Category Archives: Outdoor Activities

Camping Memorial Day Weekend at 9600 feet (2600 m)

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The week leading up to Memorial Day Weekend life in Denver had already entered “summer mode”. Tuesday and Wednesday were the first official 90 degree days. People had begun to enter summer mode, moving their outdoor activities to either first thing in the morning or around sunset.

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Many went up to the mountains. On an unpaved road, three hours from Denver, a little outside the town of Redcliff in Eagle County Colorado, it felt like there was more traffic than there had been on some of Denver’s residential streets lately.

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To find a quality place to camp, that was not already occupied by someone who had arrived earlier, we ended up having to cary all of our supplies up a fairly steep cliff.

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Climbing that far up in elevation, we began to encounter some snow.

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It was the first time I ever set up camp anywhere near a pile of snow this big. Having been in summer mode, it felt odd to suddenly be around piles of snow that were multiple feet deep in some places. However, it was not without its advantages.

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The effort to lug all of our stuff uphill from the car also ended up proving advantageous. Despite being quite far from any town, campsites near the road/creek were not too quiet or secluded.

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We got the experience most people want out of dispersed camping by carrying all our stuff to the top of the hill. The tops of the nearby mountains could be seen much more easily up here. It was also slightly warmer, as colder air funneled into the valley.

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Overall, putting in a little extra effort lead to a better experience!

May can be a somewhat awkward time in the mountains. Above a certain elevation, there is still snow kind of everywhere. We took a day trip up to the Homestake Reservoir.

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However, with the ground kind of half snow covered and half bare, getting anywhere was kind of awkward.

It was here I had another first, a trek that blurred the lines between hiking and snowshoeing.

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With sections of trail bare and others still covered by feet of snow, we were constantly taking our snowshoes off and putting them back on again. The inconvenience and slippery sections of wet snow deterred others from completing this hike.

Once again, putting in the extra effort and overcoming a little inconvenience proved to be worthwhile. We ended up being able to eat a quiet lunch all by ourselves in front of a small but extremely picturesque alpine lake.

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The image in front of me, of a lone weather sensor, with the mid-May still mostly snow covered mountains of the Western Sawatch Range behind it ended up being one of the best ascetic natural experiences I have ever had!

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A lot of people will hike up here in July, August and September, after all the residual snow has gone, and stand in this very spot. However, they will not get this experience.

The following night, not having to set up camp, being able to goof off a little before a storm came in, was quite relaxing.

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When we first drove up the road, looking for dispersed camping, only to find that every site we saw for the first 8.5 miles was already claimed, it was tempting to give up and go home.

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On our partially snow packed hike to a lake barely even big enough to make it onto one of those detailed National Geographic pullout maps, we were advised to turn around less than a mile in. In both cases, persevering through unforeseen obstacles produced amazing experiences. Like the campground we stayed at and the pure beauty of eating lunch in front a quiet alpine lake, life will reward those who are not deterred by unforeseen obstacles in all forms. The key is to not give up!

The following morning, we’d wake up to even crazier weather; rain then even a few periods of significant snow!

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While Denver was entering Summer, the top of the Sawatch Mountains were barely leaving winter. It reminds me of when I encounter people who happened to be around the same age, with similar backgrounds, but are in different seasons of life.

It can be a challenge to wrap the mind around 90 degree Denver and nearby mountains where it is still snowing. In the same vein, it can be challenging to wrap the mind around a person with tons of responsibilities, a mature and realistic attitude and acceptance of life’s limitations being the same age as another who seems to have endless youthful energy and enthusiasm. Yet, like summer in Denver and Winter in Eagle County, they can both exist, both be beautiful, and give the world some much needed variety. The key is to not make assumptions about where anyone “should be” in their lives, and avoid the assumption that one path is inherently wrong.

