Tag Archives: Vail

Winter’s MidPoint (in the Central Rockies)

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Although we talk quite frequently about “seasons”, the concept of a season is actually far more abstract in nature than the manner in which it is typically discussed.  Consider this: while the most frequent discussions of seasons refers to a portion of the calendar year, a “season” can also mean a series of sporting events, TV shows, or plays, or even a chapter in someone’s life.  I’ve personally been involved in “seasons” that have lasted as short as three weeks, as well as “seasons” that persisted longer than a decade!

Even when referencing a “season” in its most common manner, to reference a portion a year, there is significant variance in how it manifests.  For a lot of people “seasons” means winter, spring, summer, and fall.  However, there are parts of the world where the year is far more accurately broken out into a wet season and a dry season.  Others even create seasonal references based on specific considerations, such as “mud season” or “typhoon season”.  In a way, every group of people has developed their own way to reference seasons, based on their lifestyle, location, and interests.

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While some groups of people have defined specific dates for the start and end of each season, for most, a season is more of a feeling.  There are plenty of years, where, on a day like March 25th, someone in Minnesota may feel as if it is still winter for them while someone in South Carolina may feel firmly into the Spring season.  Likewise, year to year variance has made November in Colorado feel like winter in some years, but feel like early autumn in others.

For winter as a season, just like a season for a sports team, or a chapter in one’s life, it matters less when the technical mid-point is defined.  It is more significant to reference a middle section, or a “hey-day”.  This is the period of time after most people have fully adjusted to the season, but before the end is in sight.

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In the Central Rockies, this is the time after most skiers and boarders have worked out their early season jitters, (and the resorts have gotten pretty much all of their trails open, which usually takes until January) but before spring becomes eminent.

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It is at this point in the season, where, I believe, skiing actually becomes more fun!  First of all, snow conditions get better.

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As winter progresses, the snow pack gets deeper and more consistent.  It becomes far less likely to find bare spots, which often form in the areas where skiers and boarders make turns around trees, or in open areas where wind can blow a lot of snow around.

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Also, as winter progresses, temperatures begin to warm (making it more pleasant), and the sun stays out a bit longer.  There are plenty of places in the Central Rockies, like Vail, where, according to local CO-OP data, December is actually the coldest month of the year.

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With mountains blocking the afternoon sun, in December, many of the ski trails become completely shaded sometime around 2:30 P.M.  By the final weekend in January, the sunset is about 45 minutes later, and the sun angle is higher, adding roughly an additional hour before the trails become completely shaded.

This is the start of the best of the best, the best time to ski at some of the best ski resorts in the world.  The trails are all open, the sun is shining upon us, skiers and boarders are doing their best skiing and riding of their lives, and towns are celebrating with additional winter fun.

When a “season” is a positive one, like a fun ski season, a good music or sports career, or even a very positive experience at a University or a job, there really is nothing like that period of time in the middle.  Everything starts to feel right.  We begin to move about our days and activities with a greater efficiency, and, in some cases make a lot of progress in a short period of time.  Memories are being created, and, in most cases, we are making gains in the all important battle for our own individuality and/or sense of self worth.  We’re at our best!

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But, alas it cannot last forever.  The happiest and the saddest, the most reassuring yet the most unnerving thing about the world is the fact that all things have a beginning and an ending.  Even the greatest of experiences must come to an end, as, well, continuing to do the same thing will eventually lead to stagnation, and a creeping feeling of dissatisfaction.  The only thing we can do in periods like this is be greatful that the “season” we are currently in is an enjoyable and/or rewarding one, and do our best to make the next one positive as well.

When We Get Stuck

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Here we are, on the verge of something great!  It is right in front of us, in plain sight, a brand new endeavor, a great idea, something that’s going to either change the world, change our lives, or just be one heck of a great time!  The path in front of us is clear, exciting, invigorating.  Never have we felt so alive!  With excitement, enthusiasm, and passion, we enter this new endeavor without hesitation.  We do our due diligence, of course, but the excitement of what lies ahead by far overwhelms any concerns about what could possibly go wrong.

