Category Archives: weather

An Intense Hike Outside of Boulder

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Colorado has some really intense hikes! Places like these, where steep terrain features rise up out of the ground like gigantic walls, are breathtaking beyond belief, but also intimidating for hikers. Most people commonly think of places like these as being tucked away in the densely packed mountains of the Central Rockies, hours away from Denver and Boulder, or even further away, in the canyons of the West. However, there is a hike, a challenging hike, with just this kind of feature just outside of Boulder.

Bear Creek is a hike that, in some way, feels similar to hiking up a 14er (A peak whose elevation is greater than 14,000 feet). Its total elevation gain is right around 2800 feet, and the hike up Bear Peak, along with its neighboring peak, South Boulder Peak, has frequently been described as a great way to train for a 14er. It can be accessed from two points, both just outside of Boulder; the Mesa Lab and Eldorado Canyon State Park. The later has a $5 parking fee, but offers a somewhat more pleasant hike.

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From a distance, the flatirons have some amount of intimidation factor, particularly for those who are relatively inexperienced with respect to hiking. It is, after all, a fairly abrupt transition between the flatness of the Plains to the East and the rugged terrain of the mountains that are a near constant feature for miles to the West.

From Eldorado Canyon, the hike has two parts to it. The first part is relatively easy, and actually persists for a somewhat surprisingly long distance, just over two miles.

Deer run through a gently sloped field jumping in and out of the bushes. Flowers of all colors appear alongside the trail. The mountain features gradually get closer. However, this is all just a set-up, kind of a prelude. It turns out to be a warm up that lasts nearly half the hike. After that the trail runs right into Shadow Canyon, where everything changes quite abruptly.

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All of a sudden, the wide open trail and wide open spaces all collapse into densely packed trees and rocks, shade, and a tight single-file tail.

It also becomes quite steep!

Over a 1.2 mile stretch, the trail gains 1600 feet in elevation, going pretty much straight up most of the way. Only towards the top are there any switchbacks. In this case, the switchbacks actually make it easier. The slope of the trail becomes far less intense, than the stair-steps that are nearly constant for about a mile. It ends up being a good reminder of why switchbacks are commonly used on roads and trails.

There are two peaks at the top, less than a mile apart, Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak. Getting to both peaks involves a sketchy, rocky scramble.

This is only the last few hundred yards. On both peaks there is reasonable cause to be nervous. The rocks can be both slippery and unstable, and the terrain is steep in all directions.

Both peaks also offer views of both the mountains to the West and Boulder and the Plains to the East.

Bear Peak is a little bit closer to town. It may be one of the best places to overlook Boulder and the surrounding area in its entirety. One thing that can almost always be observed when looking at some of these Colorado towns from above is how many trees are planted by people in cities. Just east of the Rocky Mountains, trees do not naturally grow. The distinction between what is natural and what isn’t can be seen quite clearly. It is almost more evident than any of Boulder’s actual features, such as downtown or CU campus.

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The view of the mountains from South Boulder Peak is not all that different from Bear Creek, but still feels like the better view.

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Looking in the other direction from South Boulder Peak, as the day wares on, a reminder appears, as to unique of a year 2018 has been.

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According to the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, several major fires are ravaging the state, leading to fire restrictions in all but some of the northernmost counties and even some prolonged closures on major Colorado highways.

By the start of July, the haze from these fires had become a near permanent feature of the afternoon sky. The appearance of a thick low cloud with an orange tint on an otherwise perfectly clear day serves as a reminder that no two experiences, even if in the same place at the same time of day and year, are exactly the same. The weather, just like many other aspects of our lives and culture, is always changing. There are times that are considered “normal” and other times that are considered “abnormal”. Sometimes what is considered “abnormal” beings to appear more frequently, or persists longer than expected. In these cases, it is natural to speculate, but only the future will truly settle whether what is normal is shifting, or whether the world is destined to shift back to what was previously considered normal.

Memorial Day Tornados in Eastern Colorado

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2018 has not been an active year for tornados. With May, the most active month for tornados nearly complete, only 416 tornados have been reported.

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This is, by any scientific measure, over 35% lower than the long-term average, and according to the Storm Prediction Center, in the bottom quartile for tornado activity.