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The Slow Return to Normal

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There I was, standing in the Cherry Creek reservoir, feet in the water, wearing a bicycle helmet and a mask. It was quite the interesting way to spend what was likely the first 80 degree day in parts of Denver (there are no observations downtown and the airport reached a high of 79), and the first day of Colorado’s slow return to normal.

That morning, Colorado’s statewide stay-at-home order transitioned to a safer-at-home order. For me, little had changed. The City of Denver still has a stay-at-home order which was extended nearly two weeks beyond the state’s. The businesses I frequent are all still closed, the guidelines still strongly suggest minimal travel. There is also evidence suggesting that the danger related to contracting and spreading the virus, in Colorado and in Denver, has yet to dissipate. Essentially, Monday’s slight change in policy, like a non-binding resolution or loose talk among friends about big things, felt mostly just symbolic.

Still, like many Americans, I am quite antsy to get back to doing a lot of the things that bring me joy; specifically travel and social activity. My mind is a bit all over the place as I try to reconcile the hopefulness of hearing news about states planning to reopen their economies with the very real threat that still exists. It feels like a classic heart vs. head issue, with many different dimensions and complications. My response is to start small.

Sunday, the last day of the full stay-at-home order, it was a short hike, at a place not too far away, called Steven’s Gulch, with only three other people.

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It’s not the kind of hike that leads to the most spectacular views.

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In fact, after a 500 foot ascent, there is a 1500 foot descent into the gulch, where the trail was quite muddy, and, in places, there was standing water to contend with.

The hike itself, wasn’t about reaching some summit. The largest climb was the 1000 foot climb back to the trailhead (which was surprisingly crowded for a not too well known trail on a day with clouds and rain chances).

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The hike was about being outside, being in nature, being in the woods.

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After weeks of spending far too much time at home, in front of screens, just being in a place that looks like this, putting one foot in front of the other for a few hours is an amazingly calming experience. Having lived without some modern luxuries for the past six weeks, it almost felt somewhat reminiscent of a backpacking trip.

Meanwhile back in Denver, the anxiety was still there and the tensions were still mounting.

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There are so many different factions of people feeling and saying different things about the virus and our response to it. There is so much fear, depression, loneliness and the post-traumatic stress. All data on the true extent and potency of COVID-19 is so unreliable. It has become nearly impossible to know who to believe.

One of the few bright spots of this whole pandemic is workplace flexibility in many sectors where working from home is an option. Without the commute, the need to get dressed up and be physically in an office for a certain time period, it becomes far easier to do things like go on an extended lunchtime bike ride.

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The ride to the Cherry Creek reservoir from anywhere near downtown Denver is about 13 miles, mostly on a trail. Throughout this pandemic, bike trails have been quite busy. Perhaps this is because the bars and restaurants are closed and more people are enjoying schedule flexibility related to their employment. The sun was bright that day, and there were many more people enjoying the day, on their sail boats or with their friends and family at the beach.

There is no way to tell how the history books will look back upon the Spring of 2020. Each and every person has their own unique way of coping with this major life event. Personally, I hold on to the hope that, in the long run, something good will come out of all of this. I’ve long held the belief that the expectation that people spend 40 to 50 daylight hours at their office is limiting, and something we are now capable of moving beyond due to new technology. With many people putting all this technology to use out of necessity, maybe our work culture will change for the better, opening up many daylight hours for experiences like this.

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The Question We Are All Asking

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As this pandemic wears on, and people begin to speculate whether or not we have reached our “peak”, with respect to cases and medical needs, the conversation is increasingly turning towards how we go about reopening our economy and returning to our “normal” lives.

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The Parking Lot to the Colorado Mills Mall, completely empty

As is the case with all decision like this, there are inevitably people pulling on both sides. There are those advocating caution, warning that rushing to restart our economy could lead to more deaths. There are also those concerned about the consequences of waiting too long to get the economy going again.

We have now mostly all adjusted to this new, temporary, more home focused way of life.

