Tag Archives: Colorado

Ride the Rockies Day 4: Telluride to Ridgeway

It was after the challenging third day of the ride that my legs started to feel like bricks. On one hand, I felt somewhat relieved that the day 4 ride was only 40 miles with only one climb, up Dallas Divide. However, as I ate my breakfast, casually in Telluride (as the shorter ride meant I was in no hurry), my legs certainly felt like they would rather just sit.

It always feels strange to me to begin a day with a downhill. After the four mile spur out of Telluride, the highway turned downhill for nearly 20 miles.

A good portion of the ride traversed through areas with red rocks, something that always seems to appear and disappear somewhat haphazardly whenever traveling around western North America.

Turning up highway 62 meant, once again, pedaling uphill, exactly the opposite of what my body had been desiring to do.

As is typically the case on multi-day trips, after a few miles of pedaling, I felt way better than I thought I would. That heavy brick-like feeling in my legs kind of melted away as my body adjusted to the fact that it was once again being asked to pedal up a hill.

The ride to the top of Dallas Divide turned out to be more than worth it.

For some reason, it was on this day I also decided to become obsessed with the tradition of holding up my bicycle.

This also turned out to be one of the most scenic parts of the ride – a reward for the multi-day effort.

The instinct to give my body a rest when my legs felt like bricks could not have been more wrong! Luckily, I knew all along not to think about things from the narrow, or short-term, perspective of only considering the exhaustion I was feeling at the time. Sometimes what we think we want in the moment is not the path to get us to what we really want.

The instinct to pursue the momentary, fleeting desire seems to be heavily impacting some areas of our culture today. Many people at some point in their lives have had the unfortunate experiencing of feeling like part of an “out group”, whether it be not fitting in with the popular group in school or feeling like some part of their identity is rejected by mainstream societal standards. The answer to all of these situations is for each person to assert their individuality. Then, as a whole, we become more comfortable with what is different and more accepting of people who look, act, and orient their lives in a manner that is not what we are accustomed to seeing.

Like the instinct to stop riding after an exhausting day, feeling left out leads to the instinct to satisfy the immediate need to feel validation and belonging. This often leads people to look for a new group identity rather than assert their individual one. As would have been the case had I gave into my immediate instinct and skipped this ride, focusing on the immediate needs filled by establishing a new group identity does not lead to the most favorable outcome. It either leads to just switching who the “in” and “out” groups are (not getting to the root of the problem) or more mental energy spent lamenting about being in the “out” group.

For reasons I do not understand, this is the portion of the ride where things started to get emotional.

I arrived at the second, and final, aid station of the day, with pretty much the same mountain scenery in the background. A van was playing music, first Rocky Mountain High, then more recent songs like Party in the USA came on. These particular songs probably would not have made me emotional had it not been for the fact that I had not listened to too much music on the first few days of the ride.

The thoughts about the current state of the world and how to make the best choices for long-term satisfaction suddenly shifted to more spiritual thoughts. Phrases including “love in infinite” and “there is enough compassion for everyone” popped into my head and lingered. Descending 2,000 feet (600 m) from Dallas Divide to Ridgeway I felt prepared to embrace every other human being I encountered, regardless of their flaws.

It was the easiest day of the trip, but the consequence of a mostly downhill day is a return to the heat.

With the campgrounds in a hot dusty fairgrounds where some participants needed to go down to the river to get away from their overheated tents, I was more than happy to have opted to pay for the hotel package, even if it meant taking a shuttle to Ouray.

Ride the Rockies Day 3: Cortez to Telluride

When I signed up for this ride, it was the third and the sixth (and last) days that intimidated me. The first two days were both about 70 miles (115 km) with about 3,600 feet (1100 m) of climbing. These would not be considered “easy” or even “moderate” cycling days by any stretch of the imagination. However, they still pale in comparison to these more challenging days. The official ride for day 3 was 102 miles (164 km) with 6,500 feet (2 km) of climbing. The first 62 miles (100 km) were a fairly steady climb from Cortez to the top of Lizard Head Pass!

The first 20 miles, from Cortez to a small town called Dolores were pretty similiar to the first two days.

It was after passing through Dolores that, for the first time in this ride I truly felt like I was in the mountains. The ride followed up the Dolores River into a canyon that felt far more reminiscent of my many other Rocky Mountain experiences.

The further I went, the more amazing the scene in front of me got!