But then it happens.  Shortly into this new endeavor, due to something we either overlooked, poorly estimated, or never even considered in the first place, we find ourselves stuck, much like I was in Vail’s Orient Bowl.  That morning, I got off the ski lift, and saw the 15″ of fresh powder that Vail had recently received.  Instead of following tracks already made by those who skied in this area earlier in the day, I wanted to make my own tracks.  I expected a wild ride through this fresh powder!  On the contrary, I suddenly found myself slowing down, and sinking. The realization that I would find myself at a standstill, and need to work to dig my way back on track, is much akin to the realization many of us have when we realize that some aspect of our plan is not going to materialize the way we had anticipated.

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What is strange is that this experience, of suddenly finding myself stuck occurred at Vail Resort.  Vail Resort is not only home to one of the largest and highest rated ski resorts in the world, but it is also home to a ski museum, which has artifacts of the history of both skiing and the resort itself.

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Vail ski mountain was founded by a man named Pete Siebert, who fought in World War 2 as part of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division.  This group of soldiers trained in the mountains of Colorado, mainly on skis, and were subsequently deployed to Northern Italy to lead an attack, on skis, in the heart of one of the Nazi strongholds in the region.  Many of the soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division, despite being from many different places all over the country, found their way back to Colorado, and alongside Siebert, helped develop the skiing industry into what it is today.

The story of skiing, and the story of Vail is summarized quite nicely at the Colorado Ski Museum.  In fact, the museum has other exhibits, including one on snowboarding, a bunch of facts about the origin of downhill skiing, which pre-dates Vail and even the 10th Mountain Division’s World War II efforts, and one that shows the history of the U.S. participation in skiing and snowboarding events in the Olympic Games.

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Yes, I had to get my picture taken with one of my favorite athletes, even if it is only a cardboard cutout.  I was not sure if I would get kicked out for taking this photo, so I made it quick.

The abridged version of the story of Vail is that it opened on December 15, 1962, struggled for a couple of years (the second year they had a snow drought and brought in the Southern Ute Indian Tribe to perform a snow dance for them), and then the resort took off in the later half of the 1960s.  After that, the resort periodically expanded, eventually combined with Beaver Creek and became what it is today.  For more details, I would seriously recommend visiting the museum.  With only a $3 suggested donation, it is a great activity for kind of day where skiers and snowboarders need to take an hour or two off due to weather or exhaustion.

The aspect of Vail’s history that is largely not covered by the Museum is the one that pertained to my own experience earlier that day- getting stuck.  The museum has an exhibit, and a video describing the 10th Mountain Division, how they trained, and what they accomplished.  They also describe the history of Vail as a ski resort in detail.  But, the 10th Mountain Division disbanded at the end of 1945, when the war ended.  Vail resort opened in 1962.  The only discussion of this roughly 17 year time period between these two events, was that Mr. Siebert was looking for the perfect place to open a ski resort.

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In detail, what did Pete Siebert do from 1946 through roughly 1960 (when he started laying the groundwork for Vail)?  Nobody knows, but it is definitely possible that he got stuck, much in the same way I was earlier that day.  Maybe, like many who returned from World War II, he came back and did not know what to do during Peacetime.  Or maybe, he looked at places for years and could not find the right one.  It is possible that he could have had a few “false starts”.

Those of us that have ever been, or currently are, stuck, can take solace in the fact that Mr. Siebert eventually, despite what is likely close to a decade of being stuck, put together a world class ski resort.  Additionally, many of his fellow 10th Mountain Division soldiers contributed to what Vail eventually became (the shops, restaurants, and even clubs that popped up in Vail Village).

After being stuck in the snow, I eventually made it down the mountain.  In fact, after only a short delay, I was able to climb my way out of the deep snow into a set of tracks just to my left.  Despite the fact that I did not get what I wanted out of that particular experience, I had a great experience with the remainder of that particular run, finding areas of deep powder farther down, where the terrain is a bit steeper, and then shooting through some glades.