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However, I can tell that people are getting antsy. Maybe we are not getting antsy to return to things like commuting to work. Plenty of people who are now questioning more than ever whether going into an office every day is even necessary anymore given the technology we now have (disclaimer: my personal sample leans heavily towards Colorado Millennials so you may be experiencing different conversational themes). For things like social interaction, travel, gathering and certain types of experiences, there is certainly a yearning for that which we are now lamenting we had taken for granted nearly our entire lives.

Friday, I decided to spend the day riding my bike, stopping by various people’s houses doing some bike-by “distance hellos”. The response was overwhelmingly positive!

 

 

I set out at 9 A.M. expecting to return home sometime around 2 or 2:30 P.M. My total cycling distance was just over 40 miles, only around the Denver Metro Area as to not take part in unnecessary travel at this time. I ended up not getting home until after 6:00 P.M. There were five planned visits, each one lasting a decent amount of time, as everyone I set out to hang out with from a distance seemed more than happy to have visitors at this time. I also ended up having two other unplanned visits. One was with a total stranger, who I talked with for 10-15 minutes. She introduced herself from her backyard as I was pulling into a parking lot in Golden. The other, with a friend of mine who had seen my Instagram post about these distance hellos and wanted to be a part of it.

On one level, the question we are all asking is quite straightforward:

What is more important being or doing?

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If “being” is more important, saving as many lives as possible is the natural priority. If “doing” is more important, the conversation opens up to questions like whether or not it is worth it to sacrifice a few (thousand) lives to avoid other forms of economic and social destruction.

However, as we continue to experience that which seemed unfathomable as recently as six weeks ago…

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Google Maps showing no traffic in New York, Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles

The question of being vs. doing becomes more nuanced.

Is our “doing” essential to our “being”?

For a long time, our jobs/careers have been an integral part of our identities. When we place our jobs at the center of our identities, it is sometimes referred to as “Workism”.

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Placing work, or a career at the center of our identities implies that doing is essential to our being. This current crisis call workism into question, but it was already being questioned. However, even those looking to move beyond workism place significant importance on some other form of “doing”. I personally don’t enjoy days with no activity, and mass inactivity has negative consequences for our economic and psychological well-being. The term “idle hands are the tool of the devil” came from actual experience.

There is a lot of speculation about what the world will look like after COVID-19. The only thing that seems certain now is that there will be some sort of change that will be clear this year. How things turn out on a longer time scale will depend on how we address the questions of whether it is more important to be or to do, and how our doing impacts our being.

Flattening the Curve … and My Belly

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For about an hour I had totally forgotten the nightmare that is our current situation. I wasn’t thinking about all the lives at risk, everyone that is losing their jobs and livelihoods, the bars and restaurants all being closed, the businesses in jeopardy and the social isolation. It felt almost like a typical Saturday in the Colorado outdoors.

The trailhead parking lot was full and there were plenty of people sharing the snowshoeing experience.

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It was one of our famed 300 days of sunshine a year, with the March sunshine illuminating a snowy meadow with the mountains in the background.

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Snowshoeing got my heart rate up, and of course, the Huskies of the world were in their element!

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Having company for the adventure made it seem like a standard social weekend activity. There was even a seasonal phenomenon to spark my curiosity about weather and nature.

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It was the second day of Spring, and what we were witnessing was the origins of what some refer to as “mud season”. This term is used most in the mountains as well as in New England, in places where large snowpacks build up over the winter, and sometime between March and May, a prolonged awkward period of muddy melting occurs. It is awkward because it is ideal for neither wintertime activities nor standard hiking. On Saturday, we saw close to an even mix of people walking in snowshoes and people just wearing standard hiking boots. In snowshoes, we had to find a way around some of these areas near trees where muddy bare ground was beginning too appear.

Back in Denver, though, life is far from normal. Neighborhoods that are typically quite active are quiet. The roads are empty in a manner I had previously only seen in disaster films.