I was genuinely in a canyon, once again encountering random buildings and imagining what life would be like living in a house like this.

Only this time, I was not focused on the fact that these people lived so far from the nearest town. I was focused on the scenery. Does a person who was born in a place like this understand how spectacular the place the live is? Or is it just all they know? Or, do they think the grass is greener on the other side and stare at images of skyscrapers and other big buildings in their spare time?

A little over halfway through the climb, along with many of the other ride participants, I stopped to get Ice Cream.

This Priest Gulch Campground quite possibly gave me the best deal on ice cream I could imagine. For $2.50 I got a vanilla swirl that went pretty much as high as any vanilla swirl could go. I was almost worried I had consumed too much!

With the level of challenge on a day like this, it is hard not to pay attention to the little things that may make the ride easier or harder, even if they occur on a very small scale. Would this ride have been more or less challenging had I done it alone? On one hand, when riding with a group of people, there is often the opportunity to “draft”. This is when you ride behind someone going the same speed as you, letting them push against the wind. It makes the ride easier for those in the back of the pack. This is how cycling teams work.

However, on this day, there were a few incidences where one of the teams would be passing by me on the left while I quickly caught up to a slower or stopping rider in front of me. On several occasions I had to hit the breaks, which is always heartbreaking on days that feel like they will require nearly all the energy you have.

However, I would still say, overall, the big group is an advantage.

It was also after this ice cream stop that the tall peaks began to appear on the horizon.

After two days of hot lower elevation riding, I felt like I had entered a different ecosystem.

Two things I was not impressed with on this ride were…

  1. Serendipity Catering: The morning of the third and first extremely challenging day of the ride, I arrived at headquarters for breakfast at 5:45 A.M. only to find out that the catering service the ride had hired had essentially flaked on providing breakfast that morning. At the time, the organizers were unsure if they would return. As far as I knew, they didn’t return and I still do not know what happened.
  2. The town of Rico: I arrived at the aid station in Rico a little bit before noon, 50 miles into the ride. I had hoped to grab a quick bite to eat at one of the local shops only to be told the power was out in the entire town. I guess this is one town I will never explore.

The final ten miles of climbing were kind of a mix between flatter sections and sections that were really intense.

But the top of Lizard Head Pass was amazing!!!

I had worked hard all morning, pedaling from 6,100 feet (1.85 km) to 10,200 feet (3.1 km) in elevation. That hard work made this unbelievably beautiful setting in front of me so much more sweet!

As an added bonus, I finally got to eat lunch, although I did have to wait in a pretty lengthy line to get it.

I did not follow the official route all the way into Norwood. Instead, I rode right into Telluride to my hotel. This ride started with a descent from the top of Lizard Head Pass.

Required another climb.

And then a descent into town.

Despite having lived in Colorado for nearly nine years, this was my first time in Telluride, a town with a unique flavor.

Many other riders had done more miles and gone faster than me. If I had to guess, I would say 70-75% of the participants had done “better” than me that day. But, for many, rides like these are not about competing against each other, they are about the experience. At the end of the day, I was still quite happy having completed the first of two extremely intimidating days. This ride is special. Being barely in the third quartile of ride participants here still likely puts me in the top 2-3% of the population as a whole when it comes to cycling. But, for me, it is not about feeling better than anyone else. It is about getting to the top of that mountain pass under my own power and experiencing the world from the seat of a bicycle rather than behind the glass of an automobile or airplane.

Ride the Rockies Day 2: Durango to Cortez

Day 2 would be a day of adjustments and surprises. The day started with a pretty significant hill climb.

Continuing the theme from day 1, much of this ride went through some very unpopulated areas. The only thing I remember about the towns of Breen and Klein were a fairly long descent and an aid station in a high school parking lot. This was followed by a gradual 17-mile climb on a dirt road.

I was somewhat confused as to why this ride incorporated some dirt road sections. Van supported rides tend to attract a lot of riders who like to ride fast. Apparently, cycling on dirt is a trend of some sorts. As someone who likes to determine for myself what to do, listen to and wear, trends have never interested me too much. However, I can see the appeal in some ways. On the transition from pavement to dirt, one cyclist announced that he was glad to finally be in a place where there would be little vehicular traffic and that he had become tired of riding on highways. I had felt the roads we were riding on were plenty quiet, but I have always lived in and around cities and know that experience is informing my perspective

Along this dirt road local ranchers came out to give us lemonade!

