Category Archives: Outdoor Activities

That Town I Always Just Drive Through

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Everybody has that place in their lives; a town, a neighborhood, or maybe a specific restaurant. We always pass by, on the way somewhere, thinking “this place looks neat”. But, for some reason every time we pass through, we are, well, on our way somewhere. So, we drive by, time and time again, saying to ourselves that one day we will find a reason to specifically visit this place.

That place for me is Georgetown, Colorado. It is situated along I-70 50 miles West of Denver, on the way to many mountain destinations, including ski resorts Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, and Vail. The first time I saw this town from I-70, I thought it looked like the kind of village commonly depicted in a model train set, with its mountain backdrop and homes on multiple tiers. For years, I just drove past this town. I think I may have stopped there once or twice to pick up some quick food before going up Guanella Pass, but never spent any meaningful time there.

That was, until I found out about the Burro Races.

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I must admit that many of the events I attend are ones I get invited to with no prior knowledge. Some of my best experiences are when I just went along with someone else’s strange-ish idea. I am a big proponent of self-determination. However, that self-determination needs to be accompanied by some degree of openness. Otherwise, we get in ruts, going to the same places and taking part in the same activities over and over. An event where people race burros up and down a mountainside is certainly not what I would call “ordinary”.

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The event itself included a lot of other out of the ordinary activities. The most interesting was The Burro Poop Drop Contest. Participants pay $10 for a square. These squares are laid out over a city block in front of the starting line. The square that ends up with the most poop wins! I think there are prizes for second and third as well.

Mine didn’t win, but most of the good ones (in the middle) were taken by the time we arrived.

The event I did win at was the poop toss.

This event is essentially bags (or cornhole or bean bag toss depending on your regional dialect), with bags shaped like burro poop, which made them bounce in weird directions. I guess they really like to celebrate burro excrement at this event! I was able to win a $50 gift card to a restaurant, which happened to be located right at the finish line!

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We were able to eat our food while also watching the end of the race.

The main thing that surprised me about the race was the fact that the participants were not actually riding the burros. They were running alongside them, almost walking them like we do our dogs. I guess there has to be a reason for that, but I did not get a chance to talk with the participants long enough to find out.

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What I did learn was a bit about the town of Georgetown. Compared with more touristy towns like Breckenridge, Vail and Winter Park, it has way more of a traditional small town/ country vibe. While everyone was lining up for the race, the speakers played mostly country music. The town has one of those neat general stores that we still commonly see in small town America.

These are a blast from the past, the type of stores I encounter all the time on storm chases, bike tours, and other trips to rural parts of the country. In this cities and suburbs, we have stores that sell “everything”, but they tend to be large warehouses like WalMart and Target. When I encounter a General Store like this one, I feel like I am entering a different realm of human existence. A place where people don’t always feel the need to have every option available to them. A place where people have time to engage each other in casual conversation. This could be a place where people are okay with having a little bit less in exchange for a more personal experience.

The homes in this town also reminded me of the past. A few have a creek running through their yard, reminiscent of medieval homes, with moats for protection from invaders.

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One even had a hitching post.

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I’ve often wondered if people in places like this are happier. However, they probably have a completely different set of problems I am not even thinking about. At this one point in time, watching burro races and partaking in interesting events, I was quite happy, and it seemed like everyone else around me was happy. However, I do not know what life is like here on a typical weekday, or on the day when the frustrating spring snowstorm hits making it impossible for residents to get out of town. We live in an era of divisiveness, where people have short attention spans and often don’t take the time to truly understand others before passing judgement on them, whether that be one of envy or disgust. I feel like the only judgement I can make upon Georgetown right now is that they are at least fun enough to participate in an event that revolves around burro excrement once a year.

The Time I Hiked Two Miles Past My Destination

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It took a mere 15 minutes to actually find Sand Creek Falls at Osage Hills State Park. I walked by these falls, which have a vertical drop of only around two feet, and thought “this cannot be the actual falls.” We would spend another two hours looking for waterfalls we had already found.

