Author Archives: Stephen Jaye

About Stephen Jaye

My name is Stephen Jaye, I currently live in Denver, CO, but have lived in New York, Chicago, Indiana, and Wisconsin. I love the weather, I love getting out, being active, and I love exploring places. In this blog are my travel writings.

Two Powder Days at Aspen Snowmass

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It was quite possibly the best circumstance to make my first trip to Aspen Snowmass, the only ski resort in Colorado with a vertical rise of over 4,000 feet! In almost any circumstance, skiing two weekdays in the middle of February at one of the top ski resorts in the world is a truly incredible experience! On top of that, I got to ski Snowmass with something like half a foot of fresh powder each day!

There are some drawbacks to skiing during a snowstorm. There is less visibility. Wind and snow hit you in the face on both the lift ride up and while skiing down the mountain.

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There is a place at the top of Elk Camp where there are typically iconic views of the Maroon Bells, the most photographed place in all of Colorado. There are even binoculars set up at the top of the chairlift. I’ll have to gaze at these mountains another time.

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Also, some of the higher lifts at the ski resort were periodically closed due to wind and visibility.

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When they were open, the conditions were less than ideal.

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Also, when part of a ski resort is closed, some of the other lifts can generate unexpectedly long lines. The lines were by no means long compared to what can be seen on weekends at the ski resorts along I-70 close to Denver, particularly Breckenridge and Keystone. For Aspen standards, though, this a long line.

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Several people I talked to on the lift indicated that they do not encounter too many people from Denver. Maybe that is why the lift lines were mostly short to non-existent.

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Snowmass has two base areas, the Base Village and the Village Mall.

Both places have restaurants, shops, lift ticket windows and access to bus service.

The resort pays homage to wildlife, both past and present. Somewhere near Snowmass, discoveries of Ice Age era bones were made.

The Town Park bus terminal in Snowmass Village is not only a place to catch one of the shuttle busses to the ski lift, but also a mini-museum, with information about all sorts of interesting discoveries made in the area.

On the resort, at Elk Camp, the Wapiti Wildlife Center includes exhibits about the wildlife that currently inhabit the area. Apparently temperatures exceeding 78°F (24°C) can kill alpine marmots, and squirrels can gather 16,000 pine cones in a year.

Apen itself is a very expensive town.

So, we ended up staying in Basalt, a town a little less than 20 minutes down the river from Aspen.

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Basalt is a beautiful town of just over 4,000 people, with an active tourism industry of its own (fishing, mountain biking, and people who stay here to ski in Aspen), some really good restaurants and regular bus service to both Aspen and Glenwood Springs.

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When conditions get rough, particularly if it is windy, I often head for the trees.

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Tree skiing is among my favorite ski experiences and at Snowmass, with fresh snow both days, I got some of the best tree skiing of my life! While turning through the trees on this lightly packed snow, I felt like I was doing exactly what I came to Aspen to do! There were several runs we did a whole bunch of times, and we ended up spending most of our time in only a few areas of the mountain.

This is something we decided on halfway through the first day. We had come to Aspen for an experience, one that we were already having. Why be so obsessed with finding it again and again just to check off some kind of mental list or fulfill some idea put into our heads about what we are supposed to do at a place like this? Snowmass is a huge resort, and Aspen has three other ski areas. It is impossible to do it all! That’s kind of the point. People who live here need variety.

Time rushed Americans often get too obsessed with lists and agendas while traveling. Obsession with some kind of mission has the potential to diminish the experience we originally came for. Sometimes, we need to lighten up. Be present. Forget what we are planning to do next and enjoy what we are doing now. Go into the kids area despite being adults.

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On this short trip to Aspen, I put into practice how to overcome the tyranny of expectations and get the most out of my travel experiences. I encourage anyone who is reading this to do the same.

 

Winter Cycling in Colorado

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Colorado weather can be quite variant, especially in wintertime. This variance opens up opportunities and makes winters here far less unpleasant than winters in the Northeast and Midwest. Compared with Chicago, Denver’s winter temperatures…

  • Are 41% more variable
  • Change, on average, 9.3°F from one day to the next (In Chicago it’s 6.6°F)
  • Reach 50°F (10°C) or greater 34.6% of all days, compared with only 7.1% in Chicago
  • Despite this, Denver gets more snow (53.8 inches per year) than Chicago (37.1)

In particular, the greater frequency at which temperatures warm up provides some opportunities. I need not write off an entire season for outdoor cycling. There were six days in January 2020 in which the temperature reached 55°F (12°C).