In this particular case, I had no choice but to try to climb my way out of this section of deep powder.  In may other situations in life, we do have the option to give up.  Unfortunately, we often do prematurely, sometimes simply knowing that there is an easier path.  But, the easier path is rarely the more rewarding one.  The experience of getting stuck in the snow only to eventually have a great remainder of the run, followed by seeing a parallel experience with the founding of the very resort I was skiing at reminded me that it is often worthwhile to get “unstuck”, but also that it is less of a catastrophe to be stuck in the first place than we often imagine.

We live in a culture that reprimands people for being stuck only for a couple of months.  Two months with nothing to show for it- you’re on thin ice …. or out of a job!  Sometimes I even reprimand myself for “wasting” a single day!  Pete Siebert may have been stuck for over a decade!  Yet, he eventually founded Vail, and the experience of living in, or visiting, Colorado would not be the same if it weren’t for this important contribution.  So, maybe we need to be less hard on each other, and be less hard on ourselves.

The End of a Season

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Last November, prior to the start of the 2014-2015 ski season, I attended a screening of Warren Miller’s No Turning Back.  The main part of this film is broken up into eight segments, each one featuring a different location around the world, and each one containing footage of extreme skiing or snowboarding interwoven into a storyline that describes the people and the culture around snow sports in that location.  This film’s primary impact is to get skiers and snowboarders excited about the upcoming season.  However, the introduction to this film actually contained a reminder that every ski season comes to an inevitable end.  A time lapse of a ski resort becoming progressively more green over time (during springtime) is shown while the narrator (of the introduction) compares skiing and ski season to “falling in love with someone you know is going to leave you in four months.”

Well, here in Colorado, that four month expiration date appears to be rapidly approaching.  On Friday (3/27), Vail ski resort, the largest in the state, was still being patronized by a significant number of snow sport enthusiasts.  However, signs everywhere are pointing towards the inevitable decline in the quality of the skiing that accompanies the transition from winter into spring.  Not the only recent day to feature temperatures exceeding 50F, sections of bare ground can be seen not only on the horizon, but also on many of the slopes themselves, particularly slopes that feature bumps on Vail’s back side.

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Increasingly, trails are either being signed to caution skiers of this variable terrain, or being closed off altogether.

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Conditions like these are often labelled “spring conditions”, a label that is both descript and non-discript at the same time.  Labels like “powder” and “groomed” are commonly used to describe the snow conditions on any given slope.  These two labels, amongst the most commonly used, provide a clear indication of what kind of snow a skier or snowboarder can expect to encounter.  When conditions are labeled as “spring conditions”, they are often quite variable.

Over the course of the day on Friday, I encountered all sorts of snow conditions.  There were parts with large clumps of snow, parts with hard packed snow, parts that were quite icy, and, of course parts that were very slushy.  I even managed to find a couple of spots with untouched new snow in the trees (I am not calling it “powder” as the snow is wet in variety, much like the snow one would regularly see in New York City).  I often encountered a significant variety of snow conditions while traversing a single ski trail.  Transitioning, often from hard packed to icy, and then to slushy, would cause sudden shifts in my weight distribution.  Being jerked, both forwards and backwards while skiing down the mountain almost made me feel as if I were at a rodeo.  Only, instead of being jerked around by a bull, angry that his reproductive region had been recently violated, I was being jerked around by what is labeled “spring conditions”.

Regardless of whether we ski, partake in some other form of activity, or just enjoy warmer weather, spring, and the conditions associated with it, do often jerk us around, much in the same way I was at Vail.  Springtime is not a slow and steady transition from winter’s chill to warmer weather.  It is often chaotic with wildly variant weather patterns that people in Oklahoma are unfortunately all too familiar with.

Sometimes, as is the case in the Northeastern U.S. this year, winter just seems to keep on going, maintaining it’s grip far longer than expected.  Those who eagerly anticipate spring’s warmth have a rough time with years like this one, as it almost feels as if nature is trying to torment them.  Other years are far more choppy.  In many parts of the country, this time of year can feature weeks that include both summer-like warmth, and snow, sometimes even within a day or two of each other.  It is not unheard of for an early spring warm period to trigger some to plant outdoors, only to have these plants killed by an unexpected hard freeze later in the year.