We would walk by some fishing cabins.

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Birds circled the warm and humid late April Oklahoma sky.

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And, we continued to look, at different places further up the river, for the waterfalls that we had actually already found.

It was not until we had gotten back to the car and searched for images of Sand Creek Falls that we realized what we had seen were indeed the falls that this trail was named for.

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We just had the wrong expectation. Sure, Osage Hills State Park is in Oklahoma, but this part of Northern Oklahoma is hillier than the stereotypical images brought up by movies like Twister.

Just last year, I had visited another waterfall on the Great Plains, Smith Falls in Northern Nebraska.

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I thought the waterfall would be more like this one. As a result, I wouldn’t appreciate the falls until I looked back at the photos hours later. I was too focused on expectations. Rather than taking in Sand Creek Falls for what it actually was, I spent hours looking for something else.

This is a common struggle with respect to all kinds of events. It’s the party where not as many people show up as expected and the music being played is not what you wanted. It’s the time your friend cancels on you last minute, or when you didn’t get to watch the movie you had hoped for at a family gathering.

I struggle with this a lot. I often find myself down, or even hurt, when my life doesn’t meet the expectations I set for myself and the world around me.

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Experiences like a string of bad luck at a casino, a friendship or relationship not turning out as one hoped, or a bad turn of events at a job are somewhat out of our immediate control. However, sometimes when something does not match an expectation, it is not necessarily for the worse. It just requires an adjustment, and sometimes can open people up to new experiences altogether.

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Being part of something truly awe-inspiring is not as hard as most people make it. It’s just about finding the right balance; between planing and spontaneity, and between being determined to get what we are after and being able to adjust to changes in life’s circumstances. It is also about being open enough to new opportunities as they present themselves and noticing what is around us for what it is and not what it could or should be.

 

 

Four Days After the Blizzard

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Well, technically in most places it wasn’t actually a blizzard. Denver and points East were  under a blizzard warning for the afternoon and evening of April 10, 2019. The wind speeds did not quite reach the technical criteria for a “blizzard”, but snow did fall and the wind did howl.

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April is perhaps the wildest, most unpredictable month. In cities throughout North America, scenes like this play out every year. Just as people are getting set up for Spring, a wild swing in temperatures, in this case from a high of 78F (26C) on Tuesday the 9th to an overnight low of 17F (-8C) after the snowstorm the next day, disorients everyone.

It can get violent too! While May is the month with the most tornadoes, April is the month with the most killer tornadoes.

With weather forecasts for specific place on a specific day generally unreliable more than about a week out, April is a hard month to set expectations for. In the mountains, this time of year is generally referred to as “mud season”, but it is not that uniform. By Sunday, four days after the snowstorm, despite the weather not being too particularly warm, places like the Buffalo Herd Overlook, at an elevation around 7600 ft. (2300m) were pretty dry. For some reason, the bison (they are often called “buffalo”, but technically are bison) roamed closer to I-70 than normal, with many motorists stopping to admire them.

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Four days after the “blizzard”, I found myself taking my new dog, Shasta, on her first hike since being adopted.

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Our group actually included a dog and a baby (9 months old), as they had previously taking a liking towards one another.

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I had previously hiked at Elk Meadows Park, almost five years ago, hiking to the top of Bergen Peak on a hazy day in July.

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That hike involved a climb of just over 2,000 feet  and a distance just over ten miles. For several reasons, today’s hike would be much shorter. Most obviously, babies are exhausting to cary and often do not have the attention span to tolerate hikes that would span around 5 hours.

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There is also the variable trail conditions.

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Sections that are both muddy and still partially covered with melting snow were quite common at elevations between 7500 and 8500 ft (2250-2600m). Heading to elevations closer to 9700 ft. (2950m), areas with deep snow would have made the hike far more challenging. Colorado had a snowy winter, particularly in late February and early March. Mid-April snowpacks exceed long-term averages throughout the state.