Then, on Groundhog Day, as if to taunt everyone that buys into the folklore, temperatures across Colorado were exceptionally warm. Denver and the surrounding area reached well into the 70s while some areas in the East and Southeastern parts of the state reached 80!

That morning, Punxsutawney Phil, the most widely known groundhog, would predict an early spring. Later on, Flatiron Freddy, a groundhog local to Colorado, predicted six more weeks of winter. That evening, the weather in Colorado would turn sharply colder and snowier for the foreseeable future.

Groundhog Day 2020 ended up being a perfect demonstration of the opportunities and challenges associated with cycling in Colorado in wintertime. I learned a long time ago to keep to lower elevations in the wintertime due to both wind and residual ice on the roadways. Luckily, the region has a fantastic set of trails. This is actually an outdated map. The network has become even more robust since 2013!

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It is all centered around Confluence Park, right in the heart of downtown. Confluence Park itself is a fantastic example of a place where people can get a little bit of time in nature right in the heart of a major city. There is also an REI flagship store!

On Groundhog Day, I decided to ride the South Platte River trail from Confluence Park to Chattfield Reservoir.

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The trail runs a total of 16 miles. The reservoir itself can be reached with only an additional 3 miles of pedaling. This place is tremendous, with the lake in the foreground and the mountains behind. In summer, there are often a lot of boaters.

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One of the challenges that day was the wind. Wild changes in temperature from day to day are often associated with strong winds and Groundhog Day was no exception. The wind came out of the South at 15-20 miles per hour, making the mostly Southbound ride to the reservoir far more challenging than usual. I recall going at about 15 miles per hour the entire way.

Having not done this specific ride for a few years, I forgot how beautiful the Southern half of the Platte River trail is. The trail snakes through downtown Littleton. After that, there are plenty of places where the the river in the foreground and the mountains in the background make one feel as if they are in the setting of a famous nature painting. Much of this land is being preserved as part of South Platte Park.

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The return trip went quite fast, with the wind at my back and the miles just flying by. While I refrain from hill climbs in the wintertime, this ride ended up having some similarities, with a headwind to get to the reservoir and a much easier and faster return trip. I was back at Confluence Park before I knew it!

In addition to the wind, another major challenge of winter cycling is the limited amount of time available. Winter days are short, and without exception start off cold. Even on Groundhog Day, the day cities across the front range would hit record highs in the 70s to near 80, morning temperatures were still in the 25-35°F (-3 to +1°C) range. If one is to wait until 9 or 10 for temperatures to warm up a little, and be limited by a 5 P.M. sunset, there is a pretty limited amount of time or riding. It was for this reason I picked the particular ride I did.

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It is also for this reason that despite Colorado’s frequent warmer days in the winter, I finally decided to supplement my training with some indoor spinning.

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Waiting for the Ski Lift

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Remember the first time? Perhaps you were a young kid, or perhaps you were a teenager first learning how to ski or snowboard. Already uncomfortable, taking part in an activity that is kind of dangerous. This chair is coming around to lift you to the top of the mountain, or at least quite a bit higher. Will you push forward at the right time? Will your transition onto the chair be smooth? What about getting off the chair when the ride is done?

As an experienced skier, taking on some of Copper Mountain’s more challenging terrain, I take for granted the ease at which I hop on and off of ski lifts.

However, that wasn’t always so. I recall my first day skiing, when I was 14, how I felt as I gradually moved up in line to, for the first time in my life, allow a pulley-based mechanical device to lift me up in the air while I was wearing skis. Right in front of me was a prime example of the rewards the come from overcoming anxiety, pushing through discomfort and opening ourselves to new experiences. Winter would not be nearly as enjoyable without this temporarily stressful experience.

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Life is full of things we anticipate, get anxious or even fearful about, but chose to push through in order to expand our horizons. These events could be as trivial as trying a new food, or changing in a gym locker room alone for the first time (as a child). They can be as major as a first date, job interviews, or starting a business. In all cases, we start out anxious or afraid, or, at the very least, highly uncomfortable. We emerge on the other side a more capable human being. If we continue to take part in the activity, like riding the ski lift, what was once a source of terror becomes something we are comfortable with and do with ease.

In a lot of these situations, there is some degree of flexibility with regards to the timing at which we overcome our nerves. A high schooler can loose their nerve and decide to wait another day or two to ask out the classmate they have a crush on. An aspiring musician at an open mic night can elect to let a few people go before them. Someone feeling anxious about boarding a ski lift cannot slow down the inevitable. The chairs are going to come, one by one, picking up people. The line will move as the anxious new skier inevitably reaches boarding position. The clock is ticking!