After talking briefly with the ranchers, I found myself wondering what life was like in a place like this. They are six miles from any paved road, ten miles from the nearest town, and thirty miles from Durango, the closest town of significant size. It must be so much different than anything I have ever known.

I feel bad because in the past I had cast judgement on life in rural areas as boring. Other metropolitan people can be harsher. While this is not likely the life I would prefer, we should all have the option to have the life we want. Being able to accept people having different preferences without feeling insecure about it is a sign of maturity.

Travel opens our minds to new perspectives. It makes us realize that the way we do things is not the only way. It gives us things to think about. Maybe these ranchers in the middle of nowhere have happier lives. Maybe they have better communities. Maybe, in a place like this, it is much easier to just enjoy activities like having a friendly conversation, reading a book or watching a movie without always worrying about what else is going on.

As the ride continued uphill on this dirt road, I found myself continuing to adjust to my surroundings. It grew hot and the next aid station had very little shade.

The people I was riding with represented a different type of crowd than the ones I typical find myself in. Mostly veterans of cycling trips of this type, many of them are accustomed to having better aid stations. I heard some grumbling.

Also, the crowd was significantly older than I had expected for a ride this intense. At this aid station, my first instinct was to joke that the aid station “throws as much shade as an episode of Mr. Rodgers.” I stopped as I suddenly realized that this joke would only appeal to a very narrow age range of people old enough to remember the children’s show that ended just after the turn of the century but young enough to appreciate the comparison between the literal and slang definition of the phrase “throwing shade”. The joke would not have landed.

After the dirt road segment, the route turned onto U.S. highway 160, an extremely busy road for a two mile intense climb to the top of Mancos Hill. This road was busy with both cyclists and cars!

Getting to the top was a little scary, as cyclists were commonly passing one another, requiring them to get closer to the vehicular traffic. Maybe the guy who was excited about the dirt road section had a point! He must have been less than thrilled on this part of the ride.

Somewhere on this climb, my body started hurting. Generally speaking, our lives in the early 21st century are quite sedentary. Most of our jobs involve sitting in front of a computer all day. In their spare time, many people chose to watch TV, read, or spend it in front of a different computer! Going from this to riding 70 miles a day on a bicycle is a transition for our bodies which is going to cause some pain. Whenever on a multi-day trip where the pain sets in I can’t help but lament how sedentary our lives are and how many people chose lives that are far more sedentary than mine.

We descended into Mancos, a town I had visited and stayed at years ago to visit Mesa Verde National Park.

I’d get a chance to visit the local bakery which had a message I could not help but get behind.

Mancos is the perfect kind of town for cycling trips to pass through. It’s big enough to have interesting places to stop but doesn’t slow the ride down too much.

While I was eating my sandwich, it got even hotter! We rode right by Mesa Verde National Park along highway 160.

The combination of prolonged physical exertion with hot, dry and windy conditions lead to salt slipping into my eyes. I was having some trouble seeing until luckily I was able to stop and get sprayed in the face with a hose.

By the time I arrived in Cortez it was 96°F (36°C).

The ride ended with burgers and music in a park where we all stayed in the shade.

Ride The Rockies Day 1: The Durango Loop

When I first got interested in cycling long distances I would never have imagined something like this existed. I thought it was too obscure of an interest. In High School, I recall enjoying using a very basic bicycle to go to friends houses, stores, restaurants and movie theaters. Then I thought it would be neat to travel from town to town by bicycle, go further and visit interesting places. As a map enthusiast, I was motivated by looking at a map and seeing the distance I could cover by bicycle.

Now, I find myself in an organized bike ride with over 2,000 other cyclists.

They talk about the same things. Places they had traveled by bicycle. Which “climbs” are the most challenging. Experiences like foul weather and flat tires, the kinds of things only people who have traveled by bicycle can relate to.

Unlike any other bike tour I had been on, this one was organized. Each day had an official start and end point. Aid stations were set up to provide cyclists with food, water and restrooms. Routes were planned and signed and there was a headquarters in each town where the rides began and ended every day.

The six day ride would also be the biggest challenge I had ever taken on when it comes to cycling. The official route was 418 miles with over 28,000 feet of climbing. However, there were many options along the route for people to shorten their ride. Day 5 was completely optional.