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Much like all other aspects of life, at the end of one season comes another one.  And, while the season to play in the snow is coming to an end, spring brings with it a whole new set of opportunities.  For those whose one and only love is skiing or snowboarding, the end of winter can feel very much like the narrator of No Turning Back described it; as having a feeling similar to having lost a love after four months.  However, for those who are fortunate enough to have found an appreciation for all of life’s seasons, the end of winter, and the transition to spring, while an ending in one sort, is also a beginning, with spring bringing with it a new set of opportunities.

The main advantage to living somewhere with seasons, as opposed to somewhere with consistent weather, is the variety that comes along with these cyclical changes.  In places like these, each season is distinct from the last.  At different times of year, we go to different places, and do different things, and even incorporate periods of rest and renewal into the cycle.  It provides life with a clear breaking point that distinguishes one year from another; something that many lack beyond college and graduate school.  I will most likely be back at Vail ski resort, to once again enjoy some of the world’s best skiing, before the end of 2015.  When that occurs, it will certainly have the look and feel of a completely new ski season distinct from the one that just ended.  Until then, the time has come to go and explore different places, maybe chase some storms, take some longer bike rides, or visit some places that are much more easily reached without the threat of a blizzard interrupting travel.  The coming months will certainly feature some amazing experiences that I cannot wait to have, enjoy, and share.

Vail; Where You Can Have it All?

“Having it all” means something different in different situations. For skiers, “having it all” generally means three things.

Ideal snow conditions…

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Comfortable weather…

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And, reasonable lift lines…

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Of course, there is reason to believe that this kind of ski day is an unrealistic expectation. Comfortable weather conditions do not always produce the best snow conditions, and good snow conditions often bring crowds to a ski resort.

However, last Thursday, I believed that I could find this ideal combination at Vail Ski Resort. The previous day, Wednesday, Vail received several inches of new snow. But Thursday’s weather was warmer across the state. I believed the with combination of the recent new snow, a pleasant weather, and Thursday being a work day, I could “have it all”.

But, it did not quite work that way. Primarily, as the pictures above show, the lift lines were a bit longer than anticipated. This could actually be because of the Alpine World Ski Championships, which drew additional people up to the mountains.

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But, the additional people could also have been drawn to the mountain by the new snow, which we had not received too much of in the past few weeks.

There wasn’t too much new snow either, so Thursday’s conditions did not end up being truly ideal.

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Wise people will often remind others to keep their expectations within the realm of what is reasonably possible. Statements such as “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”, are commonly used to keep expectations in check and protect people from a near certain disappointment.

It’s hard not to stop someone dead in their tracks as they begin speaking of things such as finding a 3 bedroom house in a safe neighborhood less than 5 miles from downtown for under $300,000. We know that this is not a realistic expectation and that any person who sincerely has these aspirations will likely be quite disappointed.

The understanding that some expectations are unrealistic comes from experience. Those of us that have experienced the “real world”, have seen countless people disappointed as the “realities of life” get in the way of ambitious desires. And, these desires don’t just include things like wanting to be a movie star or wanting to solve some kind of major world problem. They often include situational things like wanting a reasonable amount of success at their company without having to compromise on any of their principles, or wanting to ensure all of their friends and family are happy.

However, those of us with experience that are not completely jaded do know there are exceptions. After all, movie stars and world changers do exist. They are just a small minority of people who set out to do these things. And, they become successful through some sort of combination of aptitude, drive, and luck.

So, despite the real possibility of disappointment, it is hard for me to completely write off all lofty goals. Some people do achieve them. And, the hope that one will land their ideal job, or will find a way to make a difference, likely has a positive impact on people’s lives that more than offsets the negative impacts that results from the frustrations that occur when expectations of the world are not met.