The course of life will bring more significant situations that require overcoming our nerves; marriage, children, business decisions that affect many, as well as the many times we need to assert ourselves or allow ourselves to be vulnerable. As I face a situation of my own that’s making me nervous, it helps to have a reminder, here on the slopes, of a time I overcame my nerves and created something beautiful.

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10 Questions We’ll Need to Answer in the 2020s

1. Do the rules still apply?

The past decade felt like a crazy oscillation. One week I would feel more liberated than I had ever before in life. The next, someone was trying to impose restrictions, conflict and guilt on me. I doubt I am the only one that feels this way.

For much of the 20th Century, we operated with certain cultural expectations. These “rules” were first challenged in the 1960s with the counterculture movements at the time. In the 2010s, they were further challenged. The most high profile manifestations are the acceptance of gay marriage and steady progress of marijuana legalization.

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The nature of work is also starting to change, at different rates depending on location and industry.

The strangest dynamic I observed throughout the decade is the gap between where the expectations of the average younger worker is and the manner in which those at higher levels of established institutions operate. It’s no secret that younger workers today want flexibility, purpose, the ability to grow and the ability to be true to themselves. Some of this has shown up in flexible working hours, changes in dress codes and more collaborative environments in some places.

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However, those at the top of most institutions, those with the real power, are mostly still using the old set of standards.

The same can be said for other parts of our lives. Many people are questioning assumptions and restrictions related to things like gender and origin. This has oddly coincided with a fairly zealous clinging to some aspects of the old set of rules. I still encounter plenty of people holding strict inflexible standards about what it means to be in a relationship (just without the one man one woman standard), and what kind of things people need to do when they reach certain stages (ages) of life.

In the 2020s, we need to end this state of confusion. Do the rules still apply? If some need to be kept, why? If we created new ones (see political correctness) can we get rid of them?

2. What’s next?

The key trends of the 2010s were older ideas. Social media and smart phones are turn of the century inventions. There were countless reboots or remakes of movies. Even the heavy use of auto-tuner in hip hop music is a revival.

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Statistics have shown that what we are doing has not been serving us well.

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Our culture seems stagnant. It’s time for something new. Given our mental health issues and a feeling of restlessness, it feels inevitable that something new will come this decade.

3. How do money, work, fulfillment and resources intersect?

Leaders around the world are starting to recognize that happiness is not directly tied to measures of economic success like GDP. That is because more money can only make a person happier to a point. Once a person’s basic needs are met, the focus shifts upwards on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, to feelings of love, belonging and fulfillment.

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For nearly a millennium, some form of currency has been used a medium of exchange. Jobs have provided people with the money they need to satisfy their resource needs. The lucky ones also found some level of fulfillment out of their jobs. This may change. Cryptocurrency is challenging the role of money. Automation has the potential to significantly reduce the need for us to work to meet our resource needs. It may be possible in the not too distant future to meet these needs through a manner other than “jobs”.

4. What is the purpose of each communication method?

I doubt I am the only one frustrated by this one. We added a bunch of new communication methods over the past 30 years; email, text, social media, forums, chats and other platforms. There doesn’t seem to be any consensus around which forms of communication are for which purposes. This makes organizing groups of people a more confusing task than ever before. With loneliness on the rise and loneliness clearly linked to some of the bad mental health outcomes of recent years, we need to find a way to eliminate this unnecessary obstacle for those trying to share experiences with others.

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5. What is the true source of power?

Traditionally one’s power is based on rank and authority, often in large institutions. One can also use soft power to influence people. Two things are changing how we view power.

The first is new avenues by which to influence people. The most commonly used ones are Instagram and YouTube.

There is also a growing distrust in our institutions.

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While recent surveys still show general trust and esteem for our military, police and small business, trust has significantly eroded for our political institutions, educational institutions, the media and big business. It’s not hard to imagine a future where people do not take titles at these institutions too seriously. Alternatives to many of theses institutions are gaining momentum.

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6. What is the true source of happiness?

This needs clear definition because we often fail to prioritize the things in our lives that lead to happiness, like spending time with friends and family.

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To shift priorities, we need to develop a better understanding of what makes us happy. Luckily, people have been studying this, both in an academic and practical real world sense.

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7. Can our institutions be modernized to reflect our true reality?

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The institutions losing our trust have not kept up with changes in our culture. Memorization of facts will not lead to success in the 21st Century. Government policies don’t seem to account for realities such as the average job tenure being less than five years and success and happiness being more linked to reputation and attention than income for many.