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The cold, snowy winter was great for Shasta to get acquainted with the new neighbors.

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But, it ended up being an abnormally sedentary period for me.

My favorite thing about Elk Meadows Park is definitely the signage. There is no getting lost here, as every trail junction is clearly labelled.

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The lower part of the park is a wide open valley. It can feel like a miniature version of areas like South Park and the San Luis Valley, relatively flat, treeless areas surrounded by mountains in all directions.

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Despite these panoramic views, the hike itself cannot really be thought of as earth shattering. When people romanticize about the Colorado outdoors, it is often about things like climbing to the top of 14ers, cycling over mountain passes, skiing, or whitewater rafting.

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However, it ended up being what I needed. There is something about being outdoors, in the presence of nature, in good company that feels human in a way that our world of cubicles, screens, stress and performance metrics doesn’t. It is so easy for all of us to get so carried away in our pursuits; trying to get a promotion, saving up or something, asserting our status, making deals and planning the future that we forget to enjoy what is right in front of us.

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Planet Earth is full of wonder, whether they be mountains, gentle streams, wildlife, waterfalls, or something simple like a group of friends having fun and dancing- showing their true humanity. The more we can stop to appreciate this, or be a part of it, the better off we all will be. After a not so great week related to my pursuits in life, I genuinely needed to just be in nature, regardless of the setting.

Like the April weather, our situations, fortunes and struggles can change at any time, and often can’t be predicted too far in advance. It has been shown that luck can be related to one’s attitude, more than just chance. However, regardless of what happens to us, our responses often matter more than the actual situation at hand. Sometimes, like the weather in April, as opposed to a detailed long-term plan, all we can do is do the best with what is right in front of us.

Park City During Peak Ski Season

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North America has its fair share of iconic ski towns; places frequented by winter sport enthusiasts, particularly skiers and snowboarders at this time of year. On one level, the experience in most of these towns is quite similar. There are the hotels and condos, restaurants, sporting goods, all those T-shirt shops, and some form of nightlife to cater to the many young and active people that visit every year.

However, there are some major differences between these towns and the resorts around them that create different experiences. The town of Park City is perhaps most similar to Breckenridge, in that it is a town that was settled in the middle of the 19th Century as a mining town.

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This contrasts with towns like Vail, which were built up around the ski resort after it opened. Also, as is the case with places like Crested Butte and Whistler, the manner in which the town is laid out, the cultural vibes, and of course the resorts themselves make each place a unique experience.

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Visiting Park City February 9-13, skiing the 10th-12th, produced what is perhaps the most typical Park City ski vacation experience, as it is right in the peak of the ski season, but not a holiday or a special event.

This time period also produced a good variety of weather and snow conditions, with a snowstorm rolling in Sunday afternoon, but Monday and Tuesday’s weather being clear.

After this experience, I have concluded that the Park City experience is unique for the following five major reasons.

1. Accessibility

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For people traveling from other parts of the country, this is a major draw. The drive from Salt Lake City International Airport to Park City can typically be done in well under an hour. Getting to most other resorts in North America requires either a longer drive or flying into a smaller airport.

2. Utah Culture

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Saturday evening, my first night in town, I walked into Wasatch BrewPub, which is at the south (and high) end of Main Street. Arriving at a brewpub at 9:30 on a Saturday night is something that feels quite normal to me. Yet, upon arrival, I was informed that last call is in a half an hour.

All the tap beers on the menu were listed at 4.0% alcohol by volume, also reflecting Utah’s culture of caution when it comes to consuming alcohol. There are, however, ways around this.

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3. The Resorts

Several years back, Park City and the Canyons combined to form a mega-resort.

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Like Whistler-Blackcomb, the formerly separate resorts are connected by a gondola.

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Both sides of the mountain have some epic skiing, including aspen glades.

Skiing through the aspen trees is somewhat of a unique experience, as, due to climate and elevation, not all resorts have areas like this.