This Memorial Day storm chase almost came as a surprise. First of all, I typically travel Memorial Day Weekend, as does a lot of people. Also, with the season being as inactive as it has been, there had been plenty of days throughout May where forecast models looked promising for a good storm chase several days to a week ahead of time, only for the atmospheric setup to never materalize.

While some aspects of weather forecasting have become quite accurate, forecasting weather beyond a few days, and forecasting weather phenomenon on a small spatial scale remains a challenge. Thus, those that long to see what is perhaps nature’s most violent storm, tornados, can do one of two things. They can set aside a period of time, typically sometime either in May or early June to go out and look for storms.

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Several companies offer this service, a set 7 to 10 day chase in vans like these ones. However, even in May, there is no guarantee that any kind of active thunderstorms will be happening, let alone tornados. Those that have ever chased in this manner end up becoming familiar with all sorts of oddball attractions in the Great Plains!

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There are also those that keep an eye on weather outlooks, deciding to go when the setup looks good. This requires some often last minute decision making, and sometimes chaining plans. This is what I did on Memorial Day. A day that started out slowly, with brunch in Cherry Creek, quickly transitioned to traveling due east out of Denver, straight into the storm.

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Still, even if this tactic guarantees that there will be activity, it does not guarantee that there will be tornadoes. There is still some element of luck to it.

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Near the tiny town of Cope, Colorado, the sky had an interesting orange hue to it with what appeared to be a funnel cloud. This can actually happen quite frequently without an actual tornado being spotted.

At that point in time, around 4:30 P.M., we made two decisions that would put us in the right position to view the tornados. First, we decided to get to the East side of the storms before they became big. Second, we decided, due to Eastern Colorado’s sometimes limited road network, to actually use dirt roads, something that can, at times, be dangerous in the case of a flood.

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The first tornado, Southwest of Cope, we saw kind of in the distance.

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We traveled south, along a dirt road, to get a closer view of it, however, we eventually saw it dissipate.

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Still, the entire time, cloud formations indicated a strong low-level rotation, conditions necessary for tornado development. There was even a “landspout” and several dust devils between the storms.

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Before long, two new tornados were spinning up, just a bit to the South and East of where we had seen the first one.

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The strange thing about these storms was that they were first visible on the ground, with clouds of debris extending outward from both emerging funnels.

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Watching them develop proved quite remarkable. First the funnels showed, then we actually got to see the darker clouds of debris around the funnel fill in from the ground up, forming two side-by-side fully mature tornados.

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The funnels were on the ground for about half an hour.

They gradually evolved, taking on different forms, giving way to yet another tornado, a bit further South and East, near a tiny town called Vona, CO.

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As a person with many interests, I only end up storm chasing several days per year. In the past several years, this was by far the most successful chase day. Even for the most knowledgable chasers, just seeing a tornado constitutes a successful day. Seeing four of them, as well as being able to watch tornados form is nothing short of amazing!

I am also always glad to see when tornados are not actually impacting people where they live. One thing I notice is that storm chasing continues to become more and more popular with time.

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There were several instances where we encountered large groups of people, just like this one, looking at and taking pictures of tornadoes. This is all good, but I do concern myself with how the people who live in these areas perceive this activity. We storm chasers should never be delighting in the destruction of anyone’s home or town, and I am concerned that the perception as such could lead to some resentment among the people who live in tornado prone areas, particularly the Great Plains, which far Eastern Colorado is part of.

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Not only was it one of the most successful chases of my life, but it also was quite possibly the most efficient chase I have ever been a part of. It started after what turned out to be a 90 minute brunch, and that evening I was back in Denver seeing a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater.

The perfect storm chase, like the perfect setup when it comes to things like jobs, relationships, communities and homes, results from the intersection of good decisions and good luck. The former can be controlled. The later cannot. Just as I have been on many other storm chases where my group made all the right decisions but still did not see any tornados, the same can happen in all of our pursuits. All we can do is continue to go out there, make the right decisions, execute properly, knowing that the luck will eventually materialize even if it takes several more tries.

 

Colorado Continues to Surprise Me

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Life, at times, can be trying, with a lot of ups and downs, surprises, and endeavors that do not go as planned. Of course, not all surprises are bad. Sometimes luck is on our side, and many of us unfortunately fail to truly appreciate when it is. However, we all certainly have times when we are just on the wrong side of circumstance, and feel like nothing is going right.