Can these institutions be updated? Or do they need to be replaced, by something new that comes along and serves us better?

8. Is it possible to end self-segregation?

Many studies indicate that most of the most segregated cities are in places like Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit, where segregation was never or only briefly legally codified.

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This came to be based on self-segregation, people choosing to live around “their own kind”. Unfortunately, this has lead to continuing misunderstanding among different racial groups. In the coming decade can we….

  • End this practice of self-segregation which prevents interaction between people from different backgrounds?
  • Perhaps more importantly, not replace it with a different type of self-sorting, along lines like economic status, political ideology or lifestyle preferences?

9. Are large groups of people (>100 Million) governable?

There are only a few places around the world where this many people are under one government of sorts. All seem to be facing some form of dysfunction.

  • China went the authoritarian route, placing tight controls on the information their populace receives. They are currently dealing with mass protests in Hong Kong, one of the few places where there is access to information from the outside world. Many are also unhappy with their treatment of certain minority ethnic groups.
  • India and the European Union grant a significant amount of regional autonomy. This is a significantly different model, but has not been without problems (see Kashmir, Brexit).
  • The U.S. has tried to follow a model somewhere in the middle. However, we are dealing with a sort of national identity crisis.

Our identity crisis is related to this bigger question. Can a country with places as different as Seattle, Miami, Texas and South Carolina all live under the same national government? Is there enough that we share despite our differences? Can we avoid sliding towards the China model that tramples on people’s freedoms? Is there a new way?

10. What will be revealed to us next?

One of the main themes of the 2010s is the exposure of shady things. During this decade we learned…

  • About countless sex related scandals in the entertainment industry
  • Just how much steroids were being used in sports like pro cycling
  • The manner in which the Government was lobbied by the sugar industry to indicate that fat is a bigger concern than sugar in the 1970s
  • That the food pyramid many of us grew up with was completely wrong

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I’m gonna go out on a limb, but I feel like in the near future, something even bigger is going to be revealed to us… stay tuned!

Leaving it in the 2010s

12 Things I’m Letting go of for a New Decade

Note: This is the first entry in a three part series about the dawn of a new decade. These entries are not about travel or destinations, but about life’s journey during a period of reflection.

1. Worrying about how people are perceiving me

If anything, this is a sign of maturity. High Schoolers are constantly worried about how they’re being judged by their peers, often based on things like fashion and entertainment. Maturity means first understanding that differences with respect to these surface level preferences are not that important. Next comes eliminating the fear of what is different with respect to more significant things like values and lifestyle.

The next step in the process involves managing the reactions of others. Many have not, and some never will, reach a point where they no longer fear those that are significantly different from them. Ironcially, it is often the people who go around claiming to be “accepting” or “open-minded”, and constantly contrast themselves with the xenophobes of the world that are least capable of dealing with those who see the world in fundamentally different matter. The truth is that a person’s reaction to someone else, or someone else’s ideas, is often more a reflection of themselves than the person they are responding to.

2. Guilt about anything that isn’t specifically my fault

It’s great to care, and it is great to want to help. But, feeling guilty about it and letting it get in the way of life’s other pursuits is a complete waste of time.

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3. Underestimating my value

Low self-esteem is so rampant in our culture that those with a healthy sense of self worth are often perceived as arrogant or full of themselves. Sure, there are people out there that are too full of themselves. Those are the people who will honestly defend holding others to a double standard, or showboat about skills they do not actually have. Still, many more are unnecessarily humble and don’t understand their true value, due to some combination of societal conditioning or having struggled in the past. Many struggles in life, including jobs and relationships are not the fault of the specific people involved. Rather, they are just the wrong fit.

4. Not believing in myself

Even worse than settling for less is not even trying!

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5. The easy way

This was discussed in a previous blog. Many of life’s choices involve a path that is easier vs. a path that is more challenging. The more challenging path is almost always the one that leads to a better long-term result. Taking the easy way means avoiding those difficult conversations that need to be had, finding a short cut to get something done rather than learning a new skill, and sticking to the same places and activities without expanding one’s comfort zone.

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6. Waiting for that perfect timing

This is a big one, especially with respect to major life moves such as marriage, children, getting another degree or starting a new business. At any moment in time, there is always something wrong with the specific situation: “The Economy is a little shaky.” “After I get this promotion.” “I need to lose 10 pounds.” And, the list goes on. The idea that some better moment in time is gonna come along can be crippling. In most situations, there’s no time like the present.