The Park City side of the mountain probably has the best bowl skiing.

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Skiing areas like this after a fresh snow is a unique, however exhausting, experience.

Deer Valley Resort, just a couple of miles outside of town, is the site of many events at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

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It’s the kind of place where skiers can pretty much do it all, from skiing really fast on a groomed trail.

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To going deep into the woods and encountering random cabins.

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One thing I love about the resorts in Utah is that some of their trails have a double blue, or advanced intermediate rating. In my opinion, the variety of types of trails at many ski resorts in Western North America warrants some being given a rating between blue (intermediate) and black (expert).

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There are, however, some potential annoyances for some visitors. Like many ski areas around the world, Park City has gotten into the cross-hairs of the arms race between competing multi-resort ski passes. Park City resort (which includes the Canyons) is on the Epic Pass, while Deer Valley is on the IKON Pass. Visitors who want to ski both resorts cannot do so on one pass, they must either purchase a one day pass at one of the resorts (as I did), or have both passes (I did meet someone on a ski lift ride that did purchase both the Epic and IKON passes).

Also, Deer Valley is one of only three resorts in the country that does not allow snowboarders.

4. Snow Conditions

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Different parts of the country have different snow conditions. Resorts closer to the East or West coast tend to have wetter snow than those in places like Colorado. Utah’s snow this February was kind of a mix between the two, as much of the snow in the area had come from the same series of storm systems that dumped heavy snow in California.

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These storms have tapped into tons of moisture from the Pacific Ocean, bringing snow to Utah that has some resemblance to the snow at resorts closer to the West Coast.

5. Parking

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Aside from the strange way things close earlier than expected, I love Park City’s Main Street. The lights hung across the street and not so gentle slope from one end of the street to the other produce an evening atmosphere that just feels positive and festive. However I have never seen a street with so little available parking also have so little through traffic. It felt strange to look for parking for so long but also be able to stand in the middle of the road so frequently! Luckily, Summit County Utah has free busses visitors can take all over the areas, most of them going to Park City’s Main Street.

That Event You Always Find Yourself At

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We all have that one event in our lives. Typically it is somewhere in the general vicinity of where we live, but not in the same town. Year after year, we find ourselves there, despite never actually making plans around that event. For me, that event is the International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge Colorado.

I’ve been there while on weeklong ski trips with friends from the East Coast, staying at condos within walking distance of both the Riverwalk Center where the event is held and the ski lift.

I have been there on weekend trips, as was the case this year.

I have been there after day trips.

There have even been years where I was able to see the snow sculptures on multiple days, and while passing through town on the way home from destinations further away.

Of course, it helps that the event lasts ten days, right in the middle of the winter, in Breckenridge, one of the country’s most iconic skiing towns.

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It also helps that walking through the snow sculptures is not a huge time commitment. Even if one were to read every piece of information about each individual piece, the total time commitment would be well under an hour.

2019 was quite iconic. The event happened on an excellent weekend. Significant snow fell Thursday night, making for a fantastic weekend of skiing. Each portion of the day seemed to exude some form of picturesque natural scene, distinct from one another!

The sculptures themselves were amazing as well. Here are some of my favorites from 2019.

2017 was also a great year, with a lot of animal related designs.

2016 was also a great year.

2015 was the year that abnormally warm weather (several days with highs close to 50 in town) caused some of the sculptures to become deformed.

This year, the trip that found me in front of the snow sculptures was a weekend trip to Frisco, ten miles north of Breckenridge, and along I-70.

I love to stay in Frisco from time to time. There are a lot of amenities, but it is less crowded than many other places in winter, as there is no ski resort there. However, it is within about ten miles of Breckenridge, as well as several other mountain resorts, including Copper Mountain and Keystone.