One thing I realized about cycling a long time ago is that it is a very individualized activity. Everyone rides at their own pace and has their own style. Some are in it for the speed, to achieve the fastest time possible. Others are more about the scenery and the experience. Some prefer to take frequent breaks, while others are more slow and steady.

Throughout the week, I would regularly encounter cyclists that I would pass on the highway repeatedly, as I would move at a faster pace but stop more frequently to take photos or just get my butt off the seat for a while. I also tend to be faster going downhill but am a slow climber. I encountered some cyclists that would pass me going uphill but I would pass on the descent.

Events like these cater to each person’s individual styles. There is no one start and finish time. There is a range of times. Even then, many cyclists leave outside that range. On day 1, the “rolling start” was from 7 to 9 A.M. Yet, probably due to the anticipated heat, I saw many cyclists leave before 7. Before the ride I signed up for “waves”, indicating my departure time each day. I forgot what “waves” I had signed up for and it did not seem to matter too much. I just left when I was ready.

Riding in the Rocky Mountains is challenging because you are pretty much always either going up or down a hill.

The hills on day 1 were relatively gentle. It took me 18 miles to get to my first climb. This part of the ride entered the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, and at about the halfway point I found myself in the tiny town of Ignacio.

The roads here were nice and it was interesting to encounter far more bicycles than cars for pretty much the entire route.

The town of Bayfield, where we left the Southern Ute land was also quite small. It was here I realized that these large cycling events have different implications than the self organized cycling I typically do. When biking alone or with a few other people, it’s advantageous to find towns with amenities like gas stations and restaurants to stay fed and hydrated. On this tour, the organized ride just needed to set up aid stations in large parking lots. It changes the dynamics and potentially alters which routes are possible and which places can be explored.

After Bayfield there was a climb that got intense for a brief period.

Still, on this day I did not feel as if I was in the thick of the Rocky Mountains. It felt more like rolling hills with the mountains off on the distant horizon.

The day ended with a major descent back into Durango and some pretty uncomfortable heat.

I ended the day feeling decent, but knowing that the hardest parts were still to come.

The Last Week of the Off-Season in Summit County, Colorado

Keystone Village Ice Rink three days before Memorial Day Weekend 2021

Somewhere along the line, a holiday set aside to remember those who had died serving in the U.S. military became the “unofficial start of summer”. This year the holiday also happens to coincide with many places lifting restrictions related to COVID-19, as a significant proportion of Americans have been vaccinated and case numbers have declined. In 2021, the contrast between Spring and Summer promises to be far greater than in any other year. It is a contrast between a “socially distanced” offseason and a fully re-open summer that unofficially began Memorial Day Weekend. The week before Memorial Day literally felt like the calm before the storm.

I spent most of the week riding my bike around the area. It felt like the last time in quite a while that these trails (the Summit County’s bike trail system) would be so quiet.

The weather was quite nice, although a bit chilly in the mornings. Yet, since it was still technically off-season, the crowds had not yet arrived.

Downtown Frisco Tuesday May 25th

Each season in the mountains is unique and as Spring transitions into summer, the sun is bright, but mountain tops still have a lot of snow on top of them. The middle part of a sunny day in May or Early June may be the brightest the area ever feels.

There are so many places of natural beauty and so many stretches of trail, throughout the county, where one can just be alone with their thoughts.

It’s hard not to feel spiritually refreshed after several days of cycling around the area.

The way the world is currently set up, cycling is by far the best way for me to process my thoughts. Almost anywhere else I find myself, there is the temptation to look at my phone or engage with some other distraction. Cycling, I need to have both hands on my handlebars. Therefore, there is a lot of value in riding long distances. It is on these rides that I process through life developments and often come up with ideas.

Wednesday was quite possibly the most significant day of this trip. The day started with the Super Flower Blood Moon, a lunar eclipse visible just after 5 A.M. It was visible for a while but then the moon slid behind the clouds as the sky started to brighten up. From a spiritual standpoint, I was told that lunar eclipses are a time for us to release things. So, at the time when the eclipse had peaked, although behind the clouds, I set the intention of letting go of a couple of things that were no longer serving me in life.

Later in the day I rode my bike from Keystone to Breckenridge, a 16 mile (25 km) ride (each way) with a moderate hill climb. When I arrived in Breckenridge, I randomly encountered a parade they were throwing for this year’s high school graduates, on Main Street.