The GoPro Mountain Games

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One week prior to departing for the GoPro Mountain Games, I had no idea that the GoPro Mountain Games even existed!  I would never have thought that GoPro, the company that makes those portable cameras, would decide to sponsor an event like this.  It’s not that it’s one of those things that makes no sense, like McDonalds sponsoring bike rides in Chicago.  In fact, when I looked into the event upon being invited, it made perfect sense to me.  It is those GoPro cameras that people use to film their outdoor adventures, from skiing to mountain biking, climbing, and even those crazy people that swing from arches in Utah.  Thinking about that, it makes perfect sense for GoPro to put together an outdoor celebration like this in Vail, Colorado.  It is just something I would not have thought of had I not been informed of the event.

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In some ways, Vail is a very different place in the summer.  Accustomed to seeing the ski resort in winter, covered with snow to ski on, it looks quite different by June.  Also, with skiing being the main reason people make the trip up to Vail, some things are cheaper.  Not only was the hotel I stayed at in Vail Village a place I wouldn’t consider unaffordable during the ski season, but breakfasts like the one pictured above, normally $20 per person, are free from April to November.

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However, in some ways, Vail is the same place, regardless of season.  The nightlife definitely felt the same as it had in the winter.  The Gondola was still running (what for, I do not know).  And, no matter what time of year you visit Vail, you generally encounter the same mix of people; wealthy but generally casual and in good shape.  It is a crowd I can never figure out whether or not I truly fit in with.  I love skiing and the outdoors, but I am not rich, and I still have many attitudes about life that are way more East Coast than West Coast.

The GoPro Mountain Games consist of many different kinds of events, including biking, climbing, kayaking, running, and even dog jumping.  I think there is even a Yoga event in there.  The easiest way for me to think of it is to imagine the (above mentioned) demographic group that attends this event, and then think of everything this group of people do.

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The event with the biggest draw is called “bouldering”.  It is basically the kind of climbing that you do inside at the gym, as opposed to the climbing you do outside with ropes and such.  Watching this event was interesting primarily because everybody in the crowd cheered for everybody.  Unlike in the Olympics, where we primarily only cheer for those from our own country, and team sports where we genuinely cheer for one team to beat another, in this event, everybody appears to genuinely want everybody to succeed.

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The craziest event was definitely an event called “8 Ball”.  In this event, kayakers race down the river.  However, along the route, there are a bunch of guys in kayaks with 8-Ball wet suits on that basically play defense.  They attempt to impede the racers along their route towards the finish line.  I really wonder who came up with this one!

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My favorite event was an event called dock dogs.  In this event, dogs, mainly retrievers and shepherds, jump off a dock into a large pool of water.  The dog whose jump is the longest is crowned the winner of this event.

I loved this event for two reasons.  First of all, I love dogs.  I own one, and in many of the hiking entries in this blog, you will see photos of my Siberian Husky.  Second, I just love how goofy it really is.  The dogs are prompted to jump off the dock when their owners throw this long cylindrical toy for them to chase.  It looked exactly like what one would encounter while hanging out at a lake home in Wisconsin.  In fact, the world record holder in this event is from Minnesota!

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For a weekend trip to a major event a couple of hours away, this trip was a spontaneous one.  I was basically invited to come along on this trip on the Monday four days prior to departure.  To add to that, I only really knew one person of the eight others involved, the guy who invited me.  It is the kind of invitation that most people would have dozens of reasons to say no to, from previous plans to personal budgeting and even the much more onerous social anxiety.  But, those that remain open to, and say yes to invitations like these are often rewarded with some unexpected significant experiences.

I have come to the realization that one of the most effective ways to meet people and make friends is through mutual friends.  Some of the best friends I have here in Denver I have made through having one or more mutual friends.  The same is true of pretty much every other place I have ever lived.  For some strange reason it is easier to form a bond with someone who knows some of the same people.  Someone who chooses to hang out with the same kind of people is likely to be someone you have a lot in common with.  In fact, in my experience of forming friendships this way, there has even been little to no reliance on mutual acquaintances for conversation topics.  It just naturally starts itself.  Or maybe that is just the way I am.  Either way, it was great to have decided to head to this event, and it serves as a reminder of how much our lives are enriched by spontaneity!