When doing what feels like all the right things repeatedly fails to produce any results. When it feels like all sorts of people trying to take advantage of us. When the wrong, most inept and mean spirited people seem to be getting ahead, while those that don’t deserve it are suffering. And, perhaps the most frustrating of all, when no logical explanation can be found as to why nothing is going the way it should be!

At these times, it is helpful to get a little distance between oneself and whatever situation is causing stress.  It provides a bit of much needed emotional rest, and taking a step back, and looking at a situation from afar, or from a different perspective, can often produce clarity.

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In one of those situations myself, I decided to head to Mount Falcon Park.

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Mount Falcon Park is only about a 40 minute drive from downtown Denver, near a smaller town called Morrison. Traveling to fun and sometimes far away destinations is very important to me. However, it is also important to remember that taking a little bit of time to step away from a frustrating situation to gain a new perspective doesn’t require traveling great distances, and does not have to wait until a major trip is feasible. For most people, there is a place, a retreat of sorts, somewhere relatively close. A place that is possible to just pick up and go to on a whim, as opposed to having to plan ahead, save money and travel significant distances.

Of course, one thing that always needs to be accounted for is the weather. April can be a very volatile time in a lot of places. Here in Colorado, it is quite common to have snowfall one day, and warm pleasant weather the next. There is no way to around having to think about the weather, and if a retreat involves an outdoor experience, it can be delayed by the weather.

The hike itself is fairly straightforward. It felt good to be exercising the body and walking through the dense pine trees that one encounters here in Colorado when they reach elevations above about 6500 feet.

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The main trail a the park is called the Castle Trail. Originating at the trailhead, near 6200 feet in elevation, it winds most of the 3 mile trip, up to the peak of Mount Falcon, at 7851′. Trying to get my mind off of disappointments related to day-to-day life, I thought nothing of the fact that this trail was called the Castle Trail. After all, trail names don’t always translate into real life experiences. I recall backpacking two summers ago along a trail called Rincon La Vaca. I did not see a single cow (vaca = cow)!

First, I was surprised to see a sheltered picnic area.

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This isn’t something typically encountered close to the top of a front range day-hike.

Then, I encountered Walker’s Home, or, well, the ruins of it.

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The ruins of this castle made me feel as if I were in Rome, or some other ancient city where the ruins of historically significant structures are being preserved for cultural reasons.

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Sings even informed visitors to keep out the fenced off remains of the building for preservation, just as they do at other historical sites.

The strange this is, unlike many other historical sites, this building is only 109 years old. In most cities, significantly older buildings can be found, with no historical fanfare, as they have just been in continued residential or commercial use for several centuries. The primary reason this building lay in ruins is because it was struck by lightning in 1918, leading Mr. Walker to abandon his plan of using this structure as a summer retreat for the President of the United States.

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I did not expect an experience akin to visiting an archeological site. I did not expect to read about someone who appeared to be a multi-talented entrepreneur in the late 19th and early 20th century. I certainly did not expect to be pondering where presidents Woodrow Wilson, Waren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge would be expecting to spend their summers.

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Just like the ups and downs in the day-to-day weather, particularly in the springtime, and  the shadows produced by the mountains in the late afternoon, Colorado continues to surprise me. Travel to foreign lands and exotic far away places remains a very important part of my life. However, experiences like this provide us all a reminder to appreciate what is close to home as well.

 

 

Death Valley: The Largest National Park

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It is hard to truly describe what makes Death Valley such a wonderful and unique place. It is probably best known as the location of the lowest point in North America, Badwater Basin, located 282 feet below sea level.

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Land below sea level generally only exists in places with hot, dry climates, as otherwise, the low lying terrain would fill up with water. Death Valley certainly is dry! It receives less than 2 inches of rainfall per year. By contrast, Minneapolis, a city that would be considered neither dry nor wet, averages around 30 inches per year (including winter snowfall).

Badwater Basin, like much of Death Valley National Park, is a large scale version of everything one would imagine dryness to be.

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The entire basin, which stretches out longer than expected, is covered with salt, deposited in a honeycomb-like structure, creating a scene that appears to be out of some kind of documentary about deforestation or climate change.