Summit High School Class of ’21 celebrating on Main St. May 26, 2021

It warmed my heart. This year’s graduates in particular got a raw deal from the pandemic. It impacted both their Junior and Senior years. I was glad to hear them all happy, with many of them looking forward to the life they have in front of them. Written on many cars was the college the students were about to attend.

One of my favorite things about bike travel is randomly encountering events like this. They are much harder to miss riding a bicycle than driving on a highway. I even encountered the parade being staged, in the parking lot for the ski resort, which is empty because it’s off-season.

In a few weeks, this place will once again be active, with summer activities. Visiting the week before Memorial Day may have been the best of both worlds, nice weather but still not crowded. However, it is important to recognize it as a transition week, a time when one season ends and another begins. Many people fly from one activity to another, one endeavor to the next, not taking any time to slow down, process what happened and take in the lessons learned. The super blood moon was a time to let go of what isn’t serving us well. Hopefully, the entire week, as was the case for the graduates marching down Main Street preparing for College, was a time to reflect and prepare for what is to come. A time to close one chapter and enter the next.

Cycling up Mountains in a Storm

Loveland Pass on Sunday May 23, 2021

Colorado can be a pretty confusing and frustrating place in the Springtime. In most mid-latitude Northern Hemisphere places, Spring is a time of revival. It is the time of year where people who had mostly been indoors and inactive during the winter return to life. Here in Colorado, Springtime is a period of major weather fluctuations. In Denver, March and April are often the snowiest months. It can even snow in May. Sometimes it feels like we go from tracking the weather for snow to 90 degree heat with barely a week or two in-between.

Credit Channel 7 Denver

At higher elevations it snows quite a bit during springtime (Leadville is 10,200 feet (3.1km) above sea level), even as the snow melts into mud on most trails. It is probably the most inactive time of year in the mountains.

Image from Weather Atlas

Springtime in Colorado requires a combination of planning, adjustment and resiliency. The weekend of May 22nd and 23rd would test my resiliency because I kind of dropped the ball on planning.

On Saturday, I climbed Lookout Mountain, a ride in Golden, Colorado that climbs from 5500 feet (1675m) to 7300 feet (2200 m).

The day was somewhat stormy but also quite active. Paragliders took off from Lookout Mountain, flying over the town.

And the road was packed with cyclists. Only about 20 miles (32 km) from Denver, this is a very popular ride!

After noon, with even more paragliders taking off from the mountain, I encountered the storm.

Some cyclists chose to wait out the rain by finding a building to stand next to. I raced back home, into a fairly significant wind down the hill.

The next day, I went up to Loveland Pass to climb another mountain, this one at a much higher elevation. My ride began at the parking lot of Loveland Ski Area, which sits at around 10,600 feet (3230 m). I could already see that the storms had returned.

As is the case with going upwards in elevation, the weather was much colder, probably only around 45°F (7°C) at the start of the ride. From the very beginning, the ride felt like it was taking place in a different season.

Much of the ground was still covered with snow. Unlike on Lookout Mountain, I was the only one on a bicycle on the road up to Loveland Pass that day. The only other people I encountered were backcountry skiing. One joking asked me for a ride to the top of the pass on my handlebars.

Higher up the mountain, I suddenly found myself doing something I typically try to avoid, riding in the snow. It became scary as it was obvious that slippery conditions existed.

Near the top visibility continued to decline.

Finally, just to be true to the cycling community I belong to, I took a photo holding up my bike in front of the sign that indicated I had reached the top of the pass at just shy of 12,000 feet (3650 m).

There I stood, the only cyclist, almost out of place, like I was suddenly in the wrong season. It reminded me of how often we forget that different people in different places are often having quite different experiences. Two months ago, towards the end of March, while most places in North America were seeing people emerge from their winter dormancy and return to life, life in the Central Rockies was slowing down as the ski season was coming to an end. Now, there could not be more contrast all around me.

As the United States has mostly put the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, countries with slower vaccine rollouts are dealing with some pretty bad case numbers associated with newer, more rapidly spreading, variants of the disease. This sits in sharp contrast to last summer, when other more prepared countries had much greater success in containing the virus through behavioral measures than we had. Heck, even the period of time westerners refer to as the “dark ages“, were not a dark time for everybody. The Tang Dynasty was remembered as a golden age for China. It was also a time of great advancement in the Islamic world. Finding myself on my bike in the snow in the second half of May reminded of the benefit of understanding that not everyone and not every place is having the same experience.