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It is hard not to feel guilty at this point in time: almost as if I had been asking for this. For years I had be saying that we need some sort of disruption to remove the aspects of our culture that have caused recent upticks in loneliness, drug abuse, poor health, violence and disengagement. Now we have a disruption that promises to make us all feel even more lonely. Our social lives are now even more dependent on social media, video conferencing and other forms of technology; the very technology that I had previously speculated had worsened the problems of the 2010s.

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Right now many of us are searching for meaning. What was humanity meant to learn from this? Many of my extroverted friends tell me that being forced to stay home gave them a greater appreciation for simple social interactions such as just having a drink with a friend or having people over for dinner. Some of my more introverted friends are indicating that we are being told we need to slow down a bit. I hear from a lot of sources the idea that we are “out of balance”, with respect to lifestyles and nature.

Some responses are definitely people confirming their previously held beliefs and biases. The spread of the virus is evidence that most problems transcend our national borders, making them useless. Yet, it also demonstrates the need for stronger borders and tighter immigration controls. It’s gonna make us both rediscover our appreciation for face-to-face interaction while also making us question whether we need to meet in person for half the stuff we do. It’s telling us to get out in nature more but also making us use technology more.

I am guilty of this as well. After going on two mid-afternoon bike rides last week, I told people that the lesson from this work from home period is that we need to remove the assumption that people need to be available and at their desks for 40-50 daylight hours per week. This is a belief I have held for seven years now. I’d even be willing to trade three months of being stuck inside for the removal of this assumption from our work lives going forward. Now is the time, however, to observe things with an open mind, and develop new insights.

Speculating that there could be some good that comes of all this is an understandable manner in which many are coping with this horrible turn of events. After all, many accept that the “Black Plague” made the Renaissance possible. As we all sequester ourselves, brace for the worst and have our lives severely disrupted, we should also take back some power over our lives and prepare to build a better future. For me, it will be a waste if the only lesson I get from this is another confirmation of something I realized nearly a decade ago.

Winter Slowly Comes to an End

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We just shifted our clocks forward for Daylight Savings Time. For the first time this year the sun will set later than 7:00 P.M. Each footstep we make in the snow feels like a crunch through cycles of nighttime freezes and daytime thaws. I gaze to the East in the middle of the day. Despite partial cloudiness, the sky feels quite bright. The ground, partially uncovered by recent warmth, appears as a somewhat random assortment of the season that was and the season that is to come. Vertical development in the clouds off on the horizon provide a preview of what’s to come; the types of powerful storms that truly embody the power of nature during springtime.

This time of year is quite unique. After several months of cold and snow, snowpacks in the Central Rockies are often near their peaks.

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This year is no exception, as measured snowpacks are quite close to the long term average.

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At the ski resorts, the trails remain bright through the entire day, with the possible exception of some of the densest glades. In December and early January, shade starts to creep in sometime between 2 and 3 P.M.

We skied until 4 P.M. then sat out in the sun having drinks at the base.

The high elevation mountain towns showed a kind of bright, snow-filled winter glory in a manner that felt like the setting of a movie.

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Passing through towns like these, I could not help but imagine movie characters doing things like training for winter sports, falling in love, or singing Christmas carols. It even inspired me to wear a Christmas sweater over two months after the holiday.

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Winter’s end will be slow. It starts with days like this. However, many places in the high elevations of central Colorado can expect to see several feet more snow before summer comes. The transition of the seasons is not unlike many other transitions in life. It is neither abrupt nor continuous. Whether it is a recovering alcoholic having periodic relapses or a group of people adapting to some major societal shift, the new and the old fade in and out in sometimes tough to predict patterns.

Sometimes there is a sweet spot. Snowshoeing in nothing but a light jacket, or a sweater and a hoodie, was a joyful experience in nature that combines the best of winter with the best of spring. It’s what we all should be looking for. New York pizza came when we combined the best of Italy with the best of America. Some of the best musicians and artists combine the best of angst with the best of optimism. The scene in South Park Colorado, where the pattern of snow and grass seemed to simultaniously make logical sense and lack any coherency serves us all as a reminder that there is great beauty and opportunity in all the awkward in-between phases in life. Maybe, in this phase of life, I can find a way to combine the best of youth with the best of maturity.