Of course, not the entire park is below sea level.

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In fact, its highest point, Telescope Peak, is over 11,000 feet above sea level, and despite the dry and hot climate of the valley below it, is covered in snow, and impassible without ice gear towards the end of March. Interestingly enough, while March may be an ideal time of year to visit Badwater Basin, Furnace Creek and some of the low elevations of the park, the higher terrain makes the park actually worth visiting in the summer too (with the right hydration precautions taken of course).

At the park’s lower elevations, near and even a little bit below sea level, the hikes are a bit milder, and significantly different from a typical hike in the mountains. Shorter hikes (1 to 3 miles each way) to places like Sidewinder Canyon…

and Mosaic Canyon…

have trails that cut through the rocks, through little “slots”, and along wide flat trails that appear to have been carved out by runoff from the flash floods that occasionally occur in the park.

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Death Valley is certainly a place with some unique weather patterns, and some unique weather hazards. When most outdoor activities are planning, the weather hazards most likely to be considered are related to temperature and precipitation. Extremely hot weather is Death Valley’s most obvious weather hazard. Visiting in March, or at some other point during the cooler part of the year, definitely helps visitors avoid these extremes.

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With wide open spaces, no trees, and complicated terrain, some crazy winds can occur in Death Valley, whipping up and and dust from the dry ground below it, covering any and all things!

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Storms will pass through the complicated terrain, often first producing some interesting looking clouds.

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Then, often times, while producing decent amounts of precipitation in the higher mountains terrain, in the valley below they will mostly just manifest as strong and gusty winds.

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These winds can even be hazardous to campers, breaking tents, bending poles, and complicating campfires.

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Other than the extremes, in elevation, temperature and dryness, the rest of the park feels kind of a bit like a National Park sampler pack.

There are hikes that take visitors to amazing views of the park, but the park is not all about hiking (like Rocky Mountain National Park).

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The natural bridge is most certainly an “arch”, but Death Valley does not have the concentration of arches found at Arches National Park.

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There are a few fantastic sand dunes here, but not as many as there are at Great Sand Dunes National Park.

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The park has some other unique natural features, such as the “Devil’s Golf Course”, but isn’t the constant barrage of unique features that is Yellowstone.

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One can even spot the occasional desert wildlife here.

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Those that are into numbers already know what makes Death Valley unique; elevation, temperature, dryness. Those who are more into experiences find themselves also loving the park, but in a manner that becomes harder to articulate. Often, it is just said that the place is “beautiful”, or “amazing”.

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Maybe nothing more needs to be said. After all, sometimes these commonly used descriptor words, although light on specifics, along with photographs, really do tell the story. Nature, like artwork, is open to interpretation, at the behest of the beholder.

However, when covering mile after endless mile across the park, it is hard not to observe how expansive and wide open the park feels, as a result of how dry the air is.

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Maybe that is the reason Death Valley is also the largest U.S. national park in outside of Alaska.

Whistler Blackcomb: Chasing the Snow

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Changes in weather patterns can bring risks, or even hardship, but can also bring opportunities. 2017-2018, in some ways, can be thought of as a peculiar winter in Western North America. Storms kept impacting the same region over and over again. Some areas received over twice their normal precipitation, while others received less than half.

Weather cannot be controlled, and, probably shouldn’t be. It is possible, however, to make adjustments to make the most of the weather. While this was not a stellar snow year (compared to average) in places like California, Colorado, and Utah, conditions made this season a perfect time to visit North America’s largest ski resort: Whistler-Blackcomb. Located 120 km (75 miles) north of Vancouver, Whistler-Blackcomb is the 11th largest ski resort in the world.

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As is the case with many of the other largest ski resorts in the world, Whistler-Blackcomb is the result of a merger between two mountains. Once competitors, the two mountains merged 20 years ago. To connect the two adjacent resorts, they built the Peak to Peak Gondola. This 11 minute ride brings skiers/boarders between the midpoint (and fairly high on the mountain) of one mountain and the other. It covers a distance of 2.73 miles (4.4 km) over a deep valley that separates the resorts. At its midpoint, it is 1430 feet (436 m) off the ground!

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Just getting to Whistler-Blackcomb, before even reaching the mountain, is an amazing experience! The drive from Vancouver International Airport takes about two hours along highway 99 through the heart of Vancover.