The places we go, the people we see, and the activities we take part in have two origins. One are those in which we actively seek; the trips and activities we plan and the people we plan them with. The others are the ones we somehow get drawn into. The places our friends, family and co-workers chose for group activities. The people that show up at the events we go to. Events like this one, that always end up being where we are at the time we are there.

Some would advocate that we do all things with purpose, actively choosing every single action in our lives. That is quite exhausting, and nearly impossible. Instead, we must accept that some of the places we find ourselves and people we find ourselves around will be based on circumstance, and sometimes that circumstance will occur in repetition.

However, the nature of these circumstantial encounters is a good indicator of how well we have aligned our lives with our values and desires. If these circumstances habitually find us in places we do not want to be and around people we do not care to be around, it is an indicator that something about our overall situation is not well aligned with our true selves and true desires.

I am thankful to find myself around these snow sculptures year after year. They are a result of the activity that I did actively chose, skiing, as well as being around people who are up for wandering around to events like these.

A Full Moon Hike to Jefferson Lake

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Hiking at night is something I had never really thought about doing. As is the case with the majority of the people who go hiking, my primary motivations are scenery, connection with nature, and exercise, most of which is far more compatible with daytime.

Most of my nighttime hiking experiences have been in cases where I remained on a trail until just after dark to watch a sunset…

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Backpacking….

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Or starting a hike early due to time constraints or goals, all of which involved reaching a specific place in daytime.

This particular nighttime hike was organized by a group called Mappy Hour. With the motto, “Live in the city, love the outdoors”, they bring together outdoor adventurers of all levels who live and work in cities. Sometimes the input of others helps expose us to activities we would not have otherwise done. Like a lot of people in Colorado, wintertime for me can end up being mostly just skiing. Going on this event exposed me to something different.

Jefferson Lake is outside of a tiny town called Jefferson, in Colorado’s South Park region.

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This hike started in late afternoon, before sunset. As we approached the trailhead, I was somewhat concerned that the high clouds would detract from the experience of a full moon hike.

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Jefferson Lake is accessible by road during the summertime. However, during the winter, the road is closed off right after entering the Pike National Forest, where the wide open ranch land of South Park’s high plains meets the densely packed trees associated with some of Colorado’s highest terrain.

In winter, the final four miles of the road to Jefferson Lake can be hiked or snowshoed, depending on conditions.

Most of this winter hike (3 out of 4 miles) is a very gradual climb, passing by campgrounds, as well as the Colorado Trail. It is a great trail for someone who is new to snowshoeing, however, conditions must be considered, as even in mid winter, there is no guarantee the road will be snowpacked for the entire four mile length.

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The road also passes by another wonder of nature I often fail to consider, a beaver dam. Apparently, we humans are not the only ones capable of using trees to create infrastructure.

The final mile before arriving at the lake is a bit steeper, but still not overly strenuous. However, for those not accustomed to hiking in snow, or snowshoes, it can be a bit exhausting.

We watched the moon rise over the mountains to the East.

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Gradually lighting the lake up, one segment at a time.

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By the time the moon had fully risen, the entire lake, as well as the entire forest surrounding it, was noticeably lighter.

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The amount if light the moon can provide is something that those of us who spend most of our lives in cities often fail to appreciate. However, on this evening, the difference between an evening with full moon light and one without would be on full display. The evening of January 20, 2019 was a lunar eclipse, which began to manifest a few hours after sundown.

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Lunar eclipses occur at a much slower pace than solar ones. This lunar eclipse began to show just before 8:30 P.M., but would not reach totality until 9:41 P.M. in Central Colorado. During the lunar eclipse, the sky grows far darker, the way it appears during a new moon, and the moon itself takes on a red color, whose true beauty can only be truly appreciated in person. This National Geographic photograph, taken by professionals with professional equipment, would come closest to giving it justice- way closer than any photo I could take!

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The event was nothing short of amazing, in a manner that cannot be properly expressed through words or even pictures. At the end of the hike, I felt content in a manner that is rarely achieved in day-to-day life, due to the combination of being in motion, observing spectacular scientific phenomenon, and being in a social setting.