7. Indecisiveness

This is the era of analysis paralysis and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). With more access to information that ever before, it is difficult to make a choice or commit to anything. The idea that something better will come along is not only out there, but it is now on everyone’s social media feeds. The same way waiting for the perfect time to do something will results in it never getting done, always waiting around for what is prefect will result in, well, a lot of waiting.

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8. Those that have treated me unfairly

There were plenty of those this decade. Those experiences are now all over and cannot be changed. It is impossible to get the proper closure to every situation in life. Time to focus on the future.

9. My past mistakes

There were also plenty of these in the 2010s. They also can’t be changed. Some of them can be atoned for, others, well, unfortunately never will. All that can be done is to let them go, and focus on the future (as well as the present).

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10. Picking up my phone without a specific reason

It’s time to do things intentionally. Phones will always be there, to alert their holders to life’s important developments. Everything else can wait. Seriously, despite being less than average – this is still too much time!

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11. Putting things off

Obviously, there are times when something comes up and cannot be dealt with right away. However, when there is time and something needs to get done, well, it should get done.

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12. Blaming others

This has been a horrible practice for many years. When there is always someone or something to blame, the uncomfortable feeling of having done something wrong does not need to be dealt with. Unfortunately, blame also comes at the cost of growth opportunities. It is also, like the other items on this list, as symptom of one of the things that holds us back the most … fear.

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New Season, New Resort

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Winter in Colorado is off to a solid start. Several major snowstorms have brought significant snowfall to the Colorado mountains. Also, unlike in recent winters, all parts of the state have received their fair share of snow. The mountains across the state are reporting snowpacks slightly above the long term average.

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Winter Park is one of the few ski resorts relatively close to Denver that I had never been to before. The primary reason for this is that since moving to Colorado, I had stuck with the Epic Pass, which includes Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Vail. That set of top-notch resorts within a two hour drive is tough to pass up. However, some of us were ready to try something new and decided to go with the Ikon Pass this year.

Winter Park is about the same distance from Denver as Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Keystone. The road there, though, is one of the windiest roads I have ever been on.

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With an earlier exit off Interstate 70, this place may be easier to get to on days when there is heavy skier traffic. However, with all the curves going up and over Berthoud Pass, this trip could be more challenging in inclement weather. This particular trip was made five days after the most recent snowfall, and the roads were still slick.

The start of any season requires some adjustment. Having not skied in almost nine months, putting on my ski boots felt kind of hard. It really feels easy. However, the first few times in any season, it feels like I am shoving my feet into the boots and using up a significant amount of energy in my leg muscles.

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Winter Park felt similar to Colorado’s other top notch resorts. On measures such as vertical rise, skiable area and number of runs, it is quite comparable to Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Steamboat. It also seems to have the same general mix of groomed runs, bumps, glades and bowls.

I appreciate the inclusion of the blue-black designation for runs where the difficulty level is somewhere in-between a typical intermediate (blue) and advanced (black) run. Everywhere I have been in Colorado, it has felt like there are plenty of runs needing this designation.

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I also love it anytime slopes are given names related to gambling.

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Those who ski Winter Park a lot tell me that no visit to Winter Park is complete without a visit to the Mary Jane area.

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This area cover about 1/3 of the resort, and has some of the more challenging terrain. Trestle is one of the steepest trails in Colorado.

It’s easy to feel lame on a run like this (unless you are an expert). While on the run, I felt like I was taking it very slowly and making wide cuts across the mountain. By the end, it felt great to know I had made it down such as steep slope in the trees. It is important to bask in our accomplishments, at least for a little bit.

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The entire experience served as a reminder of something I had realized years ago. Many of life’s choices follow the same general theme. There is a path we can take that is familiar, comfortable and easy. It’s avoiding our problems, not having that difficult conversation with a colleague, not sharing our opinions when they differ from the group, avoiding rejection and just turning on the television.

Then there is the other path. The one that requires effort, overcoming fears and facing discomfort. It is trying something new, learning something new, facing fears and taking the effort to arrange experiences to share with others. It is the path that will lead to a more enjoyable and fulfilling life. It’s a challenge to consistently follow the higher effort and higher reward path when we often crave the easy and comfortable. So, it felt great to realize that I was on this general path when I went through the discomfort of putting on ski boots and then again when traversing one of Colorado’s steepest tree runs.