Variable Conditions at Steamboat

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Each day was somewhat different from the others. Monday was a great day to start off a multi-day ski trip. Skies were kind of a mixture of clouds and sun.

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And, there was several inches of fresh powder!

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It made for some excellent tree skiing.

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As well as bowl skiing.

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We covered most of the mountain in variable conditions, including the ever enjoyable Rough Rider Fun Zone.

It was another fantastic day of primarily tree skiing, particularly in the Storm Peak, Morningside, and Pony Express areas.

The only issue was the variable visibility and cold temperatures.

Tuesday the sky was clear!

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In fact, it took on a deep blue color later in the day.

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It was a great day for all kinds of skiing, from going fast down groomed trails

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to more adventures in the Aspen Glades.

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Perhaps because of its relatively low elevation for the region, I have never seen a resort with more Aspen Glades than this one!

Also, it was the day we got our best views of town.

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Clear skies, great visibility, and a lot of new snow mean fantastic conditions for all types of skiing. What could possibly be wrong? Well, clear skies also often mean cold mornings, especially right after a big storm.

Morning temperatures at the base of the resort were well below 0°F (close to -22°C).

Wednesday we woke up to more fresh snow and a day similar to Monday.

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It was a perfect day for some first tracks in the morning, as well as more adventures in the Aspen Glades.

Seriously, we could not get enough of the Aspen Glades on this trip.

Thursday brought more new snow than Monday or Wednesday. The powder was quite deep on some places.

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Powder skiing can be quite awesome and also quite exhausting. Turning in powder requires more energy than turning on snow that is more packed down. It is also easier to lose one’s momentum and even get stuck in places. There is still nothing like a good powder day. Many in Colorado drive hours out of their way and sit through horrendous traffic just to ski in conditions like these. So, we were most fortunate to have experienced a day like this one.

With the powder came some dense fog and poor visibility.

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Nearly every run had poor visibility near the top of the ski lift. In some places it was tough to see more than several feet in front of me!

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It was, however, on Thursday, when temperatures reached their most comfortable levels.

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Over the four day trip, the experience varied quite a bit from day to day. It was a good reminder of what people who love the outdoors, whether it is for adventure or just admiration of natural beauty, understand. No two experiences are exactly alike. Destinations can vary quite a bit from year to year, season to season, and even day to day. Therefore, there are still plenty of new experiences to be had visiting the same places multiple times.

When activities are dependent on forces of nature, weather or other natural phenomenon, it is easy to fall into the trap of waiting or searching for ideal conditions.

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There will always be this idea of a perfect day or a perfect situation or setting for an activity. For skiers, that may be a clear day after a major snowstorm. But, what is the consistency of the snow? Could it be too dry or wet? What about temperatures? And wind?

The “perfect day” becomes illusive. For all factors to line up in their most ideal state at the same time has the potential to become an exceedingly rare phenomenon.

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This is the danger of perfectionism. Perfectionism has the potential to become paralyzing. If someone were to wait for this potentially unattainable perfect day, they would have missed out on a lot of amazing experiences.

This concept applies to so many other areas of life. When to try something new. When to launch a product. When to ask someone out. When to go out into the world and put yourself out there. There is always going to be something about the timing or conditions that are less than ideal, or theoretically could be better. I need to lose ten pounds, then I’ll try to meet people. I’ll try something new when I save some more money. Someone said something mean to me and now I am in the wrong frame of mind. The problem is that as soon as that weight is lost, that money is saved and that mean comment fades into memory, there will be something else, ready to become the new barrier. The key is not to think about this theoretical perfect scenario and just determine if taking something on, whether it be a day of skiing or bringing life to a new chapter, will be worthwhile.

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.