There is no limited access highway that connects Vancouver International Airport to downtown. This adds time to the journey, making what should take little more than 90 minutes take closer to two hours. However, it is interesting for visitors to actually see the city. Vancouver is quite dense, with a very urban feel (as opposed to some sunbelt cities that feel more suburban in nature). The two things that stand out the most about the city are..

  1. Despite the fact that rains, on average, 161 days out of the year (notice the rain in these photos), cycling appears to be extremely popular, with bike lanes and bike shops everywhere!
  2. Literally, every nationality of food can be found in downtown Vancouver: Portuguese, Peruvian, Malaysian, you name it, it’s there!

This is followed by a drive along highway 99, also known as the “Sea to Sky” highway.

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The drive itself is quite exquisite and unique. The road winds northward, adjacent to a bay, from which tree covered islands pop out periodically on the left. On the right, the coastal cliffs are quite dramatic, and periodically rocky.

If caught while the sun is shinning, which is common in the summer but quite rare in winter, the views of the mountains can be quite amazing!

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The mountain itself is spectacular, and steep! With a 5,280 foot vertical drop, it is surpassed, in North America, only by Revelstoke Mountain, a significantly smaller resort. For comparison, Vail has a vertical drop of 3,450 feet, and there are plenty of ski resorts whose vertical drops are only a little over 2,000 feet that are talked about quite positively (Grand Targhee, Alta, Stowe, etc.).

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Ski trails at Whistler Blackcomb can be steep and long. However, there are trails of all kinds here, as to be expected.

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Highlights include the top of Whistler Peak.

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Finding a place to make fresh tracks in the snow.

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And, of course, the Dave Murray Downhill, where the downhill competition took place for the 2010 Olympic games.

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These experiences can commonly be hampered, however, by the weather. In particular, on a typical day, layers of clouds often form somewhere about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way up the mountain.

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Many skiers and boarders chose to stay either above or below this layer of clouds. Traversing through this layer of clouds is a unique, albeit stressful, experience.

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As is the case when driving through dense fog, it requires moving slowly, and it is very easy for groups of people to lose each other in this thick set of clouds. Let’s just say, there is a reason this picture was taken on the lift ride up and not while skiing down the hill.

 

Whistler Blackcomb is in bear country, and they appear proud of it! On the Peak-to-Peak gondola, the information signs, in addition to pointing out its the length, speed, and height, of the gondola ride, mentions the fact that the forest it traverses over is home to over 60 bears.

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A major part of any ski trip experience is the town, where travelers go for food, amenities, shops, and other forms of entertainment. Not all ski towns are equal, as some provide a more active and others a quieter ski experience. Whistler’s experience is definitely middle of the road with respect to the quiet and cosy vs. active and loud experience. However, there is some variance here too.

There are two parts to Whistler village, an upper village and a lower village. Both connect to the mountain via gondolas. The main village is a bit larger and more active than the upper village, with a variety of food options and even several clubs.

Outside the village, there are plenty of ski-in/ski-out resorts, which is quite convinent. As is typical of any ski town, lodging can be expensive, and finding a place to stay at the price range most people are looking for can be a challenge.

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There are some out there that wish to never have the weather, or some other kind of external event change their plans. Its an unwelcome inconvenience to have to research something new, make a different plan, spend money, and have to travel when not expected. However, sometimes these changes in plans, whether forced by weather or a different external factor, are the driver for creating new, different, and sometimes life-changing experiences.

Some would say this has been a peculiar winter, but, on a larger scale, there has always been variance in weather patterns. The average temperature is not the temperature experienced every day and the average precipitation is not the amount of precipitation experienced every year. It is normal to differ from the average, from year to year. These variations may be getting close to causing danger in some places in the West this year, but that is also fairly typical.

Whether people traveled north to experience better snow to ski on, or traveled south to get some sun, the variation in weather patterns this year, while inconveniencing many, also created its fair share of memories.

This is January

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A week after New Years, Dillon Reservoir, which sits at a little over 9,000 ft (or about 2750m) in elevation is still partially open (as in not ice covered). Little to no snow is to be seen on the hills that surround the lake. By this time of year, they typically display a bright white color of undisturbed snow. The very persona of the region is different, particularly on a cloudy afternoon such as this one. It doesn’t really feel like winter. Yet, it is hard to attribute this scene to any other season of the year.