It is hard to make a comparison between Winter Park and some of the other ski ares relatively close to Denver on a Thursday just before Christmas. Some people say that one of the advantages to Winter Park is that it is relatively less crowded. Judging this would require coming here on a busy weekend day. Overall, though, it feels good to have tried a new place and pushed my limits so early in the season.

When Questions Lead to More Questions

I boarded a train downtown.

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I was on it for about half an hour.

I stepped off the train in a place called Olde Town Arvada.

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As soon as I got off the train I felt this pleasant feeling of comfortable familiarity. Colorado does not have too many places like this: Suburbs with centralized downtown areas full of shops, restaraunts and bars centered around a train station. Yet, this is all over Long Island. In fact it is all over the entire New York metropolitan area.

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So, why did I feel so content to have entered an environment that felt so familiar, even if it was nearly 2,000 miles away from where I grew up?

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Questions that burn in my head often don’t go away until I have found a sufficient answer. A couple days later, I looked into why this feeling of familiarity was such a positive emotion. Apparently, there is something called the mere exposure effect, where people tend to rate more positively what they have already been exposed to, or become familiar with.

I wondered then….

Is this the same mechanism behind nostalgia?

Does finding joy in familiarity prevent us from being as open as we could be? And, is it holding us back from moving forward with our lives and culture?

Also, what is the nature of nostalgia? Do we tend to get nostalgic for a specific time in our lives? Or do we tend to get nostalgic for whatever time in our lives felt we felt a certain way?

Nostalgia has intrigued me quite a bit lately. I feel like I just reached the age where people around me are expecting me to take part in it. The problem is, I am not really that interested. I’m more interested in thinking about the future.

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Anecdotal evidence seems to point towards a cycle of nostalgia that revives time periods roughly 25 years before the present day; shows, movies and even music samples that appeal to middle aged adults with spending power reminiscing about their formative years.

In the late 80s/ early 90s, there was The Wonder Years, set in the 1960s. At the turn of the century, it was That 70s Show. 1980s nostalgia has been everywhere for some time.

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Now, the nostalgia cycle is turning to the 1990s, an era I rememberer but don’t feel too terribly attached to. I liked Seinfeld. Nirvana and Soudgarden were good bands. However, I also remember the mediocre (shows, bands and cultural developments I won’t specify as I don’t intend to throw shade right now).

Those who have studied nostalgia indicate that it is both a way to cope with things like loss, fear and disappointment, as well as a yearning for some kind of an ideal state. But…

Is this a good thing? Or are these idealized versions of periods in the past preventing us from recognizing the current period for what it is and making the most of it?

Are coping mechanisms a good thing? Or do they prevent us from actually processing what is leading to the negative emotions we are experiencing?

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Likewise, I have heard a lot recently about embracing the unfamiliar. In my little corner of Millennial Denver culture, being open to new ideas and jumping into the unknown is consistently glorified as an almost God-like way of life.

Is there a limit? Is there an evolutionary reason for us to seek that which is familiar?

Open mindedness, taken to an extreme, can lead to analysis paralysis. This is prevalent everywhere, as the amount of information input by our brains exceeds our natural decision-making capacity.

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What do we do now? Also, how did an impromptu trip to an inner-ring suburb lead me to so many questions? Then questions on top of questions?

It feels like I just lived out a quintessential example of over-thinking and analysis paralysis. It is easy for inquisitive minds to get into a rabbit hole where questions lead to more questions nearly indefinitely.

When I shut my mind off and take the experience, what I realize is that I am not as different from everybody else as I had believed. When broken down to its root cause, the psychological mechanism that causes so many people to idealize the past is the same one that gave me that positive vibe upon entering Olde Town Arvada.

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Just because I don’t have any interest in binge-watching Friends episodes doesn’t mean I am not trying to cope with life’s disappointments and find that elusive feeling that all is good and will continue to be good for the foreseeable future.

 

Exactly What Was Expected

Sometimes in life, for better or for worse, things go exactly as expected.

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An average November produces only six clear days in Chicago, compared to 18 cloudy ones. December is even cloudier, averaging 20 cloudy days.

The weather I experienced, visiting Chicago over Thanksgiving and into early December was exactly what one should expect. With the exception of a few hours on one day, it was cloudy. There were stretches where it even got foggy.

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A couple of days, it rained. Temperatures where in the 30s (-1 to +4°C) pretty much the entire time.

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It could have been worse. Chicago is prone to cold air outbreaks, and while late November into early December is not the heart of winter, it is still possible for temperatures to drop down close to 0°F (-17°C).

Thanksgiving is not about pleasant weather, being outdoors or any specific activities. It’s not even really about the food or drink. It’s about gratitude. It’s also about spending time with friends and family.