From Either-Or to Both-And

It feels good to be traveling again!

Here’s to more to come!

However, I must acknowledge that the middle of April is kind of a strange season to return to the world of traveling. It is not a very popular time to travel. Part of it is the school schedule nearly all families are subject to. Spring break is over and nobody finishes their school year before May. Mid-April is also a weird in-between season. In many active northern and high-altitude places, it is referred to as “mud season.” When people think of this time of year, they think of it as some abyss where conditions for activities on snow and ice deteriorate but the air has not warmed quite enough and the ground has not dried up enough for summertime adventures. I often specifically tell people not to come to Colorado in April because other months offer so much more.

And, thus, it is a great time to travel elsewhere.

It was the very first part of the first adventure in a new post-pandemic world. It was an opening act, a preview of what world we will all be re-emerging into. And, this drive from Denver to Moab (Utah) ended up providing some interesting hints as to how our thinking is being transformed.

Loveland, Copper Mountain, Vail and Beaver Creek ski resorts are so close to I-70 motorists can see people skiing from the highway. That is, if the ski resort is still open. Not only were all four ski resorts still open, but the all had plenty of people still skiing.

Two hours later, across the border and down the slope near Moab, it felt like a completely different season.

Kayaks, canoes, rafts- people are already in the water. Could it be that a time of year many people had come to associate with boredom and few opportunities actually presents a plethora of opportunities for those willing to expand their view?

For some specific points on the map, especially some of the highest rated ski resorts, this is a time of year with little opportunity. The snow is melting and the ski season is coming to an end.

However, people looking to ski this late in the year can often still find some good skiing at lesser known higher elevation resorts. At lower elevations, like Moab, the weather is already ideal for some activities associated with summer. In fact, this is one of the best times of year to head there, as the middle of summer often gets quite hot.

What is interesting to imagine is someone either choosing between hitting the slopes or getting their canoe out. Or, even doing both!

One of the most profound ways that our world is shifting is a move away from an either-or to a both-and method of thinking. It has the potential to help us clarify our goals, live more balanced lives and more effectively settle arguments. For example, either-or thinking has always lead me to believe that my desire for community and to preserve my individuality are at odds with each other. Both-and thinking would encourage those of us with the same two needs, which is nearly everybody in reality, to develop a solution that considers the two truths about human nature.

Finding solutions using this new both-and mindset requires creativity and widening our view. At one specific spot, it is either ski season or summer, and sometimes neither. If we expand our range to include Loveland Ski Area (base elevation 10,800 feet) and Moab (elevation 4,028 feet) it is currently both! Perhaps, with this new way of thinking, an an expansive and creative worldview, we will design communities that give people a sense of belonging without having to surrender their individuality. Perhaps, with both-and thinking, we will also make headway on all of the other tug-of-war issues that have been driving us apart.

Crested Butte January 2021

The way we talk about the weather is quite peculiar. There are many that consider the weather amongst the most mundane topics of discussion, the thing people talk about when they don’t have anything more interesting to discuss. However, there is perhaps nothing that has a greater impact on the human experience than the weather. Every single day, the activities a person takes part in is at least partially determined by the weather. Activities like skiing and hiking are associated with seasons. Any outdoor sporting event has the potentially to be cancelled by inclement weather. Changes in long-term weather patterns, or climate, have brought down entire civilizations.

Perhaps the reason highly intellectual individuals prefer not to talk about the weather is the manner in which the topic is simplified. The weather anyone experiences is a result of scientific processes so complicated that despite our advanced observational and computational technology, it can still only be predicted to any degree of accuracy about a week out. The impact weather has on things like health, culture and happiness is the subject of countless articles and dissertations.

Yet, most discussions about the weather are boiled down to simple descriptions. It’s often described as simply “cold”, “warm”, sunny”, “rainy”, etc. Perhaps the most significant oversimplification of the phenomenon that we call weather is the description of weather conditions as ether “good” or “bad”. Generally, people refer to sunshine and pleasant temperatures as “good” weather, while any kind of unpleasantness, from rain to extreme temperatures or strong winds, as “bad” weather.