It is still hard to wrap the mind around the fact that at almost the exact same time last year, Central Colorado was getting pummeled, with feet and feet of snow.

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This isn’t a complete climate catastrophe. There are still people hitting the slopes.

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But, the conditions are less than ideal. Half the trails remain closed. Some of the ones that are open have sketchy parts, where it is common to encounter rocks, branches, and blades of grass. Also, disappointingly, some of the best places for skiing, in wide open areas where it is easier for snow to blow off the mountain, are simply unnavigable.

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Visual reflections of the warm and dry start to winter show up all over Colorado. The open plains in places like the San Louis Valley, and even South Park (elevation near 10,000 feet) appear all but snow free. The snowpacks on the higher peaks appear shallow and inconsistent.

Colorado isn’t the only place experiencing a completely different winter from last year. After a relatively mild winter last year, the Midwestern and Eastern states experienced a complete turnaround at the end of 2017 into the start of 2018.

Chicago experienced a record tying 12 day span where temperatures did not exceed 20F (-6C).

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While cold temperatures crippled a typically vibrant city, on the other side of the lake, the continuous flow of cold air over Lake Michigan produced steady and large amounts of Lake Effect Snow.

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Accumulating snowfall occurred as far south as Florida, for the first time since 1989!

A lot of people who planned ski trips to the Rocky Mountains, or trips to the Southeast to escape the cold are disappointed. Some may speculate as to why, and wonder if this is part of some troubling long-term trend.

While it is completely understandable why someone would see bare ground at 11,000 feet above sea level in January and be concerned, it is important to remember that this is just one place, at one point in time. Last year those same places were getting pummeled with snow. Also, at that same point in time, it was snowing in places like Tallahassee and Charleston, cities where it snows less than once a decade!

What many are experiencing, when comparing how this winter has begun, with last winter, is variance, in a somewhat extreme form.

“Normal” weather, if there is such a thing, is often the result of large-scale weather patterns that vary and progress. This leads to experiences like two rainy days in a week, periodic snow in the mountains, or temperatures ranging between 15 degrees below and 15 degrees above the long-term average. Essentially, what people expect.

The start of 2018 is an example of a period of time when the weather pattern had become persistent. These are the times when extremes are experienced. The persistent pattern at the start of 2018 kept most of the west warm and dry while driving cold air, straight from the arctic right into the eastern half of the continent.

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Likewise, one year ago, there was also a persistent pattern – one that looked quite different, and produced different extremes. One year ago, a strong jet off the Pacific Ocean formed, transporting large amounts of moisture straight into California, Utah, and Colorado. These storms played a large role in ending a long-term drought in California.

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None of this is to dismiss the adverse effects of either extreme weather events or long-term trends in temperature or precipitation. If the mountain tops of Colorado remain dry, it could have an adverse effect on the water supply in many place in the west, and could also indicate high fire potential next summer. Likewise, a changing climate is something that needs to be dealt with. However, it should be dealt with in a manner that is appropriate, which means considering data on a larger scale, and multiple perspectives before taking action.

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While outdoors, experiencing conditions both normal abnormal, the only thing that can be done is to dress appropriately, try to ski around those rocks and branches, and pause to take in the experience while it is happening.

Six Weeks After the Storm

On Friday August 25th, Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas Coast, leaving 82 dead, thousands injured and thousands without power. For a large swath of the Texas coast, homes, and lives, were ruined.

Six weeks later, in the coastal area from Port Lavaca to Corpus Cristi, this was the scene in nearly every residential neighborhood. Houses covered in blue tarp where roofs were punctured and windows were shattered. Debris was piled up by the side of the road waiting to be hauled away. Texas still in mourning.

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Even driving through commercial zones, evidence of this recent destruction was all around.

After years of studying the weather, admiring storms from afar, and analyzing storm data, I decided it was time for me to actually chip in and help those whose lives are affected by these wonders of nature.

I flew to Houston.

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I rented a car.

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And I drove down to Victoria, TX, roughly two hours southwest of Houston, a place where people were still cleaning out from the storm.