The Thanksgiving feeling is that conversation, usually around the table, where everyone feels safe, supported and not judged. Everywhere we go in life, we feel the need to prove something. We are always trying to prove to our bosses that we are worthy of pay raises and promotions. We are often trying to prove to those in our social scenes that we are worth inviting to parties and events. With social media and smartphones, much of our lives have become trying to prove to people that we are interesting enough to warrant their attention. Thanksgiving, when done right, is a reprieve from all that!

Holidays are not without their struggle. Flights to visit family are often expensive and we are often forced to make tough decisions regarding visiting family at Thanksgiving, Christmas or for some other holiday. This year’s trip turned out really well, as my time in Chicago started on Thanksgiving, November 28th and extended about a week. I got to experience both holidays, as we had Thanksgiving dinner, but also were able to set up the Christmas tree, start singing Christmas songs and watching Christmas movies.

For many other reasons, the entire trip to Chicago ended up pretty closely aligned with expectations.

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When trips to visit friends and family fall in line with expectations, it is almost always a good thing. However, in other areas of life, sometimes what we expect is not what we actually want. This is technically true of work right now. Well more than half of U.S. workers are not happy with how their jobs turn out. As of the end of the 2010s, going into any job, one would have to unfortunately bet on a poor experience.

In every area of life, from personal relationships, social endeavors, politics, to just going to the supermarket, an experience can be typical or it could be abnormal. How anyone feels after a “typical experience” depends on three factors.

1. Personality

Specifically, this often relates to how open we are and how optimistic we are. Optimists tend to have high expectations. This is generally a good thing, but can be frustrating when some anticipated better than normal experience does not come to pass. People who are more resistant to change would likely be more satisfied having an experience that falls in line with what is typically expected.

2. How one feels about the current state

This one is easy to reconcile. If someone likes where they are in life, and feels things are moving in the right direction, then they will be happy with a typical life experience. However, when someone feels like something in their lives or what they are observing around them needs a change in direction, a “typical” experience can actually lead to some level of depression.

3. Recent events in our own lives

Both ancient and recent philosophical writings have described the need for some kind of balance between the predictable and the chaotic. Too much of the former can lead to stagnation and that nagging feeling as if something is missing. Too much of the latter can lead to that feeling that everything is out of control and nothing can be counted on. Experiencing exactly what one expects falls into the category or order or the predictable. For someone whose life has felt out of control, an experience that follows the order of things can feel refreshing. For someone who feels antsy and stagnant after seven identical weeks following a constant routine, another typical experience could just add to the frustration.

 

Gratitude and Atonement

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I suck at gratitude. Forever thinking about the future and how to correct wrongs, both in my life specifically and with society as a whole, I often neglect to be grateful for what I do have.

The problem is not isolated to myself, or any specific subset of society. I can think of several people in my life that are great at showing gratitude. They make people feel good about themselves by giving compliments, and sounding grateful for anything anyone does for them. More importantly, they sound grateful to people just for being who they are and being in their lives. They are the ones that will occasionally just thank me for the way my mind works after I make some kind of comment.

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This is the exception rather than the rule. I have encountered far more people who are fixated on what they don’t have or what’s wrong. If I had to express my behavior with respect to being thankful vs. resentful, I would put myself somewhere in the middle of the curve. That is, however, not good enough. A lot of people recognize this as a problem. It’s now commonly recommend that people keep a gratitude journal in order to alter their focus.

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A decade is coming to an end. A decade full of ups and downs. A decade full of experiences. A decade full of joy and pain.

Throughout the decade, I can point to times when my behavior was positive, selfless and encouraging. I can also point to plenty of times when my behavior was erratic, self-destructive and not exactly fair to the people around me.

In the new decade, I am done with the tyranny of expectations, the fear of letting people down and the need for approval from others; especially authority figures. However, there are people in my life who genuinely helped me, were there for me during some rough times, encouraged me, and enriched my life just by being a part of it.

This Thanksgiving, it is time to

  1. Show people that I am grateful for them being in my life
  2. Tell them why I am grateful for them, and tell them that I care
  3. Show remorse for those who I have treated unfairly or taken for granted
  4. Truly let go of some things I am still holding onto

What I did can be thought of as trying to cram multiple years worth of gratitude into a single month.

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I decided to write notes to people who impacted my life in a significant way over the course of the decade. I’m sure I still left some people out. It was a list I agonized over. In the end, I wrote about 85 letters.

