time anyone actually asked me if I was 420 friendly. (“Oh yeah, I don’t care.”) Because he hurt his back in a dirt bike accident.
The crowds got bad enough after lunch that it was hard to ski. And on the drive back, I took Loveland Pass, which is a pretty harrowing snow-covered, insufficiently guardrailed route (and not actually any faster than staying on I-70 and coming via Silverthorne).
Here’s a photo of I-70 through the Front Range:
The Colorado ski weekend concept sort of worked. Might have been better to fly in on Friday, rest up and acclimatize to the elevation on Saturday, then go hard on Sunday and Monday, flying back Monday night. Staying in Georgetown was okay from the standpoint that it was a little easier to get to from Denver and only about 30 minutes from Copper, but the hotel itself seemed way overpriced for its level of badness (the carpets were worn down to nothing, the draft from the closed front door could be felt from the other side of the room).
Resolutions and observations:
That’s probably enough.
In, apparently, 1987 there was this song that came out that, apparently, I heard more than once. The song was called “Christmas in the Northwest”. It was, well, you can check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9Ze0FEuG4s. I was going to use the word cloying, but be your own judge. An upside of the song was the implication that somehow Christmas is superior when celebrated in the Pacific Northwest (or, as they call it in Canada, the Tropical Southwest). Also, any time I contemplate visiting my parents for the holidays, the song comes to mind. I usually go anyway.
I guess I felt like I needed to post highlights of the most recent northwestern Christmas(-time activities). Ergo, this.
If you’re unaware, the Mountain Collective is essentially a season-long ski pass that:
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).
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. (more…)
Switzerland: Fog and ice patches.
PNW: Depending on the day, but fog and ice patches also.
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:
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.
Here are some things I did at Whistler that I’d never done before:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.