But first, stayed at a seedy hotel on the Southwest side of Houston.

Seeing security officers, police lights, and being solicited made my accommodations for the remainder of the trip, in the gymnasium of Faith Family Church in Victoria, TX, feel quite comforting (as I knew I would not get robbed here).

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I actually found the accommodations made for us volunteers quite fitting. I had seen so many scenes in the news, where storm refuges were sleeping in quarters similar to this as they ride out or recover from a storm. While not exactly living the entire experience as those affected by these storms, it still, just, felt right.

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I also have to give a huge thank you to the organization I volunteered with, Samaritan’s Purse. They arranged the sleeping quarters for volunteers, and even provided us with three meals a day. This makes volunteering for disaster relief efforts quite inexpensive. I only had to pay for my flight, the rental car and gas, and that cheap hotel. Oh, and I decided on my way down to stop at What-a-Burger, because, when in Texas, right.

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The odd thing about volunteering for hurricane relief efforts is that each day had a flow that almost resembled many of the outdoor adventures I regularly take part in, like adventure cycling, backpacking and skiing.

Each day would start off breakfast. We would eat together, pack our lunches, and head out. We would spend most of the day outside, being physically active. We’d return in the late afternoon, shower, change, and then all eat dinner together. That flow felt natural to me.

What wasn’t natural to me, as both a “city-boy”, and a “millennial” was the work. We just don’t learn how to work with tools.

Thanks to volunteering, and the patience of the other volunteers with Samaritan’s Purse, I ended up learning a thing or two.

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Last year, when I read The Happiness Project, I was introduced to the concept of “fog happiness”. According to author Gretchen Rubin, fog happiness occurs when an activity does not necessarily bring you joy at the moment in which you are partaking in it. Rather, the happiness is spread out over a much longer time span, often both before and after an event. In a way, it is the antithesis of instant gratification.

The combination of seeing the result of my work, and knowing that I was part of a bigger mission with a clear positive outcome produced a clear example, for me, of fog happiness. Sweating in 90 degree heat, in October, with humidity only achieved on Long Island in the dead of summer, does not necessarily feel as good as sitting by the beach, or partying. I was, however, fulfilled.

As it turns out, I did get to go to the beach! Samaritan’s Purse, being a Christian Organization, takes Sundays off, giving me a chance to visit the Texas Gulf Coast.

The drive gave me a chance to see the true extent to the destruction all around me.

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I had hoped, maybe even believed, that six weeks after the storm the recovery effort would be further along than it was. Everywhere I drove, I kept seeing the same thing. It made me appreciate the true extent of the recovery effort, and how small of a part I really played in it, as I was in Texas for only four days. There were may volunteers who signed up for the entire effort, and will be there through the middle part of November.

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The four days I spent in Victoria felt like a trip back to the past, both with respect to my life, and society as a whole. The showers felt like dorm room showers. The presence of a lot of people doing the same thing all day felt like high school or college.

Also, the behavior and expectations felt like a trip back in time. Men and women slept in separate rooms. The organization did not permit one man and one woman to ride in a car together unless they are married. Phrases such as “I’m looking to nail something”, which have taken on newer, more sexually expressive meanings in the past few decades, reverted to their older, more innocent definitions.

IMG_1557 (1)I visited over half a dozen homes. Most of the people who needed assistance were people who have some other kind of poor circumstance; disability, previous home damage, etc. I even encountered someone who had recently had two strokes!

Oddly enough, although I felt appreciated for the work I did, it felt like some of the victims who I encountered were most appreciative of having some companionship when I would sit down and talk to them. In several instances I could sense a sadness in the eyes of those I was helping that had to do with factors beyond the storm. Worry about friends and family taking the wrong direction in life. Sadness about certain life events. Being lost. Perhaps most powerfully, being lonely.

It reminded me of the loneliness epidemic, as well as all of the other less obvious forms of human suffering currently going on. People are good at paying attention to suffering when its obvious. Other more subtle forms of suffering, such as loneliness, lack of fulfillment, lack of direction, and the feeling of being exploited by others, often go unaddressed.

I may not have the capability to travel to every major disaster and physically help the way I did this past weekend. What I can do is try, each and every day, to do something about all these other forms of suffering going on. These are the kinds of suffering I see every day. These people need help too.