However, too much “good” weather can often lead to some terrible outcomes. The entire planet’s food supply is dependent on rainfall. Last summer’s wildfires across Western North America demonstrated that there are few businesses that have absolutely no exposure to what can happen when a region experiences too little precipitation, or “bad weather”.

Skiing, is perhaps the most obvious example of an activity that requires “bad” weather. Four years earlier, Crested Butte ski resort was buried under 100 inches of snow.

The winter of 2020-2021 has been far less snowy, making for pleasant days to ski, but perhaps not the best snow conditions.

Skiing is the most obvious example, but nearly every activity in life requires a certain amount of “bad” weather. It is a reminder that simply describing weather conditions as “good” or “bad” as they pertain to a specific day’s activities may be fine for a children’s nursery rhyme, but fails to accurately represent what combination of weather conditions are necessary in the long run. For the world’s food supply, farmers need a combination of rainy weather for the health of their crops and pleasant days to tend to their plants and animals. Skiers need snow, obviously, but benefit from days with good visibility, low wind and pleasant temperatures.

Nearly every activity, as well as life on Earth itself, requires a combination of different weather conditions. The key is to properly manage the expectations for each day based on our changing weather.

In Crested Butte, residents and visitors alike are dealing with both the ongoing pandemic and snowpacks that are about 30% below normal for this time of year. Yet, people are finding a way to continue with their lives. It is hard to be too negative in a town this beautiful.

While the ground may be a bit rocky in the trees, or on bump runs, a mild sunny day is the perfect time to admire the beauty of the morning sky while flying down fast, steep groomed trails.

The town itself, like everyone’s favorite optimistic and quirky friend, does not seem to be discouraged by what nature has brought.

Perhaps one of the reasons so many people dislike talking about the weather is because it represents something that cannot be controlled. It can only be responded to. It is, in a way, a metaphor for life. People generally have minimal control of what happens to them. The only thing that can be controlled is the response. Crested Butte, in January 2021 has shown that the proper response to all that life can throw is to be versatile and adjust while also remaining true to oneself.

Breckenridge During the Pandemic

Last March, when the Coronavirus first swept across North America, all the ski resorts were shut down in the name of “flattening the curve”. Luckily for those of us who love to ski:

  1. The pandemic related closures did not come until the middle of March. This was towards the tail end of the ski season, at a time when most people who take part in multiple outdoor activities were already starting to look towards their Spring and Summer pursuits.
  2. As the pandemic progressed over the course of the year, experts would learn more about it. They learned how to better treat those who contract it and how the virus spread. The conclusion was made that the virus did not spread quite as much outdoors as it does indoors. Restaurants, bars and breweries would build outdoor seating, sometimes even closing sections of road so that socially distanced crowds could still drink and dine out.

It also meant that when it came to spreading the virus, skiing, an outdoor activity, would be seen as less problematic than indoor activities like visiting Santa at the mall.

To reduce the spread of COVID, Vail Resorts, the owner of the most of the top resorts in Central Colorado, would adapt three policies:

  1. A reservation system was implemented to limit the total number of people at a resort on any given day. Visitors have to reserve a spot at a resort ahead of time, and once a certain capacity is reached, no more reservations are available.

This keeps the crowds relatively thinner. Of course, it has its downsides. In a typical year, skiers could decide to ski at one of the resorts, or change plans at the last minute. This year that is not possible. Often times, days need to be planned ahead of time, especially for anyone that wants to ski on a Saturday, the day that the resorts are most likely to run out of reservations.

2. All indoor seating is closed.

Breckenridge ski village, mostly closed January 2021

This is perhaps the most important measure the resorts took to prevent the spread of the virus, but also the biggest inconvenience. In the lodges at lunchtime is probably where people are most likely to come into close contact with one another. However, for many visitors, it is also an important part of the day. Skiing is a cold weather activity.

Breckenridge at 0°F

Without indoor seating, it is harder to find a way to warm up on cold days.

3. The resorts adapted some interesting policies with respect to sharing lift rides.

These policies prevent people from sitting next to people outside their party, another way the virus can spread. They have the potential to cause some confusion. On a six person chair lift, for example, a party of two could join with another party of two. However, at times, single skiers have trouble determining if four people lining up for a chair are a party of four, which they can join, or two parties of two, which they cannot join.

It also resulted in lift lines being, despite the overall reduction in the number of people at the resort, typically slightly longer than they would be had it not been for the pandemic.