I spent two weeks writing what I should have been telling the people around me all decade. The notes mention specific qualities about people I enjoy. They express gratitude for shared experiences. They described the positive impacts certain people have had on my life. They express remorse for the situations I did not handle well.

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Writing the letters was quite emotional. In some cases, it felt like reliving the ups and the downs, the moments I am proud of and the ones that make me cringe. Overall, writing these notes made me feel better.

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Bringing these notes to the Post Office turned out to be even more emotional than writing them. There was something amazing about the act of dropping all these letters into the mail slot. At that specific moment, a giant weight lifted from me. I had finally done the right thing. The past could be put behind me. This season of reflection, gratitude and atonement makes me ready for life’s next chapter.

I’m not sure how anyone is going to respond to these Thanksgiving notes. Some people, especially those I have not talked to the last few years, may even be a bit bewildered.

While I am sure I will hear from some people when these notes are received in the mail, I am not anticipating anything specific. That’s not the point. I wasn’t doing this to have anyone tell me how great it is that I am finally showing some gratitude or hear from people who have not been in my life for years. The point was to tell people they matter. Assuming nothing goes terribly wrong at the Post Office, that mission is accomplished.

In Between Seasons

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The first few days of November in Colorado’s high terrain is the quintessential example of an in-between season. The first few storms of the year have removed all the colorful leaves from the trees. All of the “leaf peepers” have gone home. Snow covers the ground, but not in a manner that is deep and consistent enough to enable many of the activities associated with the winter season. Some of the ski resorts have opened, but likely have only one or two lifts operating.

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Almost everything, from the sounds of nature to the volume of traffic along the highways, is much quieter than usual.

It is a familiar place for most, and not just with respect to seasons and outdoor activities. It is present in all cycles of life. No matter how hard some may try to remain consistently occupied, there will always be that time period, when one activity is done and the next has yet to begin.

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This has become even more prevalent in the 21st Century. The world is changing faster. Gone are the days of having one job or one main activity for nearly the entire duration of adulthood. Nearly all people must periodically learn new tools and expand their knowledge base on a regular basis. The average job tenure is now 4.2 years, and it is now common for people to switch to a completely different line of work from time to time.

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Olympic Gold medalist Lindsay Vonn discussing her new line of makeup at Denver Startup Week 2019

It’s long past time people stop asking those they meet for the first time “What do you do?”  This question needs to be replaced with something more appropriate for the current reality, such as “What are you up to?” One’s tenure at a specific job, like raising a child starting a bueiness or renovating a home is a project with a finite beginning and ending.

Early November in the mountains is that time period between one ending and the next beginning. What to do?

This in-between time represents an opportunity that the manager of six groups raising two children caring for an elderly family member and building a new garage does not have. For someone accustomed to being constantly on the move, this in-between time can be confusing and even disorienting. Whether expected, like the time between fall and winter, or unexpected, like a project cancellation, in-between seasons are a great time for what often gets neglected in typical daily life.

The most important things to do during in-between seasons are…

Rest

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While it is certainly possible to rest too much, periodic rest is important to meet all of our physical and spiritual needs. Much has been written recently about the importance of getting good sleep. This is something few people prioritize.

Learn

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Learning is commonly a part of everyday life. However, learning is typically dictated by demands related to jobs or other responsibilities. During this quieter time, there is the freedom to learn anything that actually pokes one’s curiosity. Many, including Google, understand the value of self-directed pursuits.

Improve

“Be better than you were yesterday” is a common mantra. Many people, especially those that are the most successful, are constantly working on themselves. The time between the ending of one activity and the beginning of another can be a unique opportunity to give some form of self-improvement the focus it needs to guarantee it come to fruition.

Work on Relationships

It is hard to imagine something more neglected by modern society than the need for human connection. Some believe that this neglect is behind most mental health problems. Relationships of all kinds need attention in order to thrive. Breakups and explosive fights between best friends and family members garner a lot of attention. However, people lose far more relationships due to neglect, when both parties cease making an effort.

Re-evaluate

Perhaps most importably, a life that is constantly busy provides little opportunity for re-evaluation of things like time use, spending habits and priorities. During times like these, more people have the ability to clear their heads of things like daily task lists and ask themselves what really matters. This will inform things like which relationships are the most important ones to working on, what to learn, what improvements to make and what the next beginning should be.

It won’t be long before the next season is underway.

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The odds of that next season being successful is improved when individuals improve, are well rested, and have the right priorities and relationships. While this can be done in many different settings, it is often done most effectively in places like these, where there are far fewer distractions.

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