Hiking at night in the middle of winter is something I have never done before. However when it comes my primary motivations for hiking, getting exercise, scenery and connection with nature, this activity met all three criteria. There are plenty of times in life when we focus too much on a specific solution, activity or procedure, rather than the overall motivation. This causes us to narrow our options too much. This event reminded me how important it is to stay focused on the overall motivation rather than one specific activity or solution. This goes for all areas i life, not just outdoor adventures and weekend activities. As long as we stay open-minded, pay attention, and keep our overall goals in mind, we can find some amazing experiences!

Opening Day At Breckenridge

Breckenridge, Colorado – November 7, 2018

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It was the first time I ever went skiing on Opening Day. It’s not that I don’t get excited about the ski season, but Opening Day at any ski resort typically does not have a lot to offer, other than saying you were there on Opening Day and often a celebration. Typically, it is one or two runs open, wherever the resorts decided to focus their snowmaking operations.

For some reason, resorts in Colorado are always in a hurry to open, most opening before Thanksgiving, some before Halloween. Resorts in places with even colder climates, like Sun Valley Idaho and Big Sky Montana, simply open on Thanksgiving. I guess in Colorado, there is pressure to open earlier, given its popularity as a ski destination and significant competition.

The problem is, some seasons start with a bang, some with a whimper. Last year, in early November, there as very little snow at most major ski resorts in Colorado. In fact, there was little to ski on well into the season, even past the New Year.

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What a difference a year makes! Whereas 2017-18 started off with a whimper, 2018-19 started off with a bang! Snowpacks at this point in the season are over three times what they were last year. Most people at the resort cannot recall a season that started off with this much snow for over a decade!

The result is starting the season off, not just with a few good runs, but with a powder day!

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Of course, even with this much snow, only one part of the resort, and only one major lift, was open. So, despite the fact that it was a Wednesday, there were still significant lift lines to contend with.

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Everything about the experience was odd, but in a good way….

It was odd to start the season, on the very first day, with over a foot of fresh powder.

It was odd to ski on a Wednesday in the middle of what feels like a work week, as opposed to as part of some kind of a weeklong trip.

It was also odd, because the makeup of the crowd at the ski resort seemed somewhat different than usual. Maybe this is a result of the specific circumstance. The fact that Breckenridge would open early, on a Wednesday, as opposed to the following weekend, was only announced at the end of the prior weekend’s larger than expected snowfall. It was also only announced the prior evening which runs would be open. The result was that the crowd tilted significantly more towards what appeared to be college students. It seemed like young men aged 19-25 made up almost half the skiers and snowboarders on the mountain that day. I saw a lot of fast paced skiing and boarding on challenging powdery trails, and heard that “woo” noise when someone hits a jump or a key area more frequently than I had ever before!

I also came into the ski day in an odd place from a personal standpoint. For a variety of reasons, I had a lot on my mind. On days like this, truly immersing oneself in an experience can be a battle inside one’s own mind. How can we stop ourselves from thinking about whatever is confusing us? The events of the prior few days? An upcoming event that we are anticipating with nervousness? Or even that existential question, about life, existence, the battle between good and evil?

What I found to be the key is noticing what is physically there, in front of me. It came in kind of an odd way. The view from the top of the ski lift is something I had seen before, many times, having held a pass to this resort for the past six season. What caught my eye, and got my mind off everything else, and onto the amazing experience I was having skiing, was the clouds!

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Specifically, while riding the ski lift, I looked up and noticed these cirrocumulus clouds, in a pattern that seemed like a series of lines, broken up just enough to display patterns on scales both large and small. They identified patterns, hidden in plain daylight, related to the transition that the Central Rocky Mountains had just undergone, from a snowy period, to a dry one. They were the balance of order and chaos we often seek in our day to day lives, and, for several minutes on a ski lift, they were all the stimulation I needed. I was content, and living in the moment.