Breckenridge and other nearby resorts are also facing another challenge this year, a lack of snow. The snow season is off to a slow start. As of the middle of January, the snowpacks in the Upper Colorado Headwater Basin, the basin that contains Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Keystone, Vail and Winter Park ski resorts, is 30% below average.

These conditions are fine for those that want to ski on groomed trails.

In fact, with less crowds, this may be a wonderful opportunity for those that wish to fly down trails like these.

However, for the types of skiing that require more snow, it can be a bit of a challenge.

Snow conditions in the upper parts of the resort, where the ungroomed bowl skiing is, is not good. The imperial express lift, which leads to the highest points at the resort, has yet to open.

Variance is a natural part of life. It can be expected in every aspect of life, from entertainment to business to outdoor activities. There are going to be some years that are better and some that are not as good. Maybe, with over 95% of the population still waiting to be vaccinated and uncooperative weather, this was not meant to be one of the better ski seasons.

The key to being able to handle variance in life is to not be one dimensional. It is to base an entire life on one thing and only one thing. It is having that other activity to turn to when those less favorable seasons inevitably occur.

New Years in Central Colorado

There are many ways to approach travel. Some people travel for experiences, like festivals. Others visit places to see a specific landmark, experience a natural phenomenon or take part in a specific activity. Many seasoned travelers indicate that some of the most rewarding travel experiences are when they get to experience life in a different place. It is why Samantha Brown advocates going for a walk and Anthony Bourdain would always meet up with locals. For them, traveling is (or, sadly, was) not just about checking items off of a bucket list and visiting landmarks. It’s about experiencing a bit of life in another place.

During a global pandemic, that can be difficult. It is hard to sit in the restaurants where locals eat when the restaurants are restricted to takeout and it is hard to talk to locals when there are not too many people out and about.

Last summer, when I visited Leadville, another high elevation town right in the center of Colorado, there were plenty of people out and about. This was likely due to it being warm out, as it was summer. However, even then, it would have been strange to talk to people I did not know while everyone is on edge about what germs people could be bringing. Still, through both experiences, I was able to get a little taste of life in these small high elevation towns by spending a couple of days in town, slowing down, observing and noticing.

The region of South Park, in which Fairplay sits at the heart of, is breathtaking right from the start.

Regardless of season, there is nothing like driving over Kenosha Pass on highway 285 and suddenly gazing upon the wide open valley surrounded in all directions by some of the Nation’s highest peaks!

After spending a few winter days here, I wonder if the locals start to take these breathtaking sunrises and sunsets for granted.

Most people who come to the region in the winter come for the skiing, some of the best in the world!

However, there are a few things I did not learn about winter at 10,000 feet in Central Colorado on ski trips.

While this many not be too big of a deal for those that live in more rural areas, it is always interesting to spend time in places where people regularly encounter wildlife.

Both alive and dead.

Having spent most of my winter days here riding ski lifts and whizzing back down the mountain, I did not realize that a brisk walk, around town or in the nearby mountains, can actually be quite comfortable in the middle of the day.

The sun shines quite bright at these high elevations.

Note: The reduced distance to the sun is not why the sun’s rays feel stronger at higher elevations. The distance between the earth and sun is slightly over 90 million miles. 10,000 feet, by comparison, is negligible. The actual reason the sun’s rays feel stronger up here is that they are traveling through significantly less of the earth’s atmosphere.

Despite the temperature being right around the freezing point (32°F, 0°C), I was walking around in just a hoodie.

The flip side is, though, it starts to feel quite a bit colder as soon as the sun goes down.

The other fact of life specific to this region is the wind. In winter, it can get quite nasty quite often. Surprisingly, these windy days, where travel and spending time outdoors is quite unpleasant often occur in total sunshine.

Every time I’ve spend time up here in the winter, I’ve observed this interesting mix of calmer, more pleasant days and days with strong winds.

It was at this point I really wished I could wander into the bars and restaurants in order to talk with those who live here, in one of these towns.

I would love to ask….

Are the weather forecasts up here reliable enough, so that people know when the wind is going to pick up?

Are residents able to take advantage of the nicer days?

What does everyone do on these unpleasant windy days?

Is it bothersome that, even in the summer, it gets pretty chilly after the sun sets?

Is this sign, where people take their pictures as the characters from South Park by sticking their faces into these four openings, spreading the coronavirus?

Maybe I’ll find these things out and more